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Resimercial Week: Considering Commercial

Tips on expanding your business with resimercial and the potential of full-fledged commercial projects.

Resimercial Week Logo - ADI

Resimercial, defined here as light commercial work completed by a residential integration firm, is having a moment as more and more dealers include it in their service offerings. Its impact can be seen throughout the industry, most notably in the addition of Commercial Integrator Expo, a commercial technology show, to this year’s CEDIA Expo.

In explaining the reasoning why CI Expo was added to the event, in this month’s Going Forward column, Jason McGraw, group vice president for CEDIA Expo and KBIS, Emerald, says that, when Emerald asked registrants at last year’s CEDIA Expo, 45 percent said they do commercial projects in addition to residential. And with many CEDIA exhibitors offering products on both sides of the market, the expansion makes sense.

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With technology differences eroding — particularly in areas like videoconferencing, where residential systems need to be as robust as enterprise ones, and hospitality, which needs to reflect the high-end comforts of home — the possibilities for a CI firm to take advantage of commercial work continue to grow.

Recognizing Resimercial

For many dealers, getting started in light commercial work is a natural evolution — so much so that the work comes to them without the dealer having to look for it. That was the experience for Larry Dashiell, owner of Summit Technology Group. Summit began as an electrical firm founded by Dashiell’s father in the early ’60s, adding full residential integration services in the ’90s. The company’s main work is in residential integration, but in the vineyard-heavy area of Santa Rosa, Calif., they are also finding work in wineries. The majority of those projects come to them through their current smart home and electrical work.

“Our main focus is on custom residential work, but we don’t turn away light commercial work,” says Dashiell. “We just got a job at a nice winery in Sonoma County. In that case, we actively went after the technology side of that job because we were already on the job site as electricians. We wouldn’t normally go out and market to wineries, but in many of the wineries we work for, we’re already working for the owners on their houses. So, they ask us to work in their businesses, too.”

There’s a hybrid between residential and commercial, and those are the kinds of jobs we go after because we’re not trying to use a whole different product mix. — Larry Dashiell, Summit Technology Group

Summit’s resimercial projects fit squarely into their expertise and are treated as an extension of their residential skills. “There’s a hybrid between residential and commercial, and those are the kinds of jobs we go after because we’re not trying to use a whole different product mix,” says Dashiell. “We can do everything with Sonance or Control4 or Lutron. We’re not trying to learn a new product to do one job. Wineries are just like a big house.”

While the tech is similar, there are some differences in performing light commercial work. “You find a little bit more margin pressure in commercial,” says Dashiell. “It’s harder to get good margins in commercial, but there is an efficiency factor. There’s not a lot of emotions, so it’s quicker to get the job done. They’re on a schedule to get their winery opened, so they move it forward.”

Light Commercial Is Still Commercial

Once you start working in resimercial, you are a hybrid residential/commercial dealer. At least that is how Snap One sees it, and being a manufacturer that services both worlds, they offer a big-picture view of the tools dealers are using to service all types of clients.

“We view the world in the same way that dealers think about themselves,” says Scott Normand, commercial market senior director for Snap One. “There is a large group of pure commercial integrators that focus on corporate commercial and rarely touch residential, and, on the residential side, you’ll frequently hear about them doing a healthy mix of residential and commercial.

If you’re in a market where it’s a smaller town, it may be advantageous for you to do a mix of residential and small businesses. Especially is there isn’t a large, pure commercial competitor in that area. —Scott Normand, Snap One

“It comes down to how you position yourself in your individual market. If you’re in a market where it’s a smaller town, it may be advantageous for you to do a mix of residential and small businesses. Especially if there isn’t a large, pure commercial competitor in that area.”

While the integrators find themselves in different buckets, Snap One maintains that many of the products they manufacture are designed to serve all needs. “We build professional-grade products for professional integrators of all kinds, and that spans residential integrators, commercial integrators, and security integrators,” says Normand. “Eighty percent of the products we build are highly applicable for both residential and commercial applications — such as racks, TV mounts, surveillance, cables, and so on. And then we have certain product lines that are more focused on a particular market — such as 70V audio for commercial and Chime doorbells for residential.

“The concept of resimercial takes on many different meanings depending on who you speak with. For us, it’s a concept where a CEDIA-channel integrator takes his core products and applies it in commercial applications — so, for example, sometimes you will see them using AVRs and 8-ohm speakers where a true commercial integrator would use a DSP and 70V system. We are working toward enabling our integration partners to be more successful in these commercial applications by evolving our product lines to work properly in commercial applications, and you will continue to see us release new products that speak to this.

Resimercial - Control4 Multi-Display Manager

“As a company, we are focused on serving the true commercial integrators,” says Normand, “and we believe that, in doing that, we will best serve the industry as a whole and enable our residential integrators to deploy proper commercial solutions. A great example of that is our Control4 Multi-Display Manager, which we built so that true commercial guys can start to adopt Control4 as a control system platform for bar, restaurant, and retail applications, as well as video walls. Obviously, that product has a pull-through effect on our CEDIA-channel partners and enables them to be successful in both residential and commercial applications.”

Getting Help

While some types of resimercial work fit squarely into the wheelhouse of a residential integrator, there are other types of commercial projects that require a stretch in capabilities. Fortunately, the residential integration industry offers many areas of insistence, including sales reps, buying groups, associations, and distributors. For example, ADI Global Distribution has a three-tier support system for dealers that need assistance.

As a distributor, we service customers in both small and big markets, and certainly can make introductions to help our customers fill in skill gaps. —Cynthia Menna, ADI Global Distribution

“First and foremost, we’ve got an army of field salespeople who are designed to help our customers and their businesses,” says Cynthia Menna, president and general manager, pro AV, at ADI Global Distribution. “Taking that one step further, we have our technical sales and engineering team. They are very project-specific, so they can get very deep and very wide. They can consult on projects and help drive the right specification for the application. That service is free, and it allows a company to flex in a new space without major investment and provides the assurance that they are specifying the right products. The most advanced support that we offer is Herman Integration Services, which is a sub-contracted labor service that also does CAD drawings and full engineering support. This certainly allows the customer to say yes to a project knowing that they’ve got the entire backbone of Herman offering support in their endeavors. It really helps dealers grow into the commercial space without making major capital investments to get there.”

Even with all the technical support, in terms of getting started in pursuing commercial projects, Menna advises taking a cautious approach. “Crawl, walk, run,” she says. “Don’t overpromise on a project where you don’t feel like you’ve got the support and leverage your resources. It is vital to understand what the end users are looking for, to ask a lot of questions, and to be able to qualify a project. From a fundamental products and just-in-time perspective up to and through engineering, CAD, and labor services, ADI offers a full assortment for that residential customer who’s really serious about growing into the commercial space. But our job isn’t to specify something because it’s our favorite — our job is to specify the right product for the right application, and we pride ourselves in doing that.”

ADI can also help find commercial projects that match your business, but Menna recommends starting with your own client list. “As a distributor, we service customers in both small and big markets, and certainly can make introductions to help our customers fill in skill gaps,” she says. “Where we see opportunity — and where we’ve seen residential customers become very successful — is they’ve got a list of homeowners who own businesses or who are decision-makers who can influence buying decisions. A very simple Sales 101 opportunity is to ask, ‘I know that you own a car dealership — who does your AV work for you?’ By asking that question, they find out who’s been doing the AV in their area, which may open up some doors for them, or they find out that small and mid-size businesses near them are underserved in terms of pro AV.”

Certification and Education

Those looking to get trained in commercial work can turn to CEDIA, which has a number of educational opportunities and certifications that prepare dealers for residential and commercial work. “The foundational principles are the same for both,” says Stephen Rissi, senior director of technical education at CEDIA. “When it comes to audio or video or communications technology, the infrastructure that’s required to support it is often very similar.”

In fact, a number of years ago, CEDIA worked on a partnership called the Electronic Systems Professional Alliance with NSCA and CTA, which was developed to create an entry-level point for technicians to become certified to work in the integration industry, whether it was in residential or commercial. “That partnership ran its course, and the alliance was dissolved a few years ago, but the intellectual property and much of the education from it has been redeveloped for CEDIA’s entire suite of certifications, starting with the Cabling and Infrastructure Technician certification,” says Rissi. “CIT certification was specifically built to help technicians be successful and competent whether they went to work in a commercial building or in a residential structure.”

One of the most important things to consider before you even start looking at commercial work is to examine if your business is ready for it. What is your cash flow? Do you have your documentation process in order? — Stephen Rissi, CEDIA

Rissi understands the nuances of both industries because he has lived it. A veteran of the CEDIA channel for 24 years, he spent five years working with a high-end commercial integrator. “While a lot of the foundational pieces are very similar, like understanding audio and video, as well as cabling and infrastructure, you have to be able to take that knowledge and apply it differently to the outcome that your client is looking for,” says Rissi. “To help, CEDIA has developed a number of different courses on getting into commercial work.

“One of the most important things to consider before you even start looking at commercial work is to examine if your business is ready for it. What is your cash flow? Do you have your documentation process in order? The documentation packages that are required in commercial jobs are often much more robust than what an average residential integrator would be used to providing. How you run your business will affect how successful you are if you start taking on a new area of projects.

“If you’re really trying to diversify the business and you start working in commercial, you’re going to have to deal with bid spec projects,” he adds. “Bid specs are a whole other world — it is very different to do a project based on a bid spec than it is to do a project when you’ve just been asked for a proposal. These are many of the areas that CEDIA tries to help support our members with education.”

Ultimately, before getting started in commercial, Rissi recommends doing a deep analysis of your business and getting technicians up to speed through CEDIA education before taking the plunge.

“The business owner needs to start 100 percent looking at their business first,” concludes Rissi. “It doesn’t matter what new product lines they could get if they sign up with a distributor — if their business isn’t built to support those types of projects, they will not find success. As far as the technicians go, they need to look at broadening the scope of education that they are taking in.

“The more you learn about these things, the more successful you’re going to be down the line.”