Put yourself in the shoes of a homeowner. Would you rather deal with your contractor or electrician, or with your architect or designer? Now put yourself back into your business owner shoes. Would you rather be lumped in with the contractor/electrician or the architect/designer in your clients’ minds?
Several years ago I undertook an effort called the Home Theater Rebuild to help smaller and/or struggling integrators to get on their feet and to do things the right way – with top-notch professionalism, strong reputations, unfailing ethics, and collaboration with other integrators. The goal was to elevate the industry in the eyes of clients and professional partners so that clients, architects, and designers didn’t say, “Oh crap, I have to talk to the AV guy,” but instead saw us as valuable and integral partners. I helped many integrators and loved doing so. Unfortunately life got busy, and I wasn’t able to devote enough time to do this right and I had to disband the Rebuild program. I wanted, however, to reiterate many of the practices I instill in my company and continue to see in most of the companies I have helped.
Maintain Integrity. Without integrity, you have very little chance of standing out. Client and partners need to trust you to do what you and to look out for them and their best interests. In the investment community it is called fiduciary responsibility – putting your clients’ needs ahead of your own. If you do that and look out for what is best for you clients, it will come back to you in spades.
Promote Teamwork. Play nice in the sandbox. Avoid pointing fingers at other trades or professionals when things don’t go right. It’s easy to blame the electrician when they were contracted to run the coax and they put it behind the TV instead of at the cable box location. Instead of making them look bad (and risking alienating others on the job), be a problem solver and come up with solutions. It may be as easy as just snaking the coax down the wall 4 feet to put it at outlet height. Solve the problem, don’t blame.
Share Information. This is more internal to our industry. With an industry constantly undergoing change, share information and help other integrators. Have you found an awesome solution to a problem you had? Share it with others. Even share leads. If your firm only does large jobs, partner with some smaller companies that you trust and build a relationship. You can refer smaller jobs to them, and when they come across the client who wants more than they can handle, then you are the first call they will make. I have a relationship similar to this with Home Theater Advisors, and it has proven fruitful for both of us. It builds immediate credibility when you are honest with a client and say the job isn’t a good fit for you, so they are more amenable to your recommendation for a partner company.
Now, I’ll walk the walk about sharing information. The new FiOS Quantum routers are not as easy to bypass as the older ones. I spent hours on the phone with FiOS, and everyone there said it wasn’t possible. Well, that wasn’t acceptable to me as we needed a better router on the job. I finally figured out that putting the FiOS router on a separate VLAN still allowed it to serve the TVs their on-screen data, but took it out of the networking loop.
We are a highly specialized industry with knowledge and information that makes our clients’ lives easier and takes the confusion out of their lives. It makes things easier for our professional partners when they know that they can trust us, and we will take care of their clients. We need to work hard to maintain our reputation and not let it slide to the level of a car salesman, which is what will happen if we don’t maintain our integrity and honesty in everything that we do.
+Todd Anthony Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation, in New York City.