Creative New Business Solutions Shared at the HTSA Fall Meeting

There’s nothing better than learning about a creative new business solution or anecdote while chatting with integrators at an industry event.
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There’s nothing better than learning about a creative new business solution or anecdote while chatting with integrators at an industry event.

Out of several meaningful conversations that I had with dealers and manufacturers at last month’s HTSA buying group meeting in Chicago, the one that stood out the most was with industry veteran Brian Hudkins. CEO of two Gramophone specialty AV locations in the Baltimore area.

I would consider Hudkins a classic HTSA member. His company once flourished as an AV “specialty retailer,” but found that he had to pivot away from that traditional brick-and-mortar business model into a more custom integration-centric business, while still maintaining its two storefronts, primarily as showrooms. Hudkins, however, has been even more creative this year with two specific initiatives. The first was the classic “necessity is the mother of invention” scenario.

Back in late spring Gramophone hired an experienced general contractor to its internal staff. So not only can the company now design projects professionally and integrate and install AV automation gear, but it can also perform the build out of the project.

“We found that people would delay getting started or just abandon and not get started with a project out of frustration trying to piece together all of the elements,” Hudkins told me.

Gramophone still works with a lot of other contractors (“we’re not trying to step on anybody’s toes,” Hudkins said) but the company has gotten off to a very good start and completed several multipurpose entertainment spaces with its new in-house GC in the mix.

Another motivation for the new hire was to help stave off a trend where Gramophone’s on-staff designer would help a client think through space planning of a theater and complete design drawings, only to see some of those drawing end up in the hands of other integrators once an outside GC got involved.

“We just sort of closed the loop,” Hudkins said. “The point is that it’s generating a new level of incremental business that we didn’t have previously.”

Because it is located in the mature housing market of Baltimore, the majority of Gramophone’s business involves remodels. The GC that the company hired had worked successfully with Hudkins and his team on many of those projects and even had built full-blown custom homes “in the seven-figure range.” Yet, finding clients was not his strong suit, so the marriage with Gramophone, which excels in finding new business, worked well.

Gramophone’s second initiative is equally creative. Capitalizing on the renaissance of vinyl records, the company has begun selling LPs at both of its locations.

“It’s just a little traffic bump–not a huge profit center–but it brings people in who are interested this stuff and allows them to see what new AV products we have to offer,” Hudkins said. “The nature of our business is that we sell five-, six-, or seven-figure projects, so how often does the person have to stop in for that? Once every 10 years? But LPs bring customers back in, and they get to see all of the other stuff that we sell.”

I love learning about great ideas like that.

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