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Flock Together

During my recent tour of the always-popular coal mine exhibit at Chicagos Museum of Science and Industry, I was reminded of the canary in a coal mine metaphor.

Before it became part of an idiomatic phrase, the caged canary was often featured at the entrance of a coal mine. If the little yellow bird died, it was policy at the time to get the heck out of the mine because deadly methane gas was probably in the air. The problem with this system was that the canary just as easily could have died of starvation, disease, or even old age.

Thankfully, most coal-mining technologies of the past have been replaced with safer and more reliable devices. All that seems to remain, in fact, is the metaphor.
So what is our canary in the coal mine for the custom installation business? Is it the depressed housing market, the public struggles of our major manufacturers, or a recent survey indicating further declines in luxury spending? Personally, I think that its counter-productive to run around like an avian of another feather yelling that the sky is falling. Instead, I would prefer to seek out examples how we can successfully survive this economic downturn.

Two case studies symbolize to me the hope that we can have for our profession. The great thing about these stories is that they demonstrate how veterans and newcomers, alike, can be creatively successful in the CI business.

The real reason for my trip to Chicago was to meet Rick Simpson, CEO of 3G Applied Technologies. His company is a Chicago area Life-ware dealer that integrated the home automation technology into the science museums new Smart Home exhibit.
A former Bell Labs employee, Simpson offers a fresh outlook in the way he views the convergence of IT and AV and his competition. At 37, Simpson is a new business owner with a team of highly skilled professionals working on high-profile installations. He understands the publicity value that a museum project like the one in Chicago can have, but hes humble enough to recognize the importance of helping his peers. To him the idea is to change the way people think of home automation, because more people can afford to have it now.

My other story is about a very well-known industry veteran, Bill Anderson of Genesis Audio and Video in Irvine, California. Ive written about Anderson in the past, and one of his projects is featured on p. 38. When I spoke to him recently I was reminded about how many times Anderson has re-invented his company to keep up with his changing competition and customer base. It is Andersons ability to serve the community while also building business relationships that is most noteworthy, however.

Not too long ago, Anderson realized that many of his well-heeled clients wanted to upgrade AV gear in their homes, but felt guilty replacing products that were still relatively new. Thats when he discovered the Festival of Children Foundation and learned that, on a twist to what is done by Doug Weinstein at Elf Foundation, he could donate gently used AV equipment and his integration services to group homes and orphanages for at-risk children. And when a piece of equipment was not appropriate for a particular install, Anderson would eBay those products, and then donate the proceeds to the charity. The client felt less shame about gratuitous spending on toys (getting a tax write off helped too), the Festival of Children Foundation helped its cause, and Anderson was at the center of it all.

We must all realize that in a creative business like CI, innovative ideas will help us succeed. The status quo may not cut it anymore, but Simpson and Anderson have proven that original thinking can fly in the face of adversity.