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At the Rush Hour

It was a short move, only three miles as the crow flies. But for Richard Ades, the opening of a spectacular new demo facility represents a leap from retail to custom installation.

It was a short move, only three miles as the crow flies. But for Richard Ades and his staff of 11, the opening of a spectacular new demonstration facility represents an evolutionary leap from retail to custom installation.

President of Contemporary Sounds of Oklahoma City Inc., Ades recently unveiled a 6,300-square-foot showroom situated in an office park in the northwest part of the city. Designed by locally based architect Phil Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald and Associates, the showroom is in a single-story building away from heavy-traffic areas.

Interior design by Ades wife, Charlotte Ades, has produced an inviting space that mixes distinct cabinetry and antiques with technology. The result is a pleasing juxtaposition of furnishings and A/V that appeals to the family-oriented consumer that CS serves.

We wanted our customers to have the same impression when they come here as they would have going to consult with an architect or designer, Ades said. People have these underlying fears about what we do, and walking into a box merchant with walls of stuff, even neatly organized, brings their fears to the surface.

Ades said that CS decided long agoas a retailerto remove that scary image. What our customers want to know is, Where does this equipment go in my home, and how can I operate it? Our new facility is designed to provide the solution.

The journey begins in the CS showroom lobby, a professional-looking, yet welcoming, space with but one piece of electronic equipment, an in-wall color touch panel where customers are shown how to interface. An adjacent demo room with two examples of media systems is one of three spaces featuring an Owens Corning acoustical-room treatment. Across the hall are offices for Ades and his staff.

A highlight of the showroom is full-working kitchen with sitting area, handsomely outfitted with a hooded Wolf range, Sub-Zero refrigerator and antique sideboard. A wall-mounted plasma TV includes a Vision Art frame system: a picture frame with a motorized, retractable canvas conceals the plasma screen. When the power for plasma screen is turned on, the canvas, displaying a digitally produced original artwork, in this case a landscape rolls up into the frame. When power is deactivated, the canvas rolls down to reveal the painting.

A 15-inch touch panel, mounted on a lazy Susan in the kitchen, is used to show customers how to control the A/V system, Lutron window shades and plasma screen with its retractable canvas. The center island in the kitchen was designed to be large enough to spread out a complete set of plans, doubling as a conference area when necessary. A patio area near the kitchen is also suitable for outdoor consultations.

The main conference room itself has a 55-inch Fujitsu plasma screen. The speakers are hidden behind fabric, allowing for a high-quality presentation in a stealth manner, Ades said. We wanted multiple places where people could sit down and tell us what they wanted, he said. Weve always tried to keep a focus on defining our customers, and making our company a reflection of them, not us. Businesses can lose their way because they become inward-focused rather then looking at who they serve.

CSs clientele consists of people who place a high value on home, family and friends, Ades said. Its always been that way here. They are discerning, and understand that everything comes in different levels of quality, and they want the best they can afford. Most of our clients have single-family homes and our emphasis is on what is going to happen in those homes. They tend to place a value on what professionals know, and they rely on our expertise to tell them whats on the horizon.

For home theater customers, what can happen in their homes is akin to what they see in The Rush Hour Theater (a copyrighted name.) The dugout seating accommodates 11 viewers. The back row, one of three, has a large area for looking over plans or plugging in a laptop for Power Point presentations.

We do demos in there showing all the latest and greatest, Ades said. We have an 11-foot wide Stewart screen, motorized masking, a fiber-optic ceiling for simulated sunrise and sunset, and a D-BOX hard-drive with stored motion code storage for more than 400 DVDs.

The Rush Hour elicits a lot of comments, he said, for its Michelangelo-style theme, complete with foam columns and crown molding made by a design fabricator and faux finished by Charlotte Ades to look like stone. Fully lighted catwalks above 10-foot ceilings allow for wiring changes and rerouting. Insulation at the top of the building was installed above the roof, allowing for additional space.

Bay Audio president Ira Friedman first saw the Contemporary Sounds showroom plans two years ago and wasnt impressed at first. Richard has been a dealer for us for several years, and previously had a beautiful retail space in a high traffic area, Friedman said. He showed us the plans for the space, but they didnt really convey a sense of intimacy, and I thought the project looked elaborate and perhaps too overwhelming.

Friedmans doubts evaporated when he attended the grand unveiling of the new showroom. It changed my perception of what a custom showroom could be, he said. Its been done in such a way as to ingratiate customers into what this business is. Plenty of people have built homes inside their facilities, but Richards doesnt look like a home. Its a showroom and an honest one.

The Ades impeccable taste adds to the success of the project. They like to be surrounded by nice things and their customers do, too, Friedman noted. Theyre comfortable showing off the technology. This is a space that says, Here we are, this is what we do and we think youll like it too. Theres no chicanery.

Sixty to seventy percent of CS business is in home theater, with the remainder in distributed audio. Now were getting into lighting control, both electronic and natural light with motorized screens or shades, Ades said. Touch panels are part of the solution for the table full of remotes.

CS systems, including a display device, begin at about $18,000, Ades said. The theater in our showroom would sell for about $295,000. That figure is high-end for Oklahoma City; in Dallas high-end would be around half a million dollars, but theyve had HDTV for three years. Here its been around for a year and a half. There are also hundreds of dedicated media rooms in Dallas.

Ades, a Rochester, New York, native graduated from Rutgers College in 1968 and joined the Air Force. My last assignment was in Enid, Oklahoma, where I met a couple of guys who had Contemporary Sounds in Enid. I liked music so I started one in Oklahoma City. It was a separate corporation with common ownership.

His retail store had the typical stuff, Ades said, with 30 pairs of speakers hooked up through a switching device so people could compare to their hearts content. But our business model has always been a custom model; weve always had an interview process. When customers came in we would question them about their goals and placement in their home, and based on their input we made recommendations, delivered the system, hooked it up and showed them how to operate it which was brief back then.

In the late 70s and early 80s the retail store turned from shelves of equipment to individual rooms with vignettes. Our move to custom has been an evolutionary process, he said. We got to a point where we realized that looking like a typical electronics retail biz was becoming a turnoff.

CS has narrowed its selection of product lines, which now includes Digital Projection, Meyer Sound, Stewart Film Screen, Meridian, Mark Levinson, Arcam, Lexicon, Revel, Bay Audio and Boston Acoustics.

This new building only has one room that remotely resembles our previous space in that it has equipment in the room, Ades said. The other areas where you can see a presentation are driven by equipment in a room at the back of the building, not too dissimilar to the space we fight for in newer homes.

The project had its challenges, he admitted. It took two years to sell the old building, and then we worked out of boxes in a temporary location. We poured the slab in February 2002 and started moving in December 2002, behind schedule because of subcontractor deadlines. We had phones and computers when we moved in, and that was all. Its been a slow process, and weve had our noses in it for three years. But we feel were different and the showroom is physical evidence.

That Ades is operating successfully in a secondary market is to his credit, Friedman said. Affluent and technically savvy people often gravitate to the nearest major market, he added. Even those who have homes in Oklahoma may have second homes in a major city, so they dont think about buying high tech locally. As a result, a lot of services such as designers, architects and trades people who are really great are under-utilized. In secondary markets, if youre not a leader you lose the business to the primary market and you lose the opportunity to train your own market.

Yet it takes a certain type of person to pull of a project of this magnitude and still succeed in the custom installation market, Friedman argued. Most dealers lack the money or discipline to do this, he said, but they can do it on a smaller scale. Its not so much about the footage, its about creating a facility in which you live with the technology in a comfortable way, and you can do that with one or two rooms.

Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado.