The Value in a Free Lunch

Architects are an integral part of our work, and the architectural community probably has more influence on the success of our industry than any other outside group. For this reason, my company has been increasing our efforts to reach out to architects in our area. More and more architects are warming up to technology being an integral part of their construction projects.
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Architects are an integral part of our work, and the architectural community probably has more influence on the success of our industry than any other outside group. For this reason, my company has been increasing our efforts to reach out to architects in our area. More and more architects are warming up to technology being an integral part of their construction projects.

I have not taken any formal polls, but it appears that the driving factor for architects' increased interest in our scope involves specific requests from their clients, who are asking mostly about home theaters, distributed sound and general wiring. Rarely will we get a call from an architect in which he or she says, "I would like to arrange a meeting with you and my client to discuss an entire technology package, structured wiring, distributed audio, home control and a home theater." Instead the request usually is for only one area of focus, such as background music or an entertainment system. If delicately presented, however, most architects are open to discussion about other possibilities and often even to take our suggestions back to their client, resulting in a meeting between the client and us.

The easiest step is enrolling an architect in the concept of a whole-house structured wiring package. They usually see the wisdom of preparing a house with computer, telephone and TV wiring. One reason this is an easy one is that there really is no risk for the architect to advocate a basic wiring package, especially one that supports services that have such a high probability of being needed by their clients.

We suggest that most of the common rooms and bedrooms should be prepared with wiring for background music speakers, as well as speakers for one or more surround sound systems. For the ultimate in flexibility we propose that speakers in bedrooms, offices and mixed-use rooms be prewired both for a local system and for a central system, so that either system architecture can be employed on a room-by-room basis. Convincing an architect to consider a full home control or automation system can be more of a challenge, but we are often successful in convincing them to consider design and prewiring to prepare the house for the future.

We have increased our focus on our relationships with architects over the last year. Our most recent outreach program is our luncheon presentation. We have found that some architects are not too enthusiastic about meeting with an audio/video systems integrator when they may not have any projects with pressing requirements, but they seem to warm up to the idea if we offer to bring lunch for them and their key staff members. We arrange for a deli platter or sandwiches, at a cost of about $10 a head. I figure this is a pretty good deal, because for $50-$100 we have a captive audience of architects for an hour or two.

During the lunch, we tell them about our company, history, awards, industry participation, projects and clients, and we give them a summary of the range of products and services we offer. We also interview them about what their past experiences have been with home technologies and with other systems integration firms, good and bad. After lunch, we go into our "show-and-tell" segment. We have prepared a full traveling demo home control system, complete with a range of working touchpanels. We walk them through the basic operation of each type of control, often suggesting that one of them push the buttons.

Then we show them some samples of lighting dimming system wallplates and explain the advantages of a centralized dimming system as compared to conventional switching or localized dimming units. We show an example of a structured wiring central hub, bundled cables and connector wallplates. We explain how we go about doing the prewire, the services that can be delivered with the structured wiring system and what the benefits of installing a packaged system are. We also take a full set of sample plans that we prepared for this purpose. This set has examples of conduit plans, wiring diagrams, cabinet elevations, rack elevations and dimmer system details. If we have time, we show some photos of jobs we have done in our portfolio or on a portable computer. We always have copies of various magazines that have featured our work and/or the company itself. We leave them with a few information packages with the pertinent information and marketing materials.

We close by soliciting questions about our services, us, or ideally, about need for specific projects they are working on. A very important element is making sure that no one in the meeting leaves with any unanswered questions. Plus, by answering their questions about their work we have the opportunity to discuss our potential involvement without being pushy.

An important thing to keep in mind is that the presentation must be useful to the architects, in their judgment, not ours. That means we must resist the temptation to make it a hard-core presentation or direct sales pitch about our company, instead of covering our products and services as a representative of the industry as a whole. By helping architects understand how they can address technology in their practice in general, we end up looking good. If they have immediate interest or requirements, they will bring it up.

Just this week we made a luncheon presentation to a small architectural firm in our area. We had received a call from a contractor who was looking for some acoustical materials. I asked him some questions about the house he was building and what was being done about technology, and he gave me the name and number of the architect. The luncheon went very well, and later that day, they e-mailed the CAD drawings for a current project so we could prepare a proposal for a design package to address a dedicated home theater, structured wiring system, multi-room music system and a full home control system. Not bad considering it only cost us lunch.

David Epstein (davidepstein@integratingdesign.com) is the founder and president of SEi/Sound Solutions, in Santa Monica, California.

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