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New Skills, New Reality

Most ESCs in business today either started or have helped grow companies that possess the skills required for delivering many or all of the very well-recognized “staple” disciplines of our industry.

ESCs Must Become a New Kind of Expert for the 21st Century

Richard Millson ([email protected]) owns Millson Technologies, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Most ESCs in business today either started or have helped grow companies that possess the skills required for delivering many or all of the very well-recognized “staple” disciplines of our industry. Over the years, our systems have been delivered essentially the same way with the same profit model: The ESC gets paid for the design, provides the equipment at his cost plus a markup for profit, and also charges for the installation labor to install and program the system(s).

This arrangement seems straightforward enough, and when the economy was flying high, clients and builders were more or less content with our business approach. Unfortunately, this model has been “disrupted” and is now far less attractive to those same clients and builders. The new reality facing ESCs today is that we must find new ways to become valuable to these people. To plan any new strategy, it is helpful to look at why things have changed.

The Disruptors
There are many contributing factors responsible for imposing change on our industry, but here are just a few of the biggest:

The Internet. The Internet now provides instantaneous information on pretty much everything we do or sell to anyone who wants to find it. It is far harder to make the argument that you are the expert (and therefore can add value), when your client or builder thinks they know as much as you do about the systems you provide.

Big Box Services. While it may have once seemed somewhat amusing to think that big-box retailers could compete with independent ESCs, that joke is clearly over. The large retail chains have and will continue to expand the number and quality of the “installation” services they provide. In addition, as more streaming content is delivered right to the display, there is less need for additional equipment and the “integration” that it requires.

Apple. Although I am a big fan of the devices and user experiences that Apple has made commonplace, those same things now, unfortunately, define the expectations of our clients. No one is concerned that it took a multi-billion dollar technology company to produce an easy-to-use, highquality, wireless touchpanel. All that matters to our clients today is that they can have that for $500 and not $5,000 or more. Our clients’ expectations for what a highly functional, intuitive, and visually beautiful user interface looks like (and costs) have changed.

A New Kind of Expert
Despite these changes, I still believe that wealthy clients will always be interested in hiring “experts” to provide things in their lives that they would rather spend money than time to acquire. So, it’s time for ESCs to become a new kind of expert and in doing so provide the types of services that now appeal to our clients in the 21st century. Instead of continuing to focus on the very well understood, widely available, and highly commoditized disciplines of audio, video, home cinema, etc. increase or develop expertise in some or all of the following:

3D. Forget about trying to sell the gear. Instead, develop a program where you consult with and make recommendations on what to purchase and why.

Streaming Content. Focus on developing deep knowledge about the best services, how to get them delivered to your clients’ homes, and the best interfaces for aggregating and controlling that content.

IT Services. The fact is that virtually everything we sell is or will become IP enabled. You need this for your own work, so why not add to this part of your business and resell those IT support services?

Other opportunities include developing iPad and/ or iPhone Applications focused on providing a better user experience for controlling multiple systems in the home, remote systems monitoring, or even offering offsite data backup and storage. The point is that there are new revenue opportunities emerging, and the time to explore and develop competency in them is now.