It seems like everything in our business comes in waves. Sometimes we will have a bunch of video matrices being sold all at once, and lately we have been on a “take-over job” roll. These include an unusual number of projects by integrators who have moved out of the area, have left the residential space, or have gone out of business. I’m not sure what is driving the trend, or if it is just another odd blip in our business cycle, but it has been great for us.
With all of these take-over jobs happening, we have come up with a checklist of things that we cover with the client and a process for evaluating these systems. I wanted to share that checklist, for the next time you take over another integrator’s project
Upon meeting with the client for the first time, we spend some time going over how they live and use the system they currently have.
—What do they use all the time?
—What do they love the about the system? What do they show off to friends and family?
—What do they wish they could do but can’t today?
—How would they like to have features such as ____? (push and hold to shut down the house, voice control, in-wall touchpanels, streaming video, access to Spotify/Pandora/Tidal, etc.)
—What did they love about working with their prior integrator? (Here is where I get some understanding of their long-term relationship expectations, such as response time, after-hours support, and preferred method of communication, so I can build those expectations into our service agreement or temper expectations if they are not realistic.)
We also set some expectations for the project at this meeting. We only rebuild programs from scratch. We will not try to Band-Aid another program that is more than one year old. I do not want us to be responsible for someone else’s programming. We will likely dismantle and rebuild the rack, and their system will be completely modernized. As mentioned above, we set expectations for service and support. We also discuss budget and ensure that the client is aware that this will be a major overhaul.
We bill the client for a full day of diagnostic work where we inspect and document the head-end rack to understand what they have in the system, how it is all connected, the wiring scheme used (component vs. HDMI, Cat cable to each TV, network infrastructure, etc.) We download and review the programming to understand the basics of the program design, and we walk the home with them to understand how they use the existing keypads, touchpanels, iOS devices, remotes, shading, and lighting control. Finally, we explain the additional trade partners that we will likely need to bring in, such as electricians, HVAC, shading, etc.
Proposal and Upgrade
There will be a lot of systems and subsystems to upgrade, most likely. Again, we will do our best to use what they have, but if it is out of date, or close to out of date, we will replace it. We want them to have a modern, easy-to-use, up-to-date system that they will be excited about and that we will be able to maintain for years to come.
There is almost universally a need for a better network. When most of these take-over jobs were completed originally, many AV professionals were not networking experts. Typically, the home is still using an ISP router and a cheap 8-port switch. One of the biggest complaints that we hear during our initial meeting is how bad the Wi-Fi is throughout the home.
Additionally, every one of these jobs gets an upgraded processor. Every. Single. One. We almost always have to put in upgraded audio and video matrices, as well, because the older ones can’t handle 4K (or even HDMI very often.) We also rebuild the racks and upgrade the touchpanels. Usually, either the client has ancient in-wall panels that use a lot of hard buttons with a tiny screen, or they have a Gen1 iPad in an in-wall dock. Everything gets upgraded and we fully re-program of the system.
We have found that clients who have these systems and have had them for years fully appreciate the benefits of whole-home automation and understand the investment it will take to get them back up to date. I was actually surprised at how little push back we have gotten on budgets from these clients.
What sorts of questions do you ask clients who have worked with other integrators in the past? What are your “take-over client” best practices? Please share your comments below.