New Book Outlines Common-Sense Measures for Custom Installation Business Success

Book Review-Management in a Bottle: How to Start and Effectively Manage your Custom Audio/Video Installation Company by J. Paul Fida Published in 2001 by J. Paul Fida/Soundox Inc., Belleair Bluffs, Florida, 33770.
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Book Review-Management in a Bottle: How to Start and Effectively Manage your Custom Audio/Video Installation Company by J. Paul Fida Published in 2001 by J. Paul Fida/Soundox Inc., Belleair Bluffs, Florida, 33770.

Although there is no shortage of material on how to start a business, entrepreneurs that launch businesses outside of the mainstream have difficulty finding information that is tailored to their specific industries. Author Paul Fida offers a solution to those investigating the custom installation industry with his book, Management in a Bottle: How to Start and Effectively Manage your Custom Audio/Video Installation Company, officially released at the CEDIA EXPO, in September 2001.

Divided into two main parts, the first half of Management in a Bottle provides detailed, step-by-step, instruction on everything from writing a business plan and setting up an office to job site protocol. The second half illustrates sample forms that are relevant to a custom installation enterprise, such as opening orders, invoices, system planning guides and purchase orders. Fida even provides blank forms that readers may copy straight from the book for their own use.

The most obvious demographic for Management in a Bottle are those entrepreneurs that are just starting out in the custom installation industry. Fida suggests that the book is also useful to companies that are expanding.

"There are many management lessons in the book that have been proven over the years when followed diligently," he noted. "Also, there is basic information on employer/employee relations, client/employee relations and in-home protocol which can serve to either refresh an expanding company or help to isolate those areas which could then be included in a company's operations manual."

A veteran of the audio/video industry, Fida spent the early part of his career working in recording studios, alternating between the roles of musician and engineer. After a stint in the management program at Tandy training under Francis Graham (the niece of Charles Tandy, who is associated with the Radio Shack chain of retail outlets), Fida began working for specialty A/V shops. He broke out on his own in 1986, after the business for which he was working closed its doors. At that time, Fida found himself relatively alone in what was a fledgling industry: custom installation.

Soundox Inc., Fida's Florida-based company, is an umbrella firm that provides audio/video consulting services to other A/V companies as well as individual clients. Soundox is also the company under which Fida releases his written material (he's currently working on his second book). In addition, Fida uses the Soundox name for a project he has on the go involving the mastering of CDs to sound more like vinyl recordings.

Based on his experiences, Fida strongly believes that many firms--especially those just starting out--don't spend enough time developing an internal protocol, which produces problems outside of the office and for other custom installers, in general.

"There are many things that happen--most of them not good--when new A/V installation companies enter an area without a proper operating manual," he said. "This is a common thing in many industries, but in this industry it's very common because people feel that they know their way around audio/video equipment, and they feel that theyare competent enough to go into business. While this may be true, they don't attach themselves to any management procedures. Consequently, they mess up the market. You can't just drive a car without the steering."

One of the most important subjects covered in Management in a Bottle, according to Fida, is the construction of a referral network. "A company can spend a large amount of money on advertising, but the only thing that lasts are the relationships that are built inside the industry, with architects, builders and clients," he said. "By building those relationships, you are looking at building a long-term business, which is the only way that anyone should ever think about going into this."

Fida dedicates a considerable number of pages to outlining the process of writing and presenting proposals. Readers are advised on everything from how to design and separate the documentation to how they should conduct themselves when making the presentation to the client.

"If you do everything right when you design the proposal, but if you perform a bad presentation, then you lose everything," Fida said. "I talk about how much time you should spend in someone's house, where to sit, how to get clients to look at the proposal, what to say and what not to say."

Back at the office, Fida maintains that it's important for new custom installation firms to remain focused on their service roster and resist the temptation to diversify too much, too soon.

"The challenge for any new company is to stay focused and take a step forward in the correct direction. Knowing yourself first, knowing what you are good at and then going in that direction is the way that you stay in business. That's the way good businesses grow," he said. "I believe that a company should resist the temptation to offer too many products and installation services, and take it one step at a time. Master audio/video, and then add related services." As residential systems become more complex, Fida predicts that not only will new A/V installation firms favor stricter specialization, but established firms will, too.

"There will be a separation of church and state, as more and more A/V companies begin to divest themselves of low voltage, security, phone, computer and other non-A/V functions," he said. "These companies will spend much more time with fewer clients, yet will now design the dream systems that they always wanted to. There will be a return to specialization, and manufacturers will be right there with these new specialists, making speakers and equipment more efficient, more cost effective and more compatible with a wide range of products. In my mind, the trend today toward 'everything for everyone' is an unrealistic and almost unreachable goal."

Management in a Bottle is priced at $195 per book and can be ordered directly from Soundox. At press time, the book was on sale for $149, plus $10 shipping and handling.

Carolyn Heinze works from her media services firm, in Vancouver, Canada.

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