Icebergs Ahead: Navigating the Future of the CI Business

Did you know that the Titanic was warned of icebergs hours before they hit? Had they listened, had they paid closer attention, we wouldn’t have this story to refer to today.
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Did you know that the Titanic was warned of icebergs hours before they hit? Had they listened, had they paid closer attention, we wouldn’t have this story to refer to today.

A friend of mine believes our business (custom integration) is in big trouble. TV profits have eroded. Amazon is giving them away (you didn’t see that Black Friday deal?) And you can now buy automation anywhere. Lowes, Home Depot, even the garage door companies are promoting “automation products.” Every new product seems to come with an app. Hence the popular phase: “There’s an app for that.”

In one respect, this is a good thing. Any bump to our market—any publicity—helps us get the word out. (How many cool products do you know of that the world would love, if only it knew they existed?) It can be hard to explain to people what we, the custom integrators, do. I struggle with this every day, how to market and how to explain the facets of our business... but I digress.

The trouble is—if all this new technology is so ‘easy,’ so ‘DIY’—why does anyone need a custom integrator? You can pick up a new smart TV with your diapers and toilet paper. Just about anyone can purchase a Blu-ray, hook it up, and even download an app to control it. One might even be able to connect their wireless to these devices. Maybe the cable company will program their remote to work both the TV and cable box. So if all this is commonplace today, are CI’s heading for impending doom? Should we jump ship now?

Like the captain, I’m staying aboard. What a custom integrator provides is more. We provide the solution to make it all simple. We give clients the ability to control multiple devices with the touch of a button. We make all these great parts work together. And we make it all look good. If you need a flat-panel above the fireplace with all the wires hidden in the walls, call a CI. If you crave audio in your kitchen that you want to control with your small phone, we’ll be there. Want your equipment hidden away in a closet or basement? Who ya’ gonna call? We’re not selling products anymore. We can no longer hold out for that great TV sale. We have to start selling the solutions.

CI’s are the ones with the pulse on the industry. We live and breathe this stuff (well, I do). We are always looking for the best solutions and how to integrate them into the home. This is why we attend shows like CES and CEDIA, so we know what is next. We need to know when to change direction; when to change course.

Anyone who has been in this business for over 10 years has seen these icebergs before. To those of you that have, I’m sure you’re not the same company today that you were then. I’m sure you had to morph and shift to stay successful. I think our industry is at a precipice. We need to batten down the hatches and plot our next course.

Is there an iceberg up ahead? I fear there is, and not all will survive. Those who do not heed the warning may be swallowed up by the dark waters. But, IF we pay attention, this ship can navigate the frigid waters to the island of success. There, we will be safe... for now.

Heather L. Sidorowicz is project manager/designer for Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.

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