When a client calls to ask a question, you don’t just answer it, you pull upon your years of knowledge and broad experience to answer that question. This is why they call us and not the 'big box' stores where they have to wait… and wait… and wait… only to get someone on the line who doesn’t care to solve a problem, who just wants to get off the phone.
We—the small independent retailers and the custom installers—are the Human Machine. Clients have no idea the brain meld that goes behind their systems.
This is what separates us from the pack:
Research: If I’m proposing a system for a client it is not just my thoughts and opinions that go into the system (although it is some of that too). If I’m not extremely confident in a product, then I'm going to my social networks composed of some of the best and brightest in the industry (try to get that at Best Buy). I’ll poll friends and fellows about specific usage and spec’s to make sure the product will fit perfectly into the system. My team also meets weekly to go over all projects to make sure every member is on the same page and up to date.
Over my tenure, I’ve also befriended manufacturer reps and company leaders, and if needed, I’ll go to them to ask questions to dive into the depths of the system. No one knows how to read stereo directions like an AV expert. So when a client asks, “What TV would you buy?” our answer goes much deeper than stock, or spiff – it goes to the research, and knowing what product will work best for the client.
Experience: Been there done that. Sure, an individual could purchase a TV just about anywhere these days (even Rite-Aid) and with a little luck; they could mount it as well. What happens when it doesn’t work the first time? How do you fix it now? An AV professional has seen the issues and has the contacts to help fix the problem (including the team on the road and back at home base). Does that mean we’ll get it right the first time every time? No, we’re not Gods, we’re human. However, a true AV professional will stick with the client to find the answer and fix the issue, and chances are they’ve seen it before.
Education: Sure, there might not be a major in Custom AV, but there is a lot of education out there. The best of the best will be CEDIA certified, or at least have taken numerous CEDIA courses. Each year as CEDIA rolls around I’ve picked a different concentration to further my knowledge base in different areas. In the beginning, it was Audio and Video, and then I went on to subjects such as Networking and Project Management. Beyond that, there are webinars and seminars; there are online trainings and white papers. This industry changes fast, and you'll be left behind if you don't keep yourself educated. Keeping abreast of the latest and greatest is a must for anyone in our trade.
We as a society need to remember that there is more than just a voice on the other end of the line when calling a local business with questions. Research, experience and education are pillars behind the scenes. This is what the client is purchasing beyond the TV, or the install. The client needs to remember that if they’re not seeing the same brands they are seeing in Walmart; there is a reason for that. If the labor price is a bit higher that at there local ‘hang and bang’ shop; there is a reason for that too (and chances are that shop won’t last long). You get more than a product when you shop with a reputable custom AV installer, you get the mechanics behind the scenes, you get the Human Machine, and that, my friend, is priceless.
Heather L. Sidorowicz is the president of Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.