How can the custom industry provide the perception of value to the monied client who is spending less than before on custom integration, and who searches the web as ardently for bargains as his less-wealthy consumer counterpart does?
That was one of the centerpiece issues in a series of topics bandied about by a collection of integrators, vendors and technology pundits who serve the custom industry, at the “Building a Business with Lifestyle Technology” panel during CE Week’s Lifestyle Technology Summit June 24 in New York City.
The discussion was moderated by Maureen Jenson, CustomRetailer and E-Gear editor in chief, and included: John Dahl, senior fellow and director of eduation, THX; Theo Kalomirakis, principal, TK Theaters, TK Living and the Kalomirakis Collection; Peter Lyngdorf, founder, Steinway Lyngdorf; Dean Miller, president and CEO, Lenbrook; Michael Curtin, principal, Audio Command Systems; and Noah Kaplan, president, Leon Speakers.
“Times are tough for everyone in the integration world,” observed Curtin, adding that his decision to broaden the product category offerings within the grouping of system solutions his firm offers has made a difference in his bottom line. He cited a project that began as a $950,000 ticket and ballooned to $2 million with the addition of power conditioning, shading and drapery control solutions and even a multi-room scenting system that integrates with the home’s HVAC gear. He also suggested that the custom industry, which in its heyday developed the habit of chasing after “the next job,” had best amend that behavior and pay more attention to existing clients. “That’s the way to get the next job” nowadays, he said.
Kalomirakis agreed, saying, “We need to strengthen our bonds with our current clients. The more satisfied they are, they more likely they will introduce us to their neighbors.” Additionally, his firm has responded to the economy’s challenges by making more of an effort to partner with designers instead of trying to sidestep their efforts. “Our emphasis now is not, ‘We can do it better than you,’ but rather, ‘We can help you do it better.’ We want to educate them so we don’t lose our part of the project, and work more closely with them so they are less likely to reject our choices.” He cited as an example the development by his subsidiary of a new collection of fabrics that accommodates both integrators’ needs and designers’ aesthetic needs. “We’re offering more elaborate speaker grilles to them as choices. These efforts allow designers to design rooms while making them more theater-friendly.”
Leon Speakers’ Kaplan said his company realized “we were becoming an afterthought with architects and interior designers. We interviewed them after the last CEDIA Expo to learn more about their go-to products and got… radio silence. That made us realize we needed to educate them at the top level. Luxury clients need a proper palette of products to be presented to them,” and one of the best routes is through designers, he averred. “We are also working on getting in on social media. You need to make social media work for you – optimizing searches, making sure people visit you.”
Lyngdorf of Steinway Lyngdorf echoed the importance of “getting good enough” at social media outreach. He further mentioned the effectiveness of bringing Steinway Lyngdorf’s $200,000 Model D systems to dealer events so that clients can benefit from exposure to high-performance audio gear. “But the best solution is making sure all clients are entirely happy,” offered Lyngdorf, who cited his experience as a dealer in Scandinavia to prove out the success of that philosophy. “We have 79 shops there and we’re selling hi-fi – imagine that! Seventy percent of customers are returning customers and we have 100 percent loyalty once they’re in the door.” Lyngdorf drove home the point that, particularly with audio demonstrations, “the whole thing is exposing people to something that’s consistently good.” He contrasted that selling method with the U.S.’s mostly lackluster big-box-store audio presentations, saying they were akin to “waterboarding” for the ears.
“Dealers need sophisticated, specialty-oriented products that are value-added,” Lenbrook’s Miller said. He also mentioned computer audio as an ideal entry-point for a client discussion about audio, saying his company is now in a collaborative partnership with four other vendors to develop a method to help specialty dealers present it profitably to the iPod/iPad/iPod touch-savvy customer. “There are 300 million iTunes accounts, and there have been 10 billion downloads,” he said. “You have to ride the horse in the direction it’s going. But customers have to be shown that they don’t need to sacrifice quality. They don’t know about lossless downloads. They need education.”
What would help further a cogent discussion of audio quality, said THX’s Dahl, would be the development industrywide of “more consistent quality standards. The industry needs to address the paucity of clear-thinking science where there are two people with four opinions about sound. It doesn’t help high-accuracy reproduction.” He said his company is now working to expand education among budding engineers at the university community level.