“With the bass kicked in, the Vegas are pumpin'
Quick to the point, to the point no faking
I'm cooking MC's like a pound of bacon
Burning them if they're not quick and nimble”
-Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby”
Be honest. You didn’t think that you would turn to Resi Systems today and get hit with a classic/infamous rap quote from the Ice Man, did you?
But, there are some things that we can learn from Mr. Ice here. We must first and foremost always strive to do great work, remembering that "anything less than the best is a felony." There also things beyond the fact that many of our customers do prefer to have the “bass kicked in” as it were; perhaps tweaked up a few dB for a little extra punch and impact in the home theater (but hopefully with well positioned subwoofers and some room treatments). And when those Vegas (or perhaps Velos (Velodyne), JLs (JL Audio), Panas (Paradigms), SVS-es or Definitives) are indeed pumpin’, surely Vanilla would want to ensure that it was neither overly boomy as flabby as well. However, Ice cautioned against having a room that is too treated, sonically dead as it were, by explaining that he goes crazy when hearing a cymbal... and a hi hat... with a souped up tempo. But I digress…
Many times we grouse about the benefits that big companies have. They have buying power, where they can order huge quantities and get massive, volume discounts. They get pricing on video products that makes it impossible for us to sells TVs any longer. They order in mass and avoid freight costs. They have marketing muscle to spend to help spread their message far and wide. They can spread losses around so they can more easily absorb them.
However, the reality is there are a lot of things that we small, specialist – even “mom and pop” if you will – companies can do that the big guys just can’t. Our businesses are lean and agile, and can be “quick and nimble.” Much like military Special Forces, there are times when small, specialized teams can go in and get things done that the big boys just can’t.
One area where we beat the big guys is in training. As you know, training is expensive, it’s time consuming, and if done incorrectly, it can be totally ineffective. I can remember some trainings I’d go to when I worked at a Big Box company. They would bring everyone in to a big room and then either talk at you for an hour or show you some video. It was lame and totally unproductive because pretty much everyone zoned out and “training” was really viewed as a paid hour of downtime.
With a small company, training can be an intense, focused, very hands-on, one-on-one affair where a master, journeyman employee can impart serious knowledge to a rookie. Whether it’s programming or rack-building or retrofit skills or system configuration, this kind of training yields rich results and produces better employees. It also allows for better learning with instant, “are you getting this? Does this make sense?” feedback that can be tailored to each person’s learning needs and style.
We’ve all heard the expression, “It takes time to turn the Titanic around,” and this is especially true for big companies. Wheels of progress turn slowly and things don’t change or evolve very quickly. Decisions are handed down—often through committee after multiple meetings and planning sessions—and then slowly rolled out and implemented.
When you’re small, you can jump quickly and capitalize on trends and changes, sometimes even on things that may be specific to your marketplace. Is there some local event that you could market? Is there a need that isn’t being addressed in your area?
Ever build a relationship with anyone at a Big Box store? Of course not. Usually it is just a nameless “guy in a (insert color) shirt” that happens to be in the vicinity when you lingered long enough in front of a product. In fact, far from creating relationships, many people would actually prefer to deal with an impersonal computer than to work with one of these “humans.”
By contrast, how many of your customer’s do you recognize—by name—on the phone just by hearing their voice? People love this, and this is a level of service that the big companies can never match. Small companies are all about building relationships, and often once we gain and develop a customer, it is a customer for life because they appreciate that personal touch that they can only get by dealing with a small, boutique firm.
Good ideas don’t always come down from the top. In fact, some of the best suggestions can often well up from the bottom. The youngest, newest guy on your crew might have an idea that you had never considered, and it might make for a better way of doing something. In a big company, these kinds of ideas are often lost in the haze of, “This is the manual that says how we do things, so, this is how we do things!” or, “We’ll send it up to corporate and see what they say.”
At a small shop, everyone can have a voice and the decision making process can be almost instantaneous. “Hey! That’s a great idea! Let’s try it out and see if it works!” Conversely, if something isn’t working you can quickly react and adjust accordingly.
It takes a lot to feed the machine in a big, “grow or die” company. Lots of employees, lots of vehicles, lots of buildings…all of it equals lots of overhead. And, sure, when business is booming, it enables you to churn a bigger profit. But when things are slow, it quickly saps the bottom line. Small companies can get by during lean times because it doesn’t cost them as much to remain in business.
Sure, the big guys hold some advantages we’ll never be able to match. But in the current, rapidly changing economic climate, there is a lot of advantage to being small and able to quickly roll with the punches and adapt. And you can take those words to your mutha.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.