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Two Interactive Showhomes Emphasize Technologys Personal Touch
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Two Interactive Showhomes Emphasize Technologys Personal Touch

Cichowski, founder of manufacturers rep firm Clarity AV, has transformed his own Laguna Hills, California, home into an integrated, live-action custom technology showcase to share new products with dealers in a realistic setting. His show home, Ohm Suite Ohm, is celebrating its first anniversary this month with resounding enthusiasm from the CEDIA community.

On the other side of the country is another product showcase with a different aesthetic but similar high-touch mission. The Digital Home Showcase is a two-story Colonial home thats been fully outfitted as a demonstration space for Pennsylvania-based Computer Connections (www.paconnect.com), a D&H Distributing reseller. By bringing clients directly into real-life systems, The Digital Home Showcase and Ohm Suite Ohm have created a new hands on paradigm for dealer interaction.

Home is Where the A/V Is. Most people whove been through Ohm Suite Ohm say that theyve never had this kind of experience before, Cichowski stated. Dealers are doing back-flips.

Custom installers from Clarity AVs service areas, including southern and northern California, Arizona, Hawaii, and southern Nevada, are invited to experience, by appointment, Ohm Suite Ohms integrated A/V and control products in a functional home environment.

The unique concept came to Cichowski when he was thinking of ways to offer clients the richest systems experience possible. I thought, wouldnt it be cool to give dealers an experience of total authenticity, Cichowski reflected. Rather than making an ordinary office look like a home, we turned a real house into an interactive show home with six zones, four different surround sound configurations, and the finest A/V products and touches available.

Clarity AVs stable of leading custom lines are featured in the show home: Artcoustic Loudspeakers (which hang on walls like picture frames), TruAudio speakers for in-wall and multi-room applications, Screen Research ClearPix projection video screens, Bel Canto preamps and processors, Terra indoor and outdoor speakers, Totem Acoustic floorstanding, bookshelf, and subwoofer speakers, Sherbourn amplifiers, processors, and accessories, Cabasse Lifestyle speakers, Planet Waves custom cables, Morel speakers, and Media Decor plasma TV art frames and concealing solutions.

Additionally, Cichowski has brought Xantech into Clarity AVs product mix and is carrying its full line of controllers, keypads, and multi-zone systems. The addition of Xantech underscores Cichowskis rep strategy: to provide real products and solutions that target the market majority rather than the minority. Clarity AVs dealers cover the entire industry spectrum, from trunk slammers and fledgling firms with no demo space, to large, established companies. Some of Cichowskis seasoned clients, like Audio Visions, have the advantage of their own home theater, but visit Ohm Suite Ohm to see unique solutions like Media Dcor video screens, or smaller scale items in their natural habitat.

Besides its product showcase, Clarity AV uses its show home for open-house events, training sessions, and networking, making it much more than a distributors warehouse.

According to Cichowski, a key element of the show homes success in the past year is its casual, relaxed space; dealers can sell right from the showroom, live in action. Together, homeowners and potential clients can explore products and features, and ask questions. Some dealers have stayed in the suite for up to three hours. This isnt a run-through space, Cichowski added. When people come here, they stay and play.

Alongside Cichowski, Steve The Libinator Libin, and Mike Grubb comprise the Clarity AV team. There are lots of rep firms out there that are excellent, and we will never be as huge as one of the big guys, but we dont need to be, Cichowski said. Our product lines complement each other rather than compete with each other.

The Connected Colonial Home. Computer Connections show home, located in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, is symmetrical, stately, and refined. The simple red brick structure is typical of most Colonial Revival or Historic Colonial homes built in America between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Computer Connections initially bought the edifice to use as expanded office space, as its traditional show floor was in an adjacent storefront. According to D&Hs public relations director Suzanne Mattaboni, Computer Connections primary sales were originally in commercial markets: small-to-medium business, education, and government projects. Core sales included enterprise-scale workstations, networks, and media conferencing systems.

The companys distribution and product partners like D&H Distributing and Intel encouraged Computer Connections to add convergence to their business focus and bring residential products like media center PCs, projectors into their repertoire.

Adam Nygard, Computer Connections D&H account representative, helped facilitate Computer Connections transition toward convergence, and invited the resellers staff to the D&H Convergence Expo in Harrisburg.

D&H first got involved with Computer Connections Digital Home Showcase at our D&H Digital Convergence Expo trade show in 2004, Nygard stated. Jude Daigle, owner of Computer Connections, attended and saw D&Hs Digital Home Exhibit, and it really made things start to click. I went to see him at his location immediately after that and helped him start planning everything for the showcase.

D&H provided nearly 90 percent of the equipment in the Digital Home Showcase, which now incorporates a Media Center Edition-based entertainment network with various home theater configurations, multi-zone audio, a small home office (SOHO), gaming room, and a corporate boardroom with videoconferencing capabilities.

Customer response to the Digital Home Showcase has been extremely positive, with clients visiting the space specifically to buy. Of course, anyone can check out the latest and greatest offerings at Expos and conferences, but personal experience in its natural environment is critical for convergence technology. The live settingwith everything working seamlesslylets customers appreciate the products craftsmanship.

Everyone loves it, Nygard added. It is a more time-consuming sale, but it has boosted Connections margins and created a level of excitement that I have not seen in a long time from any avenue. Jude Daigle reports that, with solutions like a home theater set-up, you really have to be able to show people how it all works.

Buoyed by the positive response, Computer Connections also invites real estate agents and builders to bring their own clients through the Digital Home Showcase, to generate further sales and interest.

The overwhelming success of both The Digital Home Showcase and Ohm Suite Ohm might make other rep firms follow the lead.

I hope people do follow this example, Cichowski said. Something like Ohm Suite Ohm exposes dealers to more and more types of technologies, which educates them. The whole market grows in return.

Margot Douaihy (margot.douaihy@gmail.com) is a freelance writer living in London, England.