At the grocery store the other day, I was shopping for some basic staples. Although there were other brands on sale, or store brands that were just plain less expensive, I know that Bounty paper towels are more absorbent and stronger. They just work better. I take a similar approach with my business. Over the 10 years that I’ve owned The Source Home Theater, I have gone through many different brands across almost every product line. I have now narrowed down my “shopping list” to the brands I know work for me and my clients day in and day out. Below are the key products and brands I turn to regularly, and the reasons why I chose them.
Projection Screens - Screen Innovations
-Great customer service. The most amazing thing is that whomever you talk to on the phone knows his or her stuff. They know the product line, the technical specifications and how the company operates. That means you, as the integrator, don’t have to get shuttled around from department to department, or person to person to get your answers. Additionally, they will service the client no matter what, even when the end user calls directly if something small failed (like ambient lighting).
-Innovative products. Screen Innovations is just that: innovative. From Black Diamond, which rejects ambient light and is a beautiful screen, and Slate, which is a more affordable version, to Tiles and Glass, which are incredible solutions for commercial applications, Screen Innovations finds solutions to problems you’ve known you have, but you thought couldn’t be solved.
Networking - Pakedge
-Pakedge is the networking hardware manufacturer for the AV industry, designed and targeted specifically for the industry.
-Technical support and training. Both are top notch with the ability to help integrators no matter their level of networking knowledge, from getting set up with their first WAP and router, to navigating managed switches, to configuring a complex commercial system.
-They listen to integrators. Many integrators are new to networking or are not comfortable with the category. So Pakedge has offered preconfigured routers (the RE1 and RE2) to make things easy to use and wizard-based for basic AV systems and smaller networks.
-Great communication. Too many companies send useless emails, so I eventually end up deleting everything I get from them. I don’t feel this way with Pakedge; I get what I need, but not a lot a lot of useless info. I get what I need to know about new product releases, promotions, training opportunities, product end-of-life announcements, and firmware updates.
-Remote monitoring. BakPak allows power cycling using POE (basically a POE version of BlueBolt) and monitoring of the network. This helps reduce truck rolls and can lead to additional revenue, in the form of service contracts and the always beneficial Recurring Monthly Revenue (RMR)
Power- Blue Bolt
-Save money and time. Reduce service calls and truck rolls by rebooting equipment remotely.
-Avoid accidental disconnects by reducing the possibility that client will go behind a rack and mess up other connections to reboot a cable box.
-Auto-reboot components weekly (i.e. routers).
-Network pinging, so it knows if it is offline and can auto-reboot the router to try to get back on-line.
AVRs - Marantz
-Integration with Crestron. Marantz receivers work great with our preferred control company (see below).
-Good sound at a reasonable price. Marantz is a well-respected brand in the business and is a brand clients will not question, as it is among the best they will see in big-box retail but is not over-priced.
-Clear delineation between models in the lineup. There is always an easy answer when the client asks why one model was recommended over another. There aren’t too many models to choose between, but there is a good selection with a variety of price points so we can use the right product for the right job.
Speakers - Paradigm
-Great sound at an affordable price. Paradigm speakers are among the best I’ve heard. They are made for a musician’s ear and it shows with great response through the mid- and high-ranges and solid, even bass as well.
-Full product range. From floor-standing to in-wall/in-ceiling, subwoofers, wireless adapters, on-wall, outdoor, dual tweeter, slim-line, and soundbars, I am able to meet every client need with a single order.
-Great rep (at least in the NY Tri-State area). Responsiveness from your rep is critical and our rep in the New York area is among the best.
Media Streaming - AppleTV
-Affordable. Now priced at $69, there is little to complain about (except no Amazon, Pandora or Spotify, which will hopefully be resolved in the next product iteration).
-Works for our clientele. Most of our clients are in the iOS ecosystem, so using an AppleTV is easy for them and they already have all of the necessary accounts and content.
-Versatile. While it doesn’t have all of the content we’d like it to, so much is available to the AppleTV via Airplay and iTunes Match that it almost isn’t an issue. With Airplay, clients can play video directly on any TV from their iOS device, and the AppleTV can be a source into their whole home audio system.
Racks - Middle Atlantic
C’mon, Middle Atlantic is racks. Great products and amazing customer service. Even when I bought a rack through distribution for expediency and it came damaged, Middle Atlantic took ownership and responsibility when the distributor wouldn’t. Plus it has every conceivable custom faceplate you can imagine for any component to make your rack look absolutely amazing. Add in the pre-built racks it now offers, and it’s a slam-dunk decision.
Automation and Control - Crestron
I know I talk about Crestron a lot. I have owned my own business for 10 years and have been in this industry 15 years, with big box and smaller retail installation experience. I have been through a lot of products and brands. For years I was very anti-Crestron: I felt their product was outdated, expensive, and difficult to maintain. But that was the old Crestron of the 80s and 90s; there has been a tremendous change in products and interfaces in the last four to six years. Plus, they wouldn’t take me on as a direct dealer when I was first starting out. That ended up being a good thing – I now realize I wasn’t ready and wouldn’t have done a good job. I have actually told Randy Klein, the president of Crestron, this story and that I am thankful they wouldn’t take me on back then. I have to give a lot of credit to Ken Venoman, my rep from Sapphire Marketing and Rich Fregosa of Fregosa Design, who helped me when I was building my home, and choosing a control company to use in the new house and for my business going forward. They were instrumental in encouraging me to give Crestron another shot. But that is not what this blog is about. Crestron is now my go-to for so many different reasons:
-Very broad product range that all works well together. Getting as much as possible from one manufacturer reduces complexity, eases installation and gives me fewer points of contact if something goes wrong.
-Audio, video, AV distribution, lighting, shading, climate, locks, remotes, cables (all certified to work with Crestron hardware).
-Mycrestron.com monitoring service
-Creates recurring revenue stream
-Allows monitoring of devices in a client’s home and alerts me if they go offline, so we can be proactive in servicing clients.
-Great service, from billing to True Blue technical support, building proposals, after-sales support. Overnight replacement product if something fails so client is serviced within 48 hours.
While I do sometimes pick up another brand for a specific application or need, I intentionally go back to these brands over and over, just as I always buy Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, never anything else. It isn’t the cheapest, it isn’t the most expensive, but my kids love it so I always get it. Similarly, my programmers, my installers, my clients, and I are always happy with these brands and solutions.
+Todd Anthony Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation, in New York City.