Four Top Firms Create Powerful Brand Network

When talking about the formation of Signature Media Groupthe first true national brand in the custom install marketfounding members use words like "natural," "intuitive" and "synergy."
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When talking about the formation of Signature Media Groupthe first national brand in the custom install marketfounding members use words like "natural," "intuitive" and "synergy."

While some may regard the concept as ambitious, even counterintuitive to the boutique identity on which this market loves to cling, founding members believe that now is the ideal time for consolidation.

Among the flurry of excitement and the questions, one thing is undeniablethe energy this new collective is infectious. Distinguished industry notables have joined forces to create something unprecedented, something exciting, to not only stay ahead of the curve, but encourage the efficiency and expediency needed to propel this sector forward.

"We love this industry, that's what it is all about," stated SMG member Andy Willcox. "We are really excited, and looking forward to the future."

Pooling its collective resources, SMG has laid the foundation for a strong synergistic network with national brand presence and unrivaled coast-to-coast coverage.

Though open to adding new members and expanding when deemed advantageous, SMG is currently comprised of four A/V member firms and one management firm. The companies include Integrated Media Systems (IMS), Progressive Audio, ProLine Integrated Systems and Advanced Audio Design (AAD). Bluefin Management of Boston, Massachusetts, governs the parent company.

Within the new SMG amalgam are some of the most innovative luminaries and interesting success stories in the industry. IMSa dominant firm in the DC/Northern Virginia regionwas founded in 1979 by Tom Wells, and is located in Sterling, Virginia. Progressive Audio was founded by Scott Ranney in 1978, and has since gained eminence in the design, sale and installation of high-end home theaters, home audio systems and control systems. Andy Willcox founded ProLine Integrated Systems in 1987, with locations Chicago, Illinois, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A founding member of CEDIA, he currently serves as secretary on the Executive Committee, and as chair of the Industry Events Council.

Last month, SMG announced that a fourth member, AAD, would soon come on board. AAD is headquartered in Sarasota, Florida, with additional locations in Naples and Tampa. Hal Munter is CEO and Andrew Guenther is president and founder.

Jim Monroe, the Bluefin Management and SMG CEO, developed the original concept for this unprecedented consolidation.

"We want to create a leadership position in the residential systems integration industry," Monroe stated. "That leadership position will translate into a national geographic scope, everything else being equal regarding quality of service."

Monroe's original business plan focused on creating an alliance of 20 to 25 "A-Team" systems integration companies with valuable industry acumen and high-end portfolios. As a result, a powerful network would emerge with the resources and wherewithal to service all 30 markets of the country.

According to ProLine Integrated Systems founder Andy Willcox, "it has been established that there are approximately 30 markets with over 800,000 people, so we want to cover all of that ground and establish a powerful entity under a single branded name that would eventually be recognized as the 'go-to group.'"

SMG members believe that developing a strong nationwide service of this caliber will ensure their own future trajectory, but also help cultivate the industry growth, by improving industry standards and influencing best practices.

In the early stage of its gestation, it was apparent to SMG founding members that far too few firms run their businesses effectively. Specifically, most custom business owners, being entrepreneurial, allow best business practices to slide lower down the totem pole of priority. Willcox added to this general sentiment, "I see this with a glaring perspective because I do so much educational work for CEDIA, and I am just amazed at how many people understand electronics, but don't understand how to run their business."

This is where SMG blazes trails into new terrain, as well as provides a model of an efficient, structured service operation.

Via the merger, SMG member firms expect to see some immediate major improvements. They hope to experience increased buying power, as well as opportunities to maximize employee benefits. They are now working in appropriate committees to optimize their intellectual capitol and cross-fertilize strengths and skill-sets among member groups, including documentation, design and programming, as well as streamlining products and systems. Additionally, SMG members expect their unique collective approach to help them learn from each other's experience and insight, and increase bottom-line profits.

"The consolidation of the best integrators by market in the U.S. will translate into greater efficiencies and dynamic industry leadership," Andrew Guenther stated.

Another ineffectual, yet customary business practice that SMG hopes to eradicate is the tradition of companies keeping their "cards" closely to them, and away from the competition. With their revolutionary move, SMG principles hope to encourage open idea-sharing within the infrastructure of the organization.

"Everybody in SMG is different," Willcox stated. "There will be a lot of sharing of great ideas and concepts. Everyone has good ideas, being open about discussing them is going to be key."

SMG's management structure has already taken shape; James Monroe presides as the chief executive officer, while Jamie Hudson is the chief financial officer. Jo-Anne Collins controls the corporate administrative functions.

As far as the group's general structure, each company will continue to operate within its own local branding system, maintaining its unique personnel, capitol and local identities. Preserving the integrity of the members' "local flavor" and entrepreneurial spirit is considered imperative. Eventually, there will be a structured, methodical approach to switching to both the SMG name and blended marketingthough probably not within the next year.

In its long-term forecast, SMG may consider strategies to target the mid-level to mid-high market, perhaps by dealing with large production homebuilders. Though for now, the group plans to stick with the marketplace that it owns. Additionally, starting a new mini-buying group is not a primary goal, but it may be something considered down the line. Another long-term potential reality may involve going public, though that, too, has yet to be confirmed.

"What we have been able to attract to date are the best companies in the specific geographic markets that we are in to date, and I hope to continue to do that," Monroe stated.

Margot Douaihy is managing editor of Residential System.

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