Residential Systems recently reached out to Drew Harber, owner of Harber Home Theater, Norman, OK, (harberokc.com) to find out about the state of his business, which manufacturers he can count on, and what today’s customers want. Harber and his wife Anne founded their company in March of 2013. They started out as a local DISH and DirecTV retailer and have slowly added custom home services, and can now provide home theater systems, home automation, whole-home audio, and Wi-Fi and networking services for Norman and the Oklahoma City metro area. The Harbers only recently hired their first employee to help take calls for them, but they plan to start hiring and training technicians soon. Here’s our conversation with Drew.
Drew HarberAre you seeing an uptick in growth? If so, from where?
We have naturally grown over the past three years as the business has become more established in this market. Most of our customers are finding us online, as we don’t do any advertising otherwise. We’ve done a few local home and garden shows, which have also been very productive for us. To continue growing, we will need to hire new people.
What manufacturers’ products do you sell, and what is most important to your customers in 2016?
We sell SVS, Sonos, and GoldenEar Technology directly. We have a variety of other manufacturers that we consistently recommend and rely on; they are bought through distribution. The most important thing for our customers is value. We live in an age of DIYers and online shoppers, which has driven the price down for a lot of products and lowered the price expectations of new buyers in home theater. This makes value the single highest priority for most of our customers.
What’s you definition of ‘value’ in this case?
By value, I mean the highest-quality products at the lowest price. [For instance,] I always recommend an SVS subwoofer to my home theater customers because they get great exposure through professional review sites and online forums. I know that my customers can take my recommendation, research it for themselves, and come to the same conclusion. This also helps with my credibility with my customers. They know that I’m not just trying to sell products to them but that I’m trying to provide excellent value, as well.
What can manufacturers do to make your job easier?
The sales process becomes much easier when customers can find countless positive reviews on a product we’ve recommended. The reliability of the product keeps our truck rolls to a minimum. I want our customers to feel like they’ve received the highest-quality system they can for their money, and for that system to last the customer a long time.
A multi-screen approach is a recent Harber home theater installationWhere do you see the largest growth potential for our industry?
We’ve got to start reaching customers during the research stage of their decision-making process. I get many calls from customers that have already purchased equipment (many times from unauthorized online sources), and they just want me to come out and install it for them. Most customers don’t even know the custom integration business exists. I think a lack of exposure is the single biggest challenge facing our industry. We’ve got to do a better job of catching these customers before they purchase their equipment.
How do you market your company?
Web presence is critical to the success of any integration company now. The key is finding the right methods, so customers find you when they are in the research stage of their decision-making process. It’s important to note that demographics play an important role in the way customers find you. In general, our older customers are less likely to price shop and more likely to have two to three companies with competing bids. Our younger buyers are more likely to weigh our reviews against our competing companies and go with us based on that. I expect this trend to continue to swing more in favor of online credibility as more and more shoppers rely on reviews from fellow shoppers.
I would also note that online product reviews (not company reviews) can be very deceptive in our field. Most customers are not aware of many of the more custom solutions to weigh against the over-the-counter consumer products available at their local big-box store. Reviews are typically a relative comparison to other consumer products in the same price range, but the professional/commercial products don’t get this kind of exposure. This impacts many of our product categories, but control systems/universal remotes and Wi-Fi/networking are two of the worst.
One last note: Professional installation, even with consumer products, can make all the difference between a one-star product and a five-star product. Many of the self-installed or builder-installed systems we encounter are very poorly wired or located. The system is doomed at that point to provide a fraction of its potential, unless we reconfigure the system. As an industry, we need to promote the benefits of professional installation and calibration.
Based in Los Angeles, Maureen Jenson is a contributing writer to Residential Systems.