With CEDIA this month (October 14-17 in Dallas) Residential Systems sat down with some of the custom installation industry’s most successful integrators to find out what clients want, how their businesses are growing, and where they see the future.
What is your primary goal in attending CEDIA this year?
For the Encore staff, forging relationships and continuing education are the goals. As for myself, this year’s CEDIA EXPO will be much different than in years past. Though I will still continue to forge and maintain relationships with industry colleagues, this year I will be more of a giver than a taker. I am on the judging panel for the manufacturer awards, which will take up some of my time while in Dallas. Along with having that honor, I have also been asked by CEDIA to be a special guest (panelist) for the class “Work Smarter, Not Harder,” which is an all-day event. I am truly looking forward to this year because at this point in my career, it is time to give back to a community that has done so much for my family and me.
Ian Williams, Encore Custom Audio Video, Sterling, VA:
I am looking forward to seeing some of the new 4K Blu-Ray players as well as media streaming devices.
David Schindler, Ultimate AV, Boca Raton, FL:
Jamie and Jeff Briesemeister, Integration Controls, St Louis, MO: This year, our decision-makers will be focusing on the technology being shown on the EXPO floor and discussions with manufacturers about how we can work better, together. Our employees will split time between educational sessions, manufacturer product training, and time on the floor.
Andrea and Barry Reiner, Innerspace Electronics, Port Chester, NY: The goal of attending CEDIA EXPO is to explore new products so we stay on the forefront of the industry.
Phil Barrick, One Touch Home Theater, San Diego, CA: My goal is to explore new product offerings and innovation and connect with current manufacturers and explore new ones.
What manufacturers’ products do you deal and recommend the most?
Ian Williams: Here is the short list, and compared to most other integration firms, it is short. We believe in what we sell and I am a true believer in less is better! There are a few more, but this is our bread and butter: Pro Audio Technology, Crestron, Digital Projection, Vutec, Cineak, Sony, Oppo, Autonomic Controls, and Kaleidescape.
David Schindler: Paradigm Speakers, Denon or Marantz for my mid-level clients, and Anthem separates for the music enthusiast.
Jamie and Jeff Briesemeister: Sonance products continue to innovate, creating aesthetically pleasing speakers that perform in the designed environment. We enjoy working with Sonance and all that Dana Innovations has to offer. In addition, Lutron has made great strides in beautiful shade solutions that have been a core part of our business this year.
Andrea and Barry Reiner: We use and recommend Savant, Sonos, B&W, Sonance, Lutron, and Samsung primarily.
Phil Barrick: Control4, Sonos, Crestron, Yamaha, Polk, Wyrestorm, Ubiquiti, Samsung.
An Encore Custom Audio Video theater.
What residential home automation features are your clients asking for in 2015?
Ian Williams: We have seen a wide range of features being asked for, some of them include HVAC control, RaVa SIP (intercom control through wireless devices on Crestron Systems), a lot of video distribution (Crestron), and streaming services and AirPlay.
David Schindler: Clients are looking for tablet compatibility and control, music and movie streaming services, and more motorization of TV wall mounts.
Jamie and Jeff Briesemeister: We are getting inquiries about connected shades and electronic locks, more so than we have in the past. The need for “one app” to do it all doesn’t seem as valuable as it used to, now that “one device” can do it all. That’s a mind-shift we have to make within our own company to offer our clients more of what they want, as we tend to want to integrate everything under one platform.
Andrea and Barry Reiner: Our clients want to be able to control their audio/video systems, lighting, motorized window treatments, HVAC, security systems, surveillance cameras, generator monitoring, and pool control from iOS devices.
Phil Barrick: Streaming music and video. I, however, have been educating my customers on the importance of a well-designed and robust Wi-Fi network for their home. Their music and video experience has to start with a solid foundation just like the building of their house has to start with a solid foundation.
The integration of motorized TV wall mounts is an Ultimate AV specialty.
How much commercial work are you doing these days? Has it surpassed your residential business?
Ian Williams: I have a biased opinion on this matter (good, bad, indifferent). We do very little commercial, only on special occasions. We never changed our business model during tough times in 2007 (smart or not smart). I know a lot of resi guys started doing the commercial stuff out of pure necessity, based on what started happening to the economy, but I never took that approach, even if it meant not earning as much. I think residential AV is a completely different animal than commercial, and our true attributes are working directly with a client and forging long-lasting personal relationships, something that is uncommon in the commercial world. I worked in the Pentagon for three years before going back to residential, and it is another world!
David Schindler: Not as much as I should. No, most of my work is from my network of designers that keep us quite busy.
Jamie and Jeff Briesemeister: Light commercial work tends to account for about 25 percent of our sales on a given year, though this year we’ve seen less commercial work. Last year, commercial comprised about 50 percent of our sales.
Andrea and Barry Reiner: Our commercial work consists of about 10 percent of our overall revenue.
Phil Barrick: Commercial consists of about 15 percent of our business, primarily because it is not our main focus.
An Integration Controls fully automated kitchen.
Has your business been growing with the economy? Have you had to do some hiring? If so, in what capacity?
Ian Williams: Absolutely! We have doubled in size over the last two years and we are getting ready to hire more employees at the end of this fiscal quarter. We have also doubled our revenues and are beginning to see things level out a bit, but still maintaining growth.
David Schindler: Absolutely, I have been using some new subcontractors to help pick up some of the smaller jobs that fall in between the larger jobs. My subs are happy being independents.
Jamie and Jeff Briesemeister: We had a moment where we were growing and hired two additional technicians in the attempt to bring the owners out of the technical environment. We had a few personal setbacks that affected our growth, so we had to stop, re-evaluate, and proceed in a slightly different direction. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be hiring again by the end of the year.
Andrea and Barry Reiner: Yes, the business has been growing. In fact we have hired technical, systems designers, and administrative staff to handle the increased workload.
Phil Barrick: Business has grown since the ugly collapse of the housing market. New residential track homes were our primary business. Since then, we moved into the semi-custom market. It has been steadily growing. We have recently added new residential track homes back into our business. It is going very well. We are cautious in our growth but have designed some very practical options and products and are seeing positive response from our customers. We recently added three new employees.
Innerspace Electronics designed this gym with multiple displays and control.
How can CEDIA better meet the needs of the custom integrator as we move into the later part of the decade?
Ian Williams: I feel in the last few years CEDIA has done a much better job in regard to educating owners from the financial and business side of our industry, but not enough, and that still needs improving. Most business owners in the CI channel are former technicians (like me) and have no prior/proper education or means of knowing how to run a business. I think we concentrate too much on gadgets and gizmos, rather than running smooth, profitable businesses. I think we should be encouraging young business owners to concentrate more on the business stuff, rather than HDMI cables and 4K video; that’s just my opinion. My philosophy all along is you don’t know what you don’t know, and hopefully guys like me who have made a ton of mistakes the hard way because “I did not know any different” can help other owners early in their transition from being techs to owners.
Jamie and Jeff Briesemeister: CEDIA has done a great job of creating opportunities for business growth and development to occur, both through the creation of the Business Xchange and CEDIA Groups. This should continue as we move toward unifying the industry in procedural best practices, both in what we offer our clients as well as our employees. In addition, CEDIA has the connections and opportunities to bring manufacturers together toward unifying standards and guidelines that benefit our industry as a whole. We’d like to see an increased quality check on the products that our manufacturers try to sell us. Being in the industry, we understand that technology is quickly changing and our manufacturers often are at the leading edge of this change. Ensuring they are creating quality products that last, despite technological advances, is of great importance. It’s one of the biggest obstacles to selling technology: people hesitate because of fear that it will be obsolete in a year. Let’s get past this hurdle and design/sell/provide products that last 10 years or more! Cheap production is helping manufacturers short term, but quality production will help manufacturers, their dealers, and the client, long term.
Andrea and Barry Reiner: CEDIA needs to continue to provide support, collaboration, and training opportunities.
Phil Barrick: The biggest problem in this industry is cohesiveness between manufacturers and new technology. New technology continuously comes out. The population is not ready, and we integrators are left to figure it out. It is the tough part of this industry. It would be beneficial if an organization like CEDIA took note of the reality of it all and provided some type of step-ahead training for this new technology and the integration of it. The dos and don’ts, the best practices, etc., what we all need to succeed!
Maureen Jenson is a Los Angeles-based contributing editor to Residential Systems.