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The Trusted Contractor Dilemma

We are the experts. While a client may ask for a second opinion from a trusted advisor, we know the product and process better than anyone else and need to assert our knowledge and expertise.

Graphic: Thinkstock 
When my wife and I built our home a few years ago, I was guilty of leaning on the “Trusted Advisor,” be it my mom when it came to decorating or my friend who works for an HVAC contractor when it came to the AC and heating system. If you don’t know much about cars, you ask a friend who does know a lot what his opinion is after you hear from the mechanic. It’s smart to get second opinions from people you trust, and it happens to us all of the time professionally.

My friend Mark Feinberg, owner of Home Theater Advisors, faced this type of situation recently. He had run into some complications during the pre-wire phase of job that were the result of miscommunication. The client and contractor kept using the word “renovation,” the home was covered in Masonite, and a large dumpster was parked in the driveway when he arrived. So he and his team treated the pre-wire as a renovation, employing the easiest and fastest wiring methods, creating a bit of dust and debris while channeling in the lath and plaster walls. The client wasn’t happy because they didn’t expect that much work to be done in terms of channeling, and the contractor acted like he hadn’t been on the job site every day witnessing what was happening.

While everything has been smoothed over by now, Mark was in a corner when the client mentioned a few weeks ago that the contractor had TV mounts he really liked and would like to use them, but still wanted Home Theater Advisors to install them. Mark agreed to the request, but he paid the price this week when the TV install was scheduled, and the mounts were much more complicated to install than anticipated. They had very unforgiving back plates for wire placement and due to poor quality control, the “up” arrow was stamped incorrectly (thus the mounts were installed the mount upside down on the first try.) What should have taken two hours max, ended up taking nearly five hours.

So what is the lesson learned? We are the experts. While a client may ask for a second opinion from a trusted advisor, we know the product and process better than anyone else and need to assert our knowledge and expertise.

What should have happened and what will happen next time? Mark will tell the client that he understands the contractor likes his mount, but Home Theater Advisors has mounts that they install day in and day out; they look great and work great. If the client wants to use another brand, it may cost them more in the long run, as they will be charged time and materials for the mounting or even more if unforeseen challenges arise. With product purchased directly from HTA, there is a fixed cost for the mounting as they are able to spec out exactly where the power outlet and low-voltage wiring needs to be located based on the mount and the TV make and model. There is also more certainty in the time it will take, so there is less risk of the job spilling into an extra day and inconveniencing the client or delaying other trades. If the contractor or client insists on using a different mount or other product, then either the contractor should be responsible for the installation of the TV or the client will be charged time and material for the installation process.

This can happen with almost anything, not just mounts. A client can insist on using some Amazon deal speaker his brother-in-law insists in the best thing since sliced bread, but when paired with the amp you’ve carefully selected and calibrated, it sounds like crap (maybe because it’s a crap speaker or maybe because it doesn’t pair well with the rest of the equipment). They could purchase their own AVR, but it doesn’t play well with the HDBaseT extender you plan to use and a reliable signal becomes an issue. Maybe their neighbor has a Harmony remote and is ridiculing them for spending thousands on a universal remote, so now they are insisting on a Harmony, with all of the risks of reliability and lack of discrete control that entails. Or the client is adamant about using an Apple Airport Extreme as their router. There goes your managed network and your remote access to troubleshoot. In the short term any of these things will save the client a lot of money, but in the long run, it will cost them in service calls that didn’t need to happen. The client needs to be made aware of this, in writing, at the time of the decision so that you, as the integrator, are not left to blame when things don’t work right.

This is the same reason I will not comment to a client about the work of another trade. I am not an expert in electrical or HVAC or general contracting. Let the experts do their thing. If you have a concern, raise it with the trade and maybe make a suggestion, but don’t start putting bugs in clients’ ears that will make things more difficult for your trade partners.

Everyone has people in their life who they will turn to for advice or to validate their choices. Our job as integrators is to be the expert in what we do best: A/V, networking, and automation. While clients’ concerns and options should be considered and listened to, we must be strong enough to advise them on what is the best for the situation and what the risks are if they do not take our advice—both in terms of long-term cost and overall performance.

+Todd Anthony Puma is president of The Source Home Theater Installation, in New York City.