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Chris McLaughlin Sees Customer Service as the Saving Grace of Custom Integration

One of 15 children, Chris McLaughlin spent his childhood between Greenwich, CT, and North Carolina.

Vital Stats

Chris McLaughlin

eloDesigns Greenwich, CT

Specialty: Project design, including lighting plans, acoustical design, connection diagrams, sound proofing; custom integration, including multi-room control systems, lighting and shading, distributed AV, HVAC, business class networks, security systems, and private theaters

Markets: Mid- to high-level residential channel

Dealer for: Lutron, Control4, Sonos, Sony, and Leon Speakers. Lutron Level 3 design certified, and a Lutron RA2 Preferred Systems provider.

One of 15 children, Chris McLaughlin spent his childhood between Greenwich, CT, and North Carolina. Excited about model building, drawing, and taking things apart, he would often spend hours alone in his room with Legos or a book. Those childhood pastimes morphed into an avid regard for rare motorcycles and exotic cars. It comes as no surprise then that McLaughlin’s early career was as an installer of sound systems, alarms, and starter-disabling equipment for a car audio and alarm company.

“I found all the wires fascinating,” McLaughlin said. “Many of the cars we worked on were for competition, and it was rewarding to see one of my projects take a trophy.”

eloDesign’s specialty is creating a very simple, well designed user experience for all the electronic systems in the home. The company is Lutron Level 3 design certified and a Lutron RA2 Preferred Systems provider. When a neighbor mentioned home integration systems, McLaughlin walked into the first audio store he could find and got a job. It was a step that would get him on the custom integration ladder and eventually land him his first full-time job at a dedicated home integration firm, Design Sound, in 1994. A later move to Al Franklin’s Musical World in Greenwich would establish his permanent connection to custom integration.

“Al Franklin’s closed in 2001, and I moved to Harvey Electronics where I was recognized as one of the top sales engineers for several years,” McLaughlin recalled. “Harvey gave me an opportunity to really push the envelope with projects, and that’s where I started to incorporate design and documentation drawings, project management, and infrastructure design.”

McLaughlin went on to hone his custom integration skills at Greenwich’s Performance Imaging as a sales designer and project manager from 2007 until 2010, and then as a buyer until he exited the company in 2012. Finally ready to put all of what he had learned into his own business, McLaughlin started eloDesigns in early 2012 as a design and documentation company, with the business quickly evolving into a full integration firm.

On his 20-year journey to integration firm ownership, McLaughlin says that among the many things he has learned is that all the clients had one thing in common. “They all bought my services because they trusted me, and I have never forgotten that. I have always taken it personally and every client I have worked with has my personal cell phone, which hasn’t changed. They know they can contact me anytime for anything.”

The current focus at eloDesigns is residential lighting design and lighting control and window shades. “Lighting is an art, and I really enjoy creating something that can have such a dramatic impact on someone’s mood or state of mind on a daily basis,” McLaughlin said. “Our specialty is creating a very simple, well designed user experience for all the electronic systems in the home. We believe the best way to achieve this is to define the goals up front and then determine the best equipment required to deliver that experience.”

The customer experience is a primary concern for McLaughlin, who sees it as the ultimate way to cement eloDesigns’ longevity, even as technology shifts to level the playing field between consumer grade and professional-standard products.

“A negative to such rapidly changing technology is that consumers are growing more confused and apprehensive about making the larger purchases,” McLaughlin observed. “Although this has always been a concern in our industry, never more so than now has this really been a legitimate issue. More and more manufacturers are coming out of nowhere and offering whole home solutions and smart devices, iPad-controlled solutions, and do-it-yourself equipment… Never has it been more important to hang on to an existing client through honesty, hard work, and great customer service.”

McLaughlin takes this observation one step further, noting that it isn’t the economy that could potentially damage the CI industry in the long run, but this expansive technology, if dealers don’t look for ways to standout and modify their practices.

“I can almost guarantee the day will come when a 65-inch TV will come rolled up like a rubber mat, weigh about three pounds, [and] you will unroll it and stick it to a wall,” McLaughlin predicted. “Upon turning it on it will go into discovery mode and pair itself to your computer and any video devices…”

Most home solutions will likely work this way in the future negating the need for the AV integrator, McLaughlin added. However, areas like design and planning during construction, green solutions, lighting, HVAC, security, UPS and power management are still going to need to be handled by a professional.

“Dealers will still have opportunities provided they are willing to focus more on the services rather than the equipment,” he added. “I think the biggest change dealers have to make is recognizing opportunities to provide services rather than black boxes. We need to be more creative and look for ways to connect with clients toward long-term relationships.”