During the month of February, it seemed like Salt Lake City, Utah, was the center of the world. As host of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, it practically was.
In the middle of it all was a little known, but highly regarded, residential and commercial systems integration firm, called Audio Video Innovation, that feverishly worked to complete a high-profile systems project in a restaurant near the heart of the Olympic Village.
Formed as a company only a year and half ago, Audio Video Innovation is the brainchild of industry veterans Jeff Nichols and James Walker and newcomers, Steven Reavis, Mark Crosby and Barry Crosby, who provide the business management know-how behind the operation. Even considering their staff’s combined experience and years of business acumen, Audio Video Innovation has quickly established itself as the picture of professionalism and sales dominance in the ever-growing Salt Lake City market. The company’s nearly overnight success has even inspired glowing reviews from some of the industry’s top manufacturers.
The idea behind the business that would become Audio Video Innovation, was conceived by Walker and Nichols, when they worked together as project manager and programming subcontractor, respectively, on a job two years ago. “Jeff and I just decided that we had fun working together and that we should put together something for real,” Walker remembered. “Later, we got involved with Mark Crosby because we wanted to have someone with years of history having business vision.”
Crosby, a well-known Salt Lake City businessman, already owned several technology-related companies and was game for another opportunity. Officially serving as president, Mark Crosby is not involved in day-to-day business. He is mostly involved in big-picture issues, according to Walker. Day-to-day, Walker serves as project manager for all of the company’s high-end residential and commercial projects. Once he has sold a concept to a client, he hands it off to Nichols who thinks the project the rest of the way through. In the middle of it all are company controller, Steven Reavis, who manages the company’s resources and personnel, and Chris Voros, Audio Video Innovation’s lead programmer.
Sandy, Utah-based Audio Video Innovation is primarily a residential systems integration firm. However, from the beginning, Walker and Nichols have cultivated relationships with commercial builders and contractors as well. Through its commercial division, in fact, the company has developed enough commercial business to have it account for nearly 50 percent of their revenue so far this year. The company’s most noteworthy commercial project, to date, is their 26,000-square-foot Sky Box Sports Grille installation near the heart of the Olympic Village in Salt Lake City.
The project, which was frequented by hordes of Olympic athletes and NBC personnel for the two weeks of the Games, incorporates seven Crestron touch panels (42-inch Marantz plasma with an Isys touch overlay and in-wall CT-1600 panels) and what Reavis calls the “world’s supply” of Marantz’s newest projector line.
Balancing commercial projects of this scale with the work they perform in residential environments is a very calculated plan for the company, Walker says. “The reason we strive for a 50/50 split is that if you’re starving on the residential end, commercial will feed you. Or, if you’re starving on commercial, then residential will feed you,” he explained.
Walker added that Audio Video Innovation tries to simply treat their commercial projects as if they were glorified residential jobs, with the exception of commercial-grade equipment here or plenum wiring there.”
The general company philosophy behind Audio Video Innovation, according to Walker, is to maintain a professional business focus while keeping it fun for everyone involved. Having fun is the easy part. On the other hand, creating a workable plan for business success took a lot of planning. An important element in this effort, Walker says, has been the outside perspectives of Reavis and Mark Crosby.
“They really brought some clear thinking to the company,” Walker said. “Jeff and I were so closely involved in the industry for so long, that it has really been refreshing to have what we do looked at with new eyes.”
Audio Video Innovation is making a serious effort to run their company like a real business, where staff members have very defined roles to play.
“It’s just giving a very narrow focus to and accentuating and focusing on the skills that somebody is good at,” Walker explained. “When everyone is doing their part in what they excel, it’s amazing how far you can get in a short period of time.”
The company currently consists of 10 full-time employees and has a base of subcontractors it calls upon. Walker says that the company’s main focus on residential projects is integration, as opposed to home theater or lighting control. A natural off-shoot of this ideal is a strong reliance on Crestron technology.
“What Crestron facilitates is allowing the marriage of all of your video products, of your lighting control systems and of your audio products,” Walker said. “It enables a seamless integration of all of those things. I won’t sell a job unless it has integration, because that’s what we believe in. That’s what we’re selling to people, whether that’s in the commercial side or residential is taking all of those different things that you could have in your home and allowing ease of use and ease of integration so that you can actually live with it. Why have all of this technology in your house unless it’s fun and easy to use?”
Projects designed and installed by Audio Video Innovation average $150,000, according to Walker. However, he personally has sold systems in the half-a-million to $1-million range during the past year. And even though the quality of the company’s work often earns them jobs elsewhere in the country, the Salt Lake City market generally keeps Audio Video Innovation’s residential and commercial crews plenty busy. Critical to this local-market proficiency is a strong adherence to honest business practices, according to Walker.
“It’s a simple thing, we do what we say we’re going to do. That’s all it is,” he explained. “You start with architects, then you move to builders and then you move to larger contractors. You want to have those three areas covered. From that pool of people you will feed your company.” And the fact that the housing market in Salt Lake City has continued to grow has also been a boon to the Audio Video Innovation team.
“People value their homes here and they spend more money on them than they spend on any other item,” Walker said. “If there was a nationwide survey done per capita there’s more dollars spent on homes in Utah than anywhere else.”
The reasons for this characterization are probably fairly complex, but Walker points to the fact that, in Utah, Family is most important to the people who live there. And, of course, the home and all that is contained within it, is merely an off-shoot of the family.
Walker further explains this phenomenon, “I have clients all the time say, ‘I want to have a theater and all of this stuff in my house because this is where I want my family to be. I don’t want my kids out at the other kid’s house; I want all of the neighborhood kids to come to my house.’ Everybody seems to be putting a theater in their house of some sort or another.”
And partly because their clients are more family oriented, Audio Video Innovation typically finds that their designs are more traditional looking than the more typical, over-the-top theaters with heavy-velvet curtains and Corinthian-style columns.
“That’s not what we do. That’s not Utah,” Walker said of their style. “We do the large family rooms with the big screen at one end and maybe a dedicated theater off of that room. We still do a lot of projects that have tiered seating, but our clients are much more focused on getting a group of teenagers together in the home. Do our clients want to have a lot of technology? Yes. Do they want it to be the best it can be? Yes but, in addition, a client may also ask, ‘Can that rack be locked so my three-year-old doesn’t put a peanut and butter sandwich in the DVD player?’ It’s not that these are lower quality projects, they’re just practical rooms.”
Jeremy J. Glowacki is editor of Residential Systems magazine.