Digital Dilemma: It’s September—It’s CEDIA EXPO!
For this installment we’re going off the usual topic. For many, CEDIA Expo dominates time and thought right now. So, please excuse me while I digress—just a bit.
Talking with folks in our industry around the country, one hears a dichotomy of opinion on the importance or relevance of CEDIA—both the show and the association—to our businesses.
Most know I’m a longtime CEDIA volunteer and a hardcore advocate. So the voices of CEDIA’s detractors trouble me. Some industry veterans don’t seem to recall the history. Those newer to our business may not have ever been made aware. Whatever the reason, the important point is the resulting lack understanding of the real impact of CEDIA on the residential contracting business. I’d love to share my version of CEDIA’s history. But a thorough exploration of both the historic and contemporary impact of CEDIA is beyond the scope of a column. So I’ll just touch on a few points of why I believe CEDIA has never been more relevant.
CEDIA began as an effort to establish the relevance of an emerging market in the minds of industry executives. The word “custom” in Custom Electronic Design & Install Association was used because most of what we installed, at the time, had to be custom-fabricated (or heavily modified) to meet the needs of our customers.
While some enjoyed the creative challenge, most of us were interested making a profit. The impediment was the lack of attention afforded our rapidly growing market by retail-centric consumer electronics manufacturers. So some small entrepreneurial manufacturers—who had primarily evolved out of installation companies—pooled some money to support like-minded installers to develop what became CEDIA. The resulting collective voice forced the big brands of CE to pay attention, thus launching what is now a $14 billion business.
Those less enthused than I might argue that the business could have coalesced without CEDIA. I disagree. Without the benefit of a collective voice, I think it highly unlikely that the TV/video display behemoths would have stopped to take notice. Even with the benefit of a common platform, it took years to convince the display folks that discreet on and off IR commands were necessary.
The challenge continues to this day. We’ve seen the big display brands screw up the 3D business by choosing the wrong launch partner. As I write this, that boneheaded mistake is about to be repeated as the big display brands are announcing their partnering with big box retail to launch. Why hasn’t CEDIA influenced that decision? I suggest it’s due to a lack of support, of their trade association, from systems contractors.
Twenty years ago we moved the needle with manufacturers because the entire community got behind an agenda. While the association leaders drove the point, dealers also voiced the needs of the community on an individual level. It was this consistent collective and individual voice that forced the vendors to pay attention. From experience it’s clear that for CEDIA to remain relevant requires the support of every one of its members. Your elected leaders and staff can only move the needle so far on their own. Alone the contractors voice is totally ignored. Speaking in unison, we get things done. Clearly, without CEDIA we wouldn’t enjoy the prosperity we do today.
OK, so CEDIA helped get us to where we are. But, maybe it’s not really needed anymore? Maybe it costs us more than it’s worth? No way! I’ll offer this example; government affairs. CEDIA’s government affairs team is like the cop walking the beat while we sleep. We don’t know he’s even there. But if he’s pulled from the beat, we’ll soon become painfully aware of his absence.
On a daily basis, CEDIA government affairs tracks legislative and regulatory activity in every state. When laws or regulations may negatively influence your business, CEDIA goes into action. They organize grass-roots initiatives, lobby politicians, and work with other influencers to help keep government off your back and out of your pocket. As I said, the confines of this column don’t allow me to explore the long list of benefits CEDIA provides. But if this one program doesn’t demonstrate relevance to those who question the value of CEDIA, I really don’t know what can.
I think it’s clear that the relevance of your trade association is dependent on you. To be truly effective, CEDIA needs your support and your active involvement. It doesn’t have to be a big investment. As in the past, it can simply be voicing your support of CEDIA initiatives that matter to you. As we’ve experienced, consensus is a powerful thing. Is CEDIA relevant? It is—only if YOU make it so. In closing, I’d like to make note of someone who has tirelessly championed the cause of our industry since before CEDIA was formed. He is finally enjoying the formal recognition he so deserves. Congratulations to CEDIA’s newest Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Frank White. We all love ya, man! •