The founders of Catalyst AV believe that their group is different from other U.S. distribution networks that preceded theirs. But before they could convince dealers and manufacturers that this was true, they had to convince themselves.
“You don't want to hear [a sarcastic], 'Oh good another group,' said Catalyst board of directors member Mike Hench, who is also a principal at Electronics Source and former president of The EDGE Distributors Group. “You have to have a reason for being, and then you have to convince yourself of that and then you have to convince the vendors. We wanted to make sure we did it right, and that's why it took so long.”
The new group, which is comprised of 11 established AV distribution firms serving more than 10,000 integrators from 16 locations, took more than a year to come together. It's reason for being, according to its three board members, is that it offers a sole focus on the “CEDIA-type” integrator with “value-added” benefits, such as full training and follow-through after the sale.
“Our culture provides expertise as the first line of tech support for the products that we're selling,” said Catalyst AV board of directors member Steve Presti, who is also a principal at Easy Access Distribution and former president of DDG. “The other thing is that we're really focused on application training, so we're not just regurgitating features and benefits but how an dealer can apply the benefits of any product to a given job. With our hands-on application training approach, when you leave, you've really learned something. That's our culture.”
“We do the whole sale cycle from beginning to end, including new opportunities and categories for them,” added Catalyst AV board of directors member Wally Whinna, who is principal of Allnet Distributing, and former executive vice president and co-founder of AVAD.
For instance, the group recently signed on IC Realtime Security Solutions for integrators that are trying to get into the surveillance category as a new revenue opportunity.
On the surface the Catalyst AV name may mean less to a dealer than it would for the distributor or manufacturer, Hench explained. “The benefit to the dealer is something he's going to see possibly without knowing it's Catalyst,” he said. “The value to the dealer is that we can deliver these things at a better price or as a better solution or in a way that provides the rest of the equipment to make the job whole or complete. The dealer looks at us as an individual, independent resource and maybe some of them will notice that we're affiliated with this group.”
For the distributor members of the group, Whinna added, Catalyst AV membership enables each company to share in the expense and effort of promoting products and creating collateral materials. The member companies may also benchmark with one another other to share best business practices.
For the vendor, he added, there's the benefit of the single point of contact, creating a marketing plan that they can execute nationally rather than separate marketing plans.
Integrators that already work with on of the Catalyst AV member companies in their local markets (click here for a complete list), likely already appreciate the benefits that each Catalyst AV member provides. “We each grew out of the specialty arena,” Hench said. “We all know how to do things like not fall into the trap of selling out of your own pocket, but we also know that the customer typically knows not what he wants, but what he wants to do. Helping the integrator take that and turn it into a bigger and better sale is something that we specialize in.”
And, as Whinna said, it's one thing to do training, but another to follow up and help a dealer execute an installation. “A lot of companies do training, but they kind of fall by the wayside with the execution part,” he said. “Dealers need to be encouraged to use what they learned, and they need to be encouraged to get the first couple of jobs on a product done or spec'd. And that's what we can do because we have all of these people out in the field and all of these resources that a lot of other distributors don't have, and we have the passion and focus for an integrator-type product.”
Each Catalyst AV member already offered core “legacy” products like Denon or Yamaha AV gear, as well as one or two “quality speaker lines,” according to Whinna. So when the group formed, it focused on getting a group deals for shared vendor lines, filling in missing lines, and offering developing categories like surveillance and enterprise-grade networking. In the wire and cable category, the group found that almost all of its members were already selling Vanco, ICE Cable, and PPC, so they formalized a group arrangement with those vendors. Few member companies, however, had “traction” in the video category, so the group formed a relationship with Vivitek. When it came to those legacy products the group will not seek uniformity within the group. “We won't be going with group arrangements for those lines, because each company already has that covered,” Whinna said. “We'll focus on where there are needs in the market and where we can add value.”
Catalyst AV hopes to secure an enterprise-grade networking deal in the next 10-12 months, and will fill its remaining two markets (Ohio and New York) by the end of the first quarter.
What the group won't do, however, is lose its focus on the custom integrator, Whinna said. “A lot of other folks are focused on mass market or commercial, but we're really focused on the core CEDIA-type dealer,” he stated. “We'll probably do some commercial business. We do light commercial now. It might be 20 percent of our business, but we're doing it with residential products, projectors, video distribution products, and we're not focused on digital signage or anything like that. We're not losing our focus and there's plenty of opportunity to significantly grow our business, our dealers' business, and our vendors' business without getting sidetracked into other areas.”