Right from the Source

What if you turned in a customer service review to the integration company that installed your home media center, and in return, you received the unexpected gift of some books for your kids.
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What if you turned in a customer service review to the integration company that installed your home media center, and in return, you received the unexpected gift of some books for your kids. That could happen if you were a client of The Source Home Theater Installation and Design, NYC. This unusual strategy is the vision of CEO Todd Anthony Puma, a self-confessed neat freak/perfectionist whose business philosophy revolves around extreme customer service coupled with a shrewd eye to building his company.

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Top: Todd Puma launched The Source Home Theater NYC seven years ago after several years at a national electronics retailer where he specialized in working with highend customers. Above: Currently, Todd Puma has 11 members on his company’s dedicated home theater team with a goal to expand. Pictured here (l-r) are install tech John Seidito and Puma.

“I ask customers to take a moment at the end of a job to be as honest as they can in giving us their likes and suggestions for improvements,” Puma said. “We don’t want to hear fluff; there are no personal feelings involved. We don’t tell them that they will be rewarded by getting a free service call with a networking upgrade, or an HDMI cable, or something for their family–something different for each customer. An employee with a good review also receives a gift, something tailored to their tastes.”

Puma launched The Source seven years ago after several years at a national electronics retailer where he specialized in working with high-end customers. With projects primarily in New Jersey, New York City, and Westchester, NY, The Source maintains a “wine and dine” headquarters on Wall Street with a dispatch center on Staten Island, close to many of its employees’ homes. Currently, Puma has 11 members on the company’s dedicated home theater team with a goal to expand.

“Our average project is about $30,000 because so many of our customers rent apartments,” he said. “We go up to about $450,000 for our custombuilt movie rooms. Many of our clients are actors, musicians, and celebrity sports figures, including about 70 percent of the New York Giants team.”

Out to Prove Something

When he left his previous job, Puma said, many of his high-profile clients followed him. His business is 100-percent referral based, with no advertising. Yet no one is more surprised by his success than Puma, himself. “When I started, I never would have believed I would be this successful,” he said. “In 2010 we did three million in sales, and that will grow for this year. I have a big heart, and I think a lot about people. I come from a small family. My single mom raised me, and teachers always told me I would struggle. So my drive comes from people not believing in my will to do better.”

According to Puma, a customer is as knowledgeable as the salesman allows them to be. “Customers don’t really understand high end,” he said. “You have to show them. We have four company vans on the road loaded with speakers, including Bose and Paradigm, and we bring the showroom into their homes, so they can hear the difference in products.”

The best part of this mobile service, Puma explained, is that customers can see how a system will look and feel in their own spaces. His company brings one of its vans for an initial consultation and then comes back later, spending hours on the install. Customers, he said, want the process to be simple. The only time they come to the Wall Street location is to go over estimates; there is no walk-in business.

Nor is there ever an argument about pricing, Puma maintained. “Customers never ask for a lower price because of our insistence on giving them a package that perfectly fits their lifestyle. I get the names of everyone in the family and ask a lot of questions. I want to know their favorite songs, bands, and TV shows, etc., and then I recommend a system based on their own words. They feel like they’re buying something, not just being sold. We sometimes recommend other install teams to give customers a second quote for their peace of mind.”

The Source’s system packages include Sex in the City, Metropolitan, and CBGB’s, aimed at female customers and all built on various budgetary levels, featuring Samsung, Marantz, Paradigm, Apple TV, and URC products. For men, The Source offers the NFL/MLB system or “Star Wars,” with enough gear to satisfy any diehard sports lover or techie.

“We’ve developed good relationships with Marantz, Paradigm, and URC, with its Total Control line, and they have been supportive,” Puma said of his key vendors. “They’re always there for us.”

Another amenity offered by The Source is Care Plus, which includes doing any necessary plastering and painting when a customer moves. “It will look like nothing was ever installed in their space,” he said. “We offer a 10-percent discount to remove TVs from the wall, plaster, remove wall plates, and reinstall the system at the new home the same day.”

Loyalty and Teamwork

Puma said that he has never terminated an employee because of budget, pointing out that he cut his own salary for a short time at the beginning of 2010 to retain his entire staff during a slow stretch. “I pay well with a high commission rate, and I hire through referrals. I just hired a guy who was not budgeted for, but I saw the drive in him.”

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With projects primarily in New Jersey, New York City, and Westchester, The Source maintains a “wine and dine” headquarters on Wall Street with a dispatch center on Staten Island, close to many of its employee’s homes. Pictured is Todd Puma consulting with programmer Victor Tomei.

What bothers Puma about the custom installation industry is what he sees as a lack of professionalism and concern for others. “We should stop attacking each other as competition,” he stated. “Business is hurting and a lot of companies are trying to make a quick buck by not charging the MSRP. Some vendors are giving gear at cost and that degrades a highend product such as Paradigm. This disease gets passed around, and customers think they can get everything for nothing. That’s killing business.”

If everyone sold according to MSRP, Puma argued, there would be more revenue. “We all go to the same manufacturers for training and bump into each other,” he said. “If we respected each other’s boundaries, business could go through the roof.”

But there is more work to go around, at least in the New York market, than integrators can keep up with, Puma added. The challenge is trusting a competitor with a referral if you give it to him. “There are companies like mine that turn down small jobs, because I need to give bigger customers 110 percent. And I would like to give the smaller jobs to other installers, but I can’t always trust them to use my name.”

The rewards of the business, though, are on top of financial success for Puma. He said that he witnesses a lot of couples that don’t seem to get along very well in their own homes. So, he’s proud to bring some happiness back into their lives, if only for a moment.

“When I build that digital software and show them all their [favorite music and movies], and they sit on the couch together and put on the TV, they forget the nonsense and love each other again,” Puma said. “It brings families together. Husbands and wives may relate to a song played at their wedding or to the first movie they watched together. When we demo a system, it’s always the first on the list. A lot of our customers are couples who are both working, and when they get home and that music goes on, something happens. I can’t believe I’m making a difference. I really like to make people happy.”

Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Boulder, CO.

Collaborative Spirit

Todd Anthony Puma is issuing a call for integrators to come together to build a new forum that will boost the industry.

“My goal is to launch a non-profit organization, The Home Theater Rebuild, to help train and advise newer integration companies,” he said. “We will talk about certification, and we will introduce them to manufacturers. I’m already talking with some manufacturers about how there are integrators out there who really don’t know how to install properly. The goal is to bring high-end companies out of the distribution model. Integrators need to be qualified; they need boundaries, and we need to keep the MSRP where it is.”

Puma already has a space in Hoboken in mind for meetings and classes. “We can make each other better,” he said. “The key is for other integration companies to come and help. We all need to get involved.”

—Karen Mitchell

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