August 2007 Issue


At Home in the Commercial District

At InfoComm 2007—held this year at the Anaheim (Calif.) Convention Center—my mission was to cull the residential news from this largely commercial A/V and information systems show. Amid the A/V switchers with mind-boggling numbers of connections and the 10,000-lumen projectors that would scorch the retinas of home users, I discovered a few new finds ideal for the custom installer. Audio for the residential market was virtually nonexistent, so I focused on video. Projectors Among the mammoth commercial projectors with crazy brightness, a few new home theater projectors were on hand. I saw three distinct trends in the category: “inexpensive,” 1,080p, and models with Texas

Central Vacuum: Why You Should Sell It, and How

Manufacturers of central vacuum systems have been engaging the custom electronics installation market for several years now, to varying degrees of success. Perhaps now, their time has come, as numerous trends are working in their favor. For one, their products, which they claim can remove indoor pollutants, play into the touchy-feely “green living” trend. Secondly, builders increasingly are looking to differentiate their homes in the midst of a softening housing market. And finally, the days of big profits on flat panels are gone for the custom installation market, and the hunt is on for products that can deliver high margin. Still, there are challenges

Countdown to CEDIA EXPO 2007

I didn’t scare you, did I? Go ahead and check the cover; it’s OK. This is the August issue, not September! Whew, that was a close call! Nevertheless, we’re just a few short weeks away from CEDIA EXPO, but with so much going on at the show, I thought I’d provide a bit of a planning guide to help you make the most of your trip to Denver. Have you been to lately? There’s a host of information there that can make your trip to Denver easier and smarter. Pay close attention to the CEDIA EXPO New Product Pre-Show Showcase, as new items

Custom Electronics? Floor Coverings? Common Problems, Common Solutions

From time to time, I find information from other big-ticket consumer products industries that I think holds equally true in the custom electronics business. The customer, essentially, is the same, so we can learn a great deal from what others have found. The World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), for example, recently conducted a study to explore attitudes and perceptions of shoppers. One of the study’s goals was to compare and contrast the shopping experiences of recent floor covering buyers at big-box stores and specialty dealers. The results aren’t too surprising, but it’s instructive to see the differences in shopping experiences codified. The study found

How to Write a Contract

Last month, we discussed provisions that should be included in your written contract with an owner or builder. (The article is available at if you haven’t read it.) This month, we’ll discuss provisions that generally address the major steps an A/V installer can take when negotiating an agreement to minimize the opportunity for disputes to escalate, reduce the cost of such disputes when they do arise, and maximize the opportunity to salvage the relationship with the customer. Change Order Provision. Changes requested by the owner or builder during the course of work are one of the primary areas of disputes between parties in

Let There Be (Effective, Energy-Efficient) Light!

As consumers and states get increasingly serious about green living, custom integrators and their interior design partners are learning how to use energy-efficient lighting options, most notably compact fluorescent and LED lighting. In the process, they’re discovering both pros and cons to these lighting alternatives. “For years, our philosophy was to use lots of incandescent lights and then dim them to 80 percent,” says Ken Erdmann, president of Erdmann Group in Springville, Utah. “We can do that with incandescent easily.” These days, however, more customers are asking his company to use compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Energy Star-qualified Compact Fluorescent (CFL) bulbs use about 75

Make Your Knowledge Pay Off

In the custom installation business, as in any business, the art of discovering a customer’s needs, wants and desires is paramount. Without that knowledge, how can we pos-sibly offer a solution that matches a customer’s requirements? If you’re like me, you’ve spent countless hours reading and listening to people present their techniques and strategies to accomplish this critical task in an efficient and effective manner. However, the ability to determine a person’s needs through an investigative conversation is totally dependent on the person actually knowing what he or she needs! In the world of electronics, where the technology we sell advances at the speed

Make Your Mom Proud

I’ve read many articles lately that discuss the value of a CI business, exit strategies and other interesting topics of discussion on the subject of strategic planning. While I place great importance on having a company of value, and I don’t want my three kids having to pick over the bones of my company, I honestly feel not enough business owners understand the most basic present assets they have: their employees. My 83-year-old mother has been in the hospital recently for back surgery. While visiting one day, I showed Mom an article in which my company was mentioned. She told me she was proud

School’s In, School’s Out

Another year, another CEDIA EXPO on the way. Where has the time gone? It seems like this show has been around forever, but in fact it started only 17 years ago, from the humblest of beginnings. Today, it’s one of the largest trade shows in America, and a fact of life for the tens of thousands of people involved in the custom electronics industry. Its phenomenal growth has led to the creation of a second annual show, to kick off next April in Las Vegas. Most of us now have experienced Denver as host once, and hopefully the kinks will be ironed out and

Share the Love

Great custom integrators build their businesses and reputations by tailoring their work methods and on-the-job behaviors to each client’s desires. Such service-orientation and attention to detail goes beyond relationships with clients; it must be replicated and tweaked in relationships with builders as well. We talked to four CI experts about how they work fluidly in the world of home builders, and profit by those associations. Summit Technology Group • Santa Rosa, Calif. CEO and President Larry Dashiell comes at this topic from a variety of perspectives. “Part of my background is as a third-generation electrical contractor,” he says. “I’ve worked with electricians

Sometimes You Need to Take the Risk

I keep a bulletin board above my desk. It’s got the usual stuff on it—the company phone directory, photos of memorable vacations, a map of our U.S. sales territories and our monthly sales numbers. It also has one of my favorite quotes, a chestnut from Mark Twain I like to look at when I’m stuck in a rut or afraid I might do something that turns out badly: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade

With QED, Lenbrook Links the NAD and PSB Legacies to a Legendary U.K. Cable Brand

CustomRetailer: You now have the exclusive U.S. distribution rights to U.K. manufacturer QED’s cable lines. What led to this? Bob Brown: Lenbrook had a decision to make about new distribution for the NAD and PSB lines in the U.K. We researched and decided upon Armour Home Electronics. They have a stable of their own brands and of brands they exclusively distribute. In the course of our discussions, we found that QED, which they had bought about seven years ago, was not being distributed in the U.S. I got talking to the owners and they told me they hadn’t placed the product in the U.S.,

Working with Builders: Lessons, Caveats & Advice

Make Sure You Use Language They Understand: “Befriend them – do not be phony, by any means, but try to talk their language, their terminology, which is different than when you’re talking with your client or with an architect. It’s incumbent upon the integrator to change their terminology to match the builder’s. If you’re trying to get the builder to understand what a CAT5e or CAT6 cable is, or what a C-Bus jack is – call it a TV jack, call it a telephone jack. Call it what the builder knows it is. You don’t want to embarrass them – that’s another way