“I don’t use the word ‘budget’ in front of the customer,” says Tony Probst, owner of Audio Video Integration in San Rafael, Calif. “To me, it’s a four-letter word. Over the years, the biggest issue with trying to close with a customer is the dollar amount. What I do is sit them down and tell them, ‘I can transplant this exact showroom experience into your house for 20 grand, 15 grand, 50 grand’ — whatever it is. And they seem to grasp the one number a lot easier than giving it to them one piece at a time.”
Probst has done plenty of selling — he has owned custom installation businesses since 1996, only missing a couple of years due to non-competes after selling one of his companies. The current iteration of his Audio Video Integration has 9000 square feet of space, with 4000 feet of it dedicated to the store and its four showrooms and then the other 5000 square feet housing the warehouse where all the custom work is done.
Related: 2023 Showroom Showcase Gallery
The four showrooms each represent a different price tier and, when giving a tour, Probst starts with the most expensive system and works his way down.
The most expensive suite, ranging from around $110,00 to $500,000 depending on the speakers used, does double duty, with one end of the room featuring a high-end 2-channel listening area and the opposite end holding a home theater.
The gear in the 2-channel area changes often, but lately Probst has been having success with Estelon’s speaker line. “We’re doing very well with them,” he says. “I would have to say those are pretty close to the best speakers made on planet Earth.” The eye-catching amplifiers are Dagostino Relentless models.
The home theater side has a woven screen that is 14 feet wide and a speaker setup from Grimani Systems, as well as a Sony VPL-GTZ380 projector, madVR Envy video processor, and StormAudio amplifier and audio processor. “There’re four subwoofers in the room — one in each corner,” says Probst. “The speakers are hidden behind stretch fabric over 2×2 framing. A StormAudio processor going into Grimani speakers with a madVREnvy and that big Sony projector — you really don’t need much more than that!”
There were many reasons to go with the Grimani speakers, but one that is unique to Audio Video Integration are drop-bys from the creator himself. “Anthony Grimani’s company is just a few miles away from us, so he uses our store as a kind of workshop,” says Probst. “He visits frequently, and we get the big room updated all the time with his stuff.”
Next up is the medium-sized theater room, whose main focus is on the Meridian DSP7200 floorstanding speakers. This room utilizes a complete Meridian theater system, and, similar to the high-end room, it has a modest high-end system on the back wall. At the moment, the theater has been taken down to go into a customer’s home, and the entire room at this time is used exclusively for 2-channel systems.
The following room is the small home theater, which has very specific dimensions for a very specific reason. “Here in California, we have a problem with projectors because there is a lot of glass everywhere and there is just no room for them,” says Probst. “So, we often convert a bay of a garage, and that’s what this room simulates. It is identical to a modest-sized bay in a garage.”
The room is 13 feet wide overall, and the screen, from Display Technologies, is 11 feet wide with a 235:1 aspect ratio. The theater is set up for Dolby Atmos using speakers from Wisdom Audio, including two in-wall subwoofers in the front, which are joined by an additional JL Audio 13-inch subwoofer in the back corner.
Like the big room, the final room also does double duty, but not in the same way. “We have the space set up like a living room that has two audio systems in it — a 7.1 version and a 7.2.4 Dolby Atmos version,” says Probst. “We can start on the smaller system and then switch over and show people the benefits of Atmos in a living room scenerio.”
The source of all the pictures in each room is primarily Kaleidescape.
Traffic Brings Traffic
As for bringing in potential customers to the showroom, Audio Video Integration’s location does much of the work. “We’re located right alongside the 101 freeway,” says Probst, “so, we have a huge exposure. And we’re on ‘Auto Row,’ right next door to Volvo with Toyota down the road and Ferrari and Mercedes nearby.”
As far as showroomers go — those who stop by the store and later order from Amazon or other Big Box chains — Probst feels they deserve what they get. “You cannot simply place a speaker in a room and have it sound like it is supposed to,” he says. “If you came into the store, I could move a speaker one inch and show you how the sound will change. There is a science to calibrating speakers properly. And when you’re cutting a speaker into a wall or a ceiling, you only have one chance unless you patch and paint again, which you don’t want to do. So, there’s all these calculations that come into play for proper placement in a room.”
Customers who are in the know have an extra incentive to visit Audio Video Integration — Probst’s collection of signatures. “I will show certain people if they have interest in it because you can’t display it — the UV light will be fatal,” he says. “All the signatures are on checks. I have the check that Abraham Lincoln wrote for the bed that was used in the White House. I have the $100 check that James Dean wrote for the car he died in. Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Mark Twain, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Johan Strauss, the Gershwins — chances are anybody you can name, I have their check. I have hundreds and hundreds of the most famous people in history.”
Changing Things Up
Probst is constantly reworking the equipment in the rooms. In fact, some of the pictures here may already be out of date because he has rearranged a few floorstanding models. Plus, he is always looking for new technology to add. “The most recent upgrade was just a few weeks ago with Josh.ai,” he says. “We’re always looking at new things, and the showroom has really become more of a custom showroom that I can tailor to a client’s needs.”
For more information, visit avimarin.com.