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Tracking the Mega Job – Part 2: The Setup

My custom installation company landed the biggest job in our 18-year history, both in physical size of the home (21,500 square feet under roof on one floor sitting on four acres of property just back from the ocean) and in financial scope of the job.

Bringing you up to speed…

So, my custom installation company – Custom Theater and Audio – landed the biggest job in our 18-year history, both in physical size of the home (21,500 square feet under roof on one floor sitting on four acres of property just back from the ocean) and in financial scope of the job. I decided to chronicle the project over the next several months, the decisions I made in system design, the proposal process, the prewire, trim out and installation.

A month ago I posted Part 1 of this saga where I discussed The Spec Out. If you missed that, I went over my thought process on coming up with the proposal for this job; how I tackled the size of the job and figured out the best way to handle audio/video distribution and control as well as my choices on selecting the system components.

Once I had determined the essential design and layout of the system – which was greatly simplified and solved a lot of install and integration issues by deciding to go with localized “mini systems” in each of the living suites instead of trying to do everything from a centralized rack – I was able to start work on the proposal, which ultimately came in at 18 pages, not including the Lutron Homeworks proposal that we prepared separately. (More on this in part three…)

One of the questions that I received from my first post was, “Only 16 zones of whole-house audio in a 25k house?” Actually, as big as the home is – and it is 21.5k, not 25k – there really aren’t a lot of rooms; the rooms are just massive. For instance, the family room and kitchen alone are like 150 percent bigger than my entire house. Also, by breaking up the five bedrooms – bedroom suites and bathrooms – and family room and theater into their own systems – complete with surround sound – that removed potentially 12 zones from the house audio distribution. So, the owners will have no shortage of customized listening options per area.

Before presenting my proposal, I wanted to “wow” the builders and basically set them up to be blown away by my quote before they even saw it. Honestly, I was pretty confident about my chances of landing this job – in fact my business partner, Allen, kept hitting me with the Star Wars quote, “Your overconfidence is your weakness!” – and in my mind it was more a question of, “How good will the system be?” rather than “Will we or won’t we get this job?”

I had worked with Rod and Sandy – the husband and wife building team – before on my previously largest project, and so I knew that selling myself or my company wasn’t really the priority here. Also, we had the distinct advantage of really being the only local company within about 90 miles that could pull off a project of this magnitude, and based on the timeline and follow-up support that I knew they would expect, I wasn’t too worried they would be looking to go with someone from out of town.

However the previous project we worked on with them was approaching 10 years old at this point, and it was packed with a lot of out-of-date technology that we wouldn’t be using on this job. Since this would basically entirely new stuff, I wanted to give them a taste of what to expect from the proposal before I even gave it to them.

Let’s be honest, the vast majority of our customers don’t really have any idea what a model XYZ is, and no matter how brilliantly designed your proposal package, they are likely going to just flip to the back page and look at the bottom line. All of the items that come before it don’t really mean anything to them. So, I wanted to justify that bottom line number by setting them up with the expectation of, “This house is going to be packed with some awesome technology like this…”

So, I had them carve out some time to come and visit our showroom where I could demonstrate actual components that they would be using. I know that a lot of integrators no longer have showrooms, and I can understand that decision. A showroom is expensive and also requires staffing. But, we are fortunate enough to have one, and I always feel like if I can just get someone into our store, I can blow them away and close the deal. It shows who we are and what we can do and allows us to demonstrate technology in a real-world setting.

Since automation and control was going to be at the core of the job, the first thing we did was look at the Control4 in-wall 7-inch color touchpanels.

Sandy was concerned that regardless of how powerful the system was, that it needed to be easy enough to use. With a working system in our store, I could let her play with the touchscreen and get an idea exactly what the finished product would do. Later, when I met them back at the jobsite, I brought with me a 1:1 scale, color mock-up of the touchscreen so we could walk around the house and see exactly what it would look like and where it would go in each area. This was immensely helpful and clearly connected the dots from, “This is what’s going in the proposal” to, “This is how it will look and work in the home.” (It also was helpful to see exactly what stud bays it would and wouldn’t fit in, as opposed to just marking a dot on the blueprint.)

It was also a real seller to walk them around my store showing them the identical Control4 GUI on all the different devices – touchscreen, iPad, iPhone, TV, projector – so they could see the consistency of the user interface. This is something that is going to be really important for a home that will be filled with users of different technical levels – making sure they will be comfortable with the system no matter where they are trying to enjoy it.

For distributing a movie and music collection, I knew that Kaleidescape was going to be my choice. Since we hadn’t been a Kaleidescape dealer on the previous job, I knew that it was something that neither of them had experienced. (On that project we used an Escient and Sony 400 Disc player as the distribution, and it was always slow and clunky and never looked that great.) I brought them into our theater and gave them the full-court-press Kaleidescape demo, going over all of the key features. Honestly, the Kaleidescape interface is so impressive that it really doesn’t take much selling, but makes for a terrific demo as you can easily jump in and out of different movies and music, very quickly demonstrating how power and simple to use it is regardless of the size of a collection. But the most impressive this is when you can literally hand a remote to a complete novice and say, “Go ahead. Browse through our collection and find something to watch,” with no instruction. It really sells itself on how simple and yet powerful the experience is.

Also, since entertaining was going to be a big part of the owner’s lifestyle, it was easy to sell them on the concept of streaming all of the movie and music content throughout the home without having to keep track of discs, or being able to share favorite movie scenes, and how fast the movie starts with no warnings or trailers and the powerful parental controls for each zone.

Plus with the homeowner’s busy lifestyle, they liked that movies can be easily purchased from anywhere in the world via the Kaleidescape store, letting them add content at any time that would then be available when they were ready. Also, the Kaleidescape system fit perfectly into my overall design of having “mini systems” around the home, with M300 players spec’d into each living space and the server and M700 Disc Vault in the rack.

Obviously lighting control is going to play a massive role in a house of this size, and since they were familiar with Lutron from our previous project – which used RadioRA – we explained the advantages of stepping up to HomeWorks for this job, especially the elimination of wall clutter and how the ability to spread out lighting panels in the basement was going to make the electrician’s wiring job easier.

In the past I felt that we always had to really “sell” people on the idea of building a solid, quality network infrastructure, constantly comparing and competing with the $49 junk router at Wal-Mart. However it seems now that people much more readily embrace the idea that the network is everything in the home; especially when you get to a fully connected home where every sub-system is depending on the network for communication. Since full uptime and broad WiFi support was a must, I opted to go with Pakedge for the networking infrastructure, and they prepared a great “WiFi map” of the house showing where access points would be located and what the coverage would be.

This was essentially a slamdunk being able to say, “They’ve looked at your floorplan and modeled the WiFi and this is what we need to use and this is how the coverage will be…”

Since the backyard area was so large and was going to be integral for entertaining, I knew that I wanted to do something really impressive beyond just rock and surface-mounted speakers. I had been super impressed with the Sonance SLS outdoor audio system when I experienced it at CEDIA, and even more so when I brought it in for review and lived with it in my own backyard.

(A quick note… Some people ask about the line between “reviewer John” and “installer John.” Often these worlds are separate but occasionally they overlap. Usually what will happen is that I will see a product that I find interesting and I will bring it in for review. If it blows me away, then we will start selling it in our store. That was the case with the Sonance SLS system following my review in Resi.)

Honestly, this system sounds so good, that it is difficult to convey in words to someone exactly how great it sounds. Especially when most people are used to the typical sound of a few surface mounted speakers sprinkled around. I remember how I felt the first time I heart the SLS playing in my backyard, and that sense of, “It should not sound this good outside!?!” So, for the biggest “Wow!” I contacted my Sonance reps, Carolina Controls Group, Inc. and arranged to have them come down and set up the SLS system at the jobsite for the builders to have the same experience.’

They drove down from North Carolina, slogged through the muddy backyard avoiding all the piles of construction debris, and set up the SLS system and dragged in the builder so he could get a taste. Were they blown away by the fact that I brought in people to demo a system from out of state? Absolutely. Was the sound as awesome as I promised, filling the entire backyard with deep, rich amphitheater audio? You know it. In fact, they were so impressed with the sound, that the builder wants to buy an SLS system for his own house. So #DoubleWin

In Part 3 I’m going to go over the proposal presentation process and how I went over this system with the builder and ultimately landed the job. Stay tuned…