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A Rockin’ Time at AVAD’s Vend-o-Palooza

OK, so it wasn’t anywhere as cool as the original Lollapalooza (so I've heard), but AVAD’s Vend-o-Palooza, in its second year, looked to be a very valuable experience for about 250 attendees and 35 manufacturers who participated in the Van Nuys, California stop of the national tour of 20 of the value-added dist

OK, so it wasn’t anywhere as cool as the original Lollapalooza (so I’ve heard), but AVAD’s Vend-o-Palooza, in its second year, looked to be a very valuable experience for about 250 attendees and 35 manufacturers who participated in the Van Nuys, California stop of the national tour of 20 of the value-added distributor’s local branches, April 9th.

The energetic “tent event” (pictured above, early in the day) featured free vendor raffles and a grand-prize AVAD custom electric guitar (right) from Schecter guitars, a catered barbeque lunch, and four business training workshops.

I came a long way to see the action in Van Nuys, so after saying hello to my host, AVAD co-founder Wally Whinna (pictured with the custom guitar), I went inside the tent and hit the ground running. 

My first stop on my tabletop exhibit tour was Middle Atlantic Products, whose western regional team member Whitt Adams (pictured left, in blue shirt) said that he found value in the AVAD event because he not only meets brand-new dealers but “top guys” as well. Adams noted that he often learns about installation challenges that his company may not yet encountered. “You learn more from them than what you teach them,” he said.

Moving on, AVAD’s Irvine, California, branch manager Scott Lee was on hand to explain the merits of specs ProFlex and ProConnect cable brands. He pointed out that all cables in the line are CL rated or UL listed and that he connectors are pre-tested for better reliability and competitive performance.

My next visit was with NetStreams director of training and field systems engineering, Jeff Coates. He was happy to tell his brand’s story while surrounded by companies that, he says, integrate harmoniously with NetStreams products. “We work with just about every product in this tent,” he said. “NetStreams kind of ti

es it altogether.”

Coates explained how a NetStreams control system can be up and running a short time, saving dealers time and money, because minimal programming is necessary to set the system up.

On my next stop, Atlantic Technology’s VP of sales, Lawrence Davis (right), described the flexibility of his company’s System 4200E THX Select Subwoofer Satellite Speaker System. He noted that Atlantic’s speakers are consistently voiced across the line, that the same tweeter is used across the board, and that all of the company’s products are manufactured in one factory.

I then made my way over to Pantel, a growing player in the burgeoning outdoor weatherproof TV category. The company’s trade show director Ryan Moodley (left) told me about his company’s recent foray into the digital signage market with pending deals with Disney’s amusement parks, Baltimore’s Camden Yards, and ACME movie theaters. Moodley described his company’s competitive advantages, such as powder-coated aluminum design, ultra-bright, anti-reflective tempered glass screens, and marine speakers that are capable of handling rain, snow, and dust. The company’s line is available in 20- to 65-inch sizes, and includes a relatively new model that doubles as a mirror when the TV is turned off. Pantel is not sold online and AVAD is its biggest customer, Moodley said.

Next up was Rhino, the label-maker gurus, which was represented by Brett Henderson of Professional Sales Representatives (PSR). He pointed out that dealers who take professionalism to the next level with something as basic as printed labels instead of Sharpie’s and masking tape, often have a better chance at earning that next referral. The Rhino line is diverse, with specific models for various channels, such as datacom, security, and professional AV, including the desktop design, Model 6500. The biggest evolutionary feature of the professional labeling machines is the download feature when the device is connected to the Internet. The 6500 offers this functionality.

I moved on next to Parasound’s director of operations, Paul Brownlee (left), who made the astute observation that in today’s challenging economy, dealers with established brands may not see the value in attending a big show like CEDIA or CES, but are willing to visit a local AVAD Vend-o-Palooza to catch up with key vendors or take note of a new offering here or there. During last week’s event in Van Nuys, Brownlee described the merits of Parasound’s ultra-compact Z Series, which includes a Zone Tuner, Zone Preamp, and Zone Amp. With all-discrete IR codes and RS-232 protocols and modules, the Z line is designed to integrate with control systems such as Control4, NetStreams, Crestron, Russound, and Niles.

Speaking of Niles, Sean “Smitty” Smith, a product specialist for that manufacturer was on hand at their table to describe the company’s ZR-6 Multizone line and to hand out the new Ceiling-Mount Loudspeakers Specifiers Guide to dealers. While I was there, he was describing the company’s new IR sensor products, which have been designed to account new wideband cable boxes for fiber-optic-based set-top boxes from AT&T Uverse and Verizon FiOS. Smith noted that he’s sending out beta samples to dealers who have had lag issues with these STBs, making sure that they work as well in the field as they do in the lab.

Next up, Optoma’s Miguel Lomeli (right), the technical sales manager who represents the company west of the Mississippi, told dealers about his company’s H

D8200 home theater projector, which features a single 0.65-inch 1080p DarkChip3 DMD DLP, a centered lense, DynamicBlack iris control, and ISF-certified calibration controls, with Day and Night modes.

I then moved on to Artison, where engineer and customer service rep Matthew LaBruzzo offered his company’s elegant loudspeaker solution for flat-panel displays. The LCR/LCR-IW offer a DualMono center channel in the left and right speakers, to eliminate the need for an actual center channel under the video display. The DualMono focuses the acoustic image so the sound comes from the center of the screen. The company also offered its RCC “vibration-free” subwoofers, which feature a Reactive Canceling Configuration, which places two drivers opposing one another in phase so that the reactance forces on the baskets mechanical cancel one another.

At this point, I felt like I was in the midst of the trade show equivalent of speed dating and needed a break before I collapsed. That’s when I realized that former RS columnist Bob Smith was presenting his very popular “Law & Mortar” workshop on the legal pitfalls and rewards of running a custom installation business. Smith, a former Panamax employee, licensed general contractor, and former litigation attorney who now serves as dean of AVAD University, offered advice to a roomful of attendees on what any contract with a builder or homeowner should contain. In 90 minutes, Smith covered more ground than I have time to write about. In a nutshell, he directed attendees to the AIA for pre-written contracts to use as guides to their own contracts, and he emphasized the importance of keeping a job diary to protect yourself in the event of a lawsuit.

After Smith’s workshop, I went back outside for a hearty barbeque lunch and an always-pleasant conversation with industry veteran Buzz Delano. Following lunch, Delano and I headed back inside the tent where I met up with his consulting client, iPort, which was represented by Robert Miller (left with Delano and a customer) from the company’s tech support department. Miller chatted with dealers about the advantages of his company’s product, which elegantly integrates iPod devices of all sizes into an integrated AV system.

Next stop was one of AVAD’s newest members (the other is B&K), Martin Logan. During my conversation with national accounts sales manager, Allan Tarrant, I learned more about the company’s Helos in-ceiling speakers. Tarrant said that Vend-o-Palooza attendees were surprised to learn that Martin Logan had been manufacturing in-wall speakers since 2004, despite its reputation as a maker of artfully designed electrostatic speakers. He said that AVAD is helping the manufacturer regain some of its sales lost by the demise of retail partners in recent months, although the company still controls its distribution to only select lines through AVAD (a handful of ESL Series models, the Design Series, and the Custom Installation line). “We don’t want to disrupt our current dealer territories,” Tarrant said. “All new dealers have to be approved by us.”

I then made my way over to Key Digital, next, where I spoke with Bobby Imkhanitsky (below, right), the company’s national training manager. He handed me his company’s enormous 2008-2009 Product Catalog and described a veritable potpourri of AV matrix switcher products that Key Digital sells to dealers. One of the new offerings is the KD-MSCAT8X8. This Hercules Series member is capable of switching up to eight component/RGBHV video sources/inputs to eight independent zones/outputs via Cat-5/6/7 with digital/analog audio, which includes volume, tone, balance, and lip sync control. The product is field-expandable with additional units up to 16×16, 24×24, 32×32, or 40×40.

And, as I finally began to completely run out of steam, I dropped by APC’s table, where I chatted with national account manager, Todd McGuire. He told me that his pitch to AVAD attendees was that his company can provide a range of solutions from a seven-outlet power management option all the way up to a 1.6 megawatt device, all engineered by APC electrical engineers and manufactured in its own plants. One of APC’s big pushes right now is remote management of AV systems, enabling an integrator to reboot a home network via the Internet, troubleshoot a system, or take a pro-active approach to system maintenance, saving money, in most cases, by avoiding a costly truck roll.

As I wrapped up my day, I picked up the much-coveted Vend-o-Palooza shirt, bringing this thought to mind, “I was there, man! Van Nuys 2009!” Um, okay, so my college roommate was a little cooler with his inaugural Lollapalooza t-shirt back in 1991, but I did have fun catching up with industry peers and feeling a little industry energy as we head into the warmer months. Because it was only one day, booths were reduced to tables, and the event was outdoors, the energy was noteworthy, indeed. AVAD has come a long way and their role in the industry is more important now than it has ever been. And, here’s to outdoor trade shows! CEDIA are you listening?