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21st Century Distributing Talks Commercial Crossover

Q&A With PowerHouse Alliance Member on Diversifying Your Work

This month, one of our topics ties in with InfoComm and the light commercial installation opportunities for home technology professionals. We asked Dennis Holzer, executive director of the PowerHouse Alliance, to contact a member of his distribution network about the topic. He suggested 21st Century Distributing, Raleigh, NC-based distributor of AV, home integration, and security/surveillance products, with warehouses in Charlotte, NC, Atlanta, GA, Nashville, TN, and Orlando, FL. Here’s what 21st Century Distributing interviewees Kenny Thugut, purchasing manager, and Vanessa Zitzmann, marketing and sales director, had to say on the subject.

Kenny Thugut, 21st Century Distributing

Holzer: How much of your business is moving to light commercial installations, now that the residential channel seems to be humming along again?
Thugut: Our residential AV business is continuing to grow as categories expand with new networking and automation products. Presently, about 10 percent of 21st Century Distributing’s overall business is light commercial, but it is beginning to significantly expand as we see increases to both the categories and product mix within our region. There are major areas for growth in light commercial that we are currently focusing on. Networking, digital signage, and security/surveillance are showing huge gains, and we intend on being a part of that growth sector.

How important is it to remain diverse in a dealer’s offering (resi versus light commercial), even in good times?
Zitzmann: As a distributor, it’s important for us to suit our dealers’ diverse needs, whether that’s security, automation, or networking products for residential or light commercial installations. We’ve noticed that our dealers are dipping their toes into new categories, and they look to us for product recommendations, education, and advice when designing projects. Dealers want their distributors to be a one-stop shop because it takes less time for them to come to us to access product from multiple vendors with exact quantities, all at once. With demos on-site, we can let dealers get hands on–or even provide hands-on training–at any of our distribution locations, before they decide to use product on jobs.

It’s important that regional distributors like 21st have both the product expertise and inventory available for anything that they may need. This is our edge as distributors–[something] that manufacturers and online ordering can’t always supply. As the industry continues shifting, all of the distributors in the PowerHouse Alliance, including us at 21st Century Distributing, are keeping our eyes and ears open to dealer feedback and buzz on new technologies that customers are asking for. The right product mix and availability is crucial in supporting our dealer base in both the resi and light commercial arenas.

Vanessa Zitzmann, 21st Century Distributing

When can residential products work on the light commercial side and when do you need to stick to commercial-grade gear?
Thugut: Some categories are more predisposed to cross over between light commercial and residential applications. For example, many touchpanels and remote controls for automation systems function well in both types of installations because the purpose and amount of use for those products is about the same in both applications. There are also TV mounts and touch controls, such as Sonance’s iPad wall fixtures, which you will see installed in homes as often as you see them installed in restaurants.

Projector screens can also have crossover depending on the size of the installation. There are cases where a custom home theater is going to have more area than a small presentation room in a business, so the size and need of each individual project can call for more traditionally residential or traditionally commercial products. Projector screens are offered in a wide variety of sizes, (even custom, if necessary) to suit any application, whereas the projectors themselves are designed for more specific applications and throw lengths, which lends less to crossover. Factors that can affect this include room size, the projector’s distance from the screen, and natural lighting. Similar to other categories, commercial solutions can work well and be more rugged for large residential projects, and we often recommend them to dealers depending on the project and customer’s needs.

The same can be said for audio products, where there is less crossover. We suggest 70-volt for commercial installations, such as restaurants, bars, and boardrooms. The 70-volt products remediate issues with impedance and quality of sound in larger spaces.

What are the most popular light commercial crossover products in your lineup?
Thugut: One of the main commercial brands that we carry, which crosses into residential, is Atlas Sound, specifically their on-wall remote control keypads. The keypads are a useful solution because they’re fixed. Remotes tend to go missing in commercial environments more so than residential.

When paired with the right projector, projection screens are a popular commercial crossover product category. Lately we’ve also seen some crossover in the security and surveillance category, as well, with products such as Yale’s new commercial line and product upgrades coming from 2GIG.

What training do you recommend for the light commercial space?
Zitzmann: 21st Century Distributing frequently holds dealer trainings, which is a special focus for us as a member of the PowerHouse Alliance. As an example, throughout the month of May we completed our third-annual Integration and Innovation Roadshow with stops at all of our five distribution locations in the Southeast. At each event, we offered multiple trainings for dealers on the latest and greatest products and technologies. Our training for Just Add Power is a great example of a crossover line that we recently started carrying: Their products can be installed in homes, airports, restaurants, and office buildings all over the country.

We, and our fellow PowerHouse Alliance members, offer a wide variety of trainings on an ongoing basis to dealers. But, when it comes to light commercial specifically, we find pairing projectors and screens can be tricky, and with so many in light commercial spaces, it’s important to be able to measure and pair up the right combination. This is a topic where we encourage dealer education, as well as new products and installation methods that continue to become available. To help dealers, many vendors will provide system design assistance for complex projects at no additional charge, providing an exact part list to make installations easier.

The most important aspect of moving into the light commercial space is having a resource for questions, guidance, and of course, stock. All 12 distributors of the Power House Alliance are fully staffed with trained and qualified people who are ready to help dealers get started. If there is a training that dealers are interested in, all they have to do is ask and we will make it happen. Our success is based on dealer success and we want everyone to succeed!