This year concludes my 10th year in the audio video industry. Back in 2002 my company was selling and installing a lot of satellite dishes. We also sold car audio (I can’t say I miss those boys and their crazy thumping cars) and flat-screen TVs. These were not the flat screens of today, but the ones with picture tubes protruding from the back. TV truck deliveries consisted of TVs so heavy that I couldn’t even drop them off the truck. We also had a repair shop where we fixed VHS players, camcorders, and other AV equipment.
Today we are a “solutions” company helping clients find the perfect tech solutions from one remote to control it all to the perfect TV for their room. We still have a showroom with more than 30 flat-panel TVs on display and many new technologies for them to experience before they buy, but a lot has changed. As my first decade at the shop comes to a close, I’ve been thinking of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Here’s what came to mind:
1. Share Your Expectations: One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to let people know what you expect of them. Much tension and stress can arise because we don’t let people (I’m talking employees here, but could also be spouse and/or clients) know what we want them to do. For example, at a time of great stress in our company, I drew out a flow chart of how the sale of a system worked and who was responsible for each piece. This really helped. Sometimes an employee is not aware of the entire process. Same goes for clients—if we let them know what to expect during an install or troubleshooting call, life will flow much easier. Let people know what you expect of them. Go ahead, try it.
2. Life Goes On: Being a small company (five of us total) our employees tend to be a bit like family. We have low turnover. We’ve had employees for up to 13 years. And let me tell you, when that employee leaves, it’s a big deal, but not always as bad as you think. New blood allows for change and reinvigoration. It allows for your vision to be improved. Sure, it is never easy to find new employees, especially in this industry, but the world does not end when one does decide to spread his or her wings. It could be just what your company needs.
3. Nobody Dies: During the analog-to-digital conversion, some people really did believe that they might, in fact, keel over if they didn’t get their free TV. I’ve had people literally cry over the phone because they feared their loss of TV (and I really wanted to tell them to read a book). As Emerson said, “You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day…” We have to remember this on our worse days. It’s just a job. Nobody dies.
4. It’s Not Personal, it’s Business: This year I fired a client for the first time, and I’ve never felt better about such an act. I even returned the deposit and let him keep the drawings we had done. Why would I do such a thing? Because even with formulas and business training, sometimes we have to just trust our gut, our instincts. One bad apple can ruin the year. If I was unable to convince this person that we were the perfect company for them at the proposal process, how could I ever please him upon install? If he didn’t trust we were the experts, then we would fail to ever please him. I’m not saying it was easy, but it was the right decision and one of the hardest I’ve made.
5. What We Do is Cool: It is so easy to get bogged down in the everyday world of running a business—putting out fires—that we lose sight of the fact that what we do is cool. We provide a service to people that is fun and exciting. We’re not installing toilets (no offense to those that do), or filing paperwork all-day-long—we’re changing peoples’ lives for the better. We’re improving their quality of life. Remember that as you move forward. Blast the music once in awhile in your showroom. Dance it out! Sit down and watch your favorite demo. Remember why you got into this business and what made you love it in the first place. This will transfer to sales. People buy passion.
What lessons have you learned?
As my first decade in the AV industry comes to a close, I reflect on the past, and look toward the future with excitement. Look for me in the New Year at CES and beyond.
I wish all my fellow custom integrators a safe and happy holiday season.