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Slamming the Trunk

Each year that CEDIA EXPO is held in Indianapolis, I procure guest passes for my dad and a couple of his friends to attend the show on the last day. It gives Dad, who teaches television broadcasting at an Indiana high school, an opportunity to see cutting-edge A/V toys that he cant always find at his local retailer.

My dads friend, Curtis, has never missed a chance to attend. Every month, I send him a copy of Residential Systems, and when he visits CEDIA, he picks up as much literature as he can carry. As I talked to Curtis at the show this year, I realized that he might have finally learned just enough about this business to be dangerous.

In his small town, my dads friend has become the man to call when someone buys a modest home theater system and cant install it himself or herself. He doesnt sell any gear, but makes a couple bucks hooking it up and calibrating systems with a DVD that I gave him a couple of years ago.

When Curtis told me about his little moonlighting business, I asked him if he had ever heard of a trunkslammer. He said that he wasnt familiar with the term, so I explained it to him. I then told him that because the only tool of his new trade was a calibration DVD, he probably couldnt even qualify as a trunkslammer. He was, I joked, only a glove compartment slammer. I think that he actually wore his new title like a badge of honor.

Ridiculing the so-called trunkslammer has become a bit like a sport in the custom installation industry. Calling an installer by this name can be the ultimate insult when used in anger or frustration regarding lesser rivals. It has become the most popular word to describe a person who is so unprofessional in his or her approach that the entire contents of their business can fit into the trunk of a car. This person usually does not have an office, let alone a showroom, and acquires product only through distribution companies or other less ethical means.

Stereotypical trunkslammers can, in fact, be very bad for the industry. They have been known to greatly underbid jobs that they are also under-qualified to take, and they often are accused of eschewing the extensive training and licensing that more established integrators find necessary.

The reputation of the trunkslammer is dubious, but not all are as bad as we make them out to be. This thought crossed my mind at an industry event a few months ago, when I was talking to some guys who run a small dealership in Oklahoma.
They were bright, well-informed individuals, who had been in business for about five years, having only recently developed a few dealer-direct relationships. When I asked them to describe how they got their start, the first thing their president said to me was, We were trunkslammers for a while.

The comment was greeted by chuckles all around the table, but it really wasnt a joke. These were hobbyists who started their company in the only way that they could afford at the time. They really wanted to get into this business, but first they had to survive on low overhead and without the support of reluctant manufacturers. These guys admitted that they did some things back then that they wouldnt do again, but they had learned valuable lessons and eventually proved their legitimacy to clients and vendors.

Because A/V technology has become so easy to buy and the features between high- and low-end products so hard to differentiate, there are even fewer barriers to entry in the custom installation business than there were a few years ago. On the positive side, simplicity of new technology attracts new talent to an industry that has always been woefully short on labor. But, on the other hand, too many inexperienced installers can tarnish the reputation of the custom business with their shoddy workmanship and questionable business practices.

The key is to learn how to differentiate the quality of your work versus that of entry-level competitors. Denigrating the competition to a potential client is classless and ineffective. Instead, you must rise above it all by conducting business with honesty and integrity and never reducing your competitor to a derogatory name. My apologies to Curtis.