September 2007 Issue


‘Ah-HA!’: Five integrators tell how they get customers to finally ‘get’ home automation

For successful c-tailers and custom integrators, it has been several years since the light bulb went on in their collective heads about the profit potential in tying control of other than audio and video gear into an installation package. Getting that tungsten to fire up in clients’ brains about home automation, however, has been a challenge rife with hurdles that include skepticism, techno-fear, and cost concerns- obstacles that none but the best can surmount. The home, as it turns out, can only be as intelligent as the client is willing to let it be. So, how do integrators across this land get more of

15 Minutes With Sam Runco

CustomRetailer: You are staying on as a consultant to Planar during the transitional period. Would you describe how your role is coming into focus with the new ownership of Runco and Vidikron? And can you be specific about how you are helping to smooth the transition—in what ways are you working to assure the comfort level of your Runco and Vidikron dealers? Sam Runco: I am staying on as an advisor, rather than a consultant. There is a difference between the two. I am acting as sort of a ‘consigliere’ to Scott [Hix] and the CEO [Gerry Perkel]. My job function is

A CustomRetailer Report Card—Connecting Buyers with Sellers

Do you remember the grades you brought home from school? Not only were we judged on the three ‘R’s—reading, writing and arithmetic—but also each student was evaluated by their teachers with comments regarding strengths and weaknesses and best of all suggestions on how we could improve; not just our grades but our lives. Our report card comes from many sources, not the least of which is you, our readers. We take our responsibility to you and the growth of your business to heart and our grades that come from readers’ “voting with their feet” are exhilarating! BPA Worldwide (the recognized standard for independent media

Bet the House

Trey Brunson’s office looks mostly like a c-tailer’s—rolls of blueprints around the floor, piles of forms and orders on the desk, phone message light blinking steadily—except, perhaps, for the ginormous 6x6 point mounted elk head on the wall. “He was 950 pounds,” says Brunson, leaning way back in his desk chair and grinning up at the beast as he remembers a New Mexico hunting trip. “Over 400 pounds of meat…we ate it for years.” A rather dramatic form of provision, certainly, but completely in character for Brunson, who is known among family members as “the visionary.” Just across the hall from Brunson and his

Get organized! Get results!

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all messed up. -A.A. Milne If you want to run an efficient and effective business, you need to focus on more than just business issues. The first thing you need to focus on is getting yourself organized. After all, how can you expect things in your business to run smoothly when you’re out of control? Everyone’s heard the old carpenter’s adage, “Measure twice, cut once.” It’s great advice and when applied to the management of your company (or your department), it pays huge dividends.

Getting Creative

Getting creative is what this issue all seems to be about. OK, that’s what all magazines are about in a way—come up with a handful of ideas, craft and package them, and push them out the door with a cover that binds it all together, both physically and contextually. But on another level, this issue is a reminder that the best custom retailers and integrators rely on creativity to sustain and grow their businesses as much as or more than they rely on their technical knowledge. Sure you’ve got to know a CAT 5 wire from an HDMI, but at the same time you’ve

Getting the most out of EXPO

I occasionally hear EXPO attendees complain that the event “isn’t the same as it used to be,” or that it has become “too big and too impersonal.” To those concerns I usually answer with a question: “Are you the same as you were ten years ago? Have you matured? Has your business grown?” CEDIA and EXPO have matured along with the organization’s membership and the residential electronic systems industry. I believe these are steps in the right direction, and I believe CEDIA EXPO has helped the industry and its electronic systems contractors grow and mature along the way. Sure, EXPO is big and can

Getting the Word Out

Wouldn’t it be incredible if everyone in your town knew who you were, what you do and how well you do it? Imagine being the first company everyone in your community thinks about when the words “home entertainment” or “home theater” are spoken. First, let us tell you this is absolutely possible. It’s actually very simple. In an average market, it is just a matter of carefully spending between 10 million and 50 million dollars in advertising and promotion on an annual basis. This will include television, radio, direct mail, local newspaper and regional magazine exposure. Also plan on a couple of major

Integrating Energy Efficiency Into Current (and New) Installs

The integrator of electronic systems can do much to improve a home’s efficient use of energy and water. Adding room occupancy sensors—tied into lighting systems, and/or heating and cooling systems—is a basic way to gain energy savings, for example. But the electronics systems are complex, and custom installers and their vendors are re-thinking their products and installations to go green, or at least “greener.” Programming to reduce power usage “Nearly all the products that we sell in the consumer audio/video world go into standby mode when you are not using them, but they are sitting there still turned on, still consuming energy,” said

Making Audio Fun

Boston Acoustics said that it is launching this month in the U.S the first fruits of a fresh approach to the home loudspeaker market under the banner of a new company logo and trademarked theme—Play Smart—that leverages its reputation for high-performance, value-oriented speakers while using bold colors and new industrial designs to “re-tune” the 27-year-old brand, born before the boom in video, to capitalize on that boom for what Senior Vice President and General Manager Eli Harary termed “the next 27 years.” “We’re trying to make audio fun,” said Boston Acoustics parent D&M’s president of sales and marketing, North America, Bob Weissburg, at the

Reality Check

When Bob Cole first heard about Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, he figured it was just another “money-making enterprise” for ABC. But when a builder friend asked Cole, the president of Bob and Ron’s World Wide Stereo, to volunteer for an episode taping in his own Philadelphia backyard, he suddenly had a big decision to make. It’s a decision being posed to custom retailers all over the country as more wide-reaching television networks launch reality shows about home makeover and design. For some industry professionals, like Cole, stepping in front of the camera is paying off big time. “It was beyond all of my expectations,”

Selling the Specialist Signal Delivery System

The specialist A/V integrator is fighting daily for his very business survival against the commoditization and mediocrity of the mass-market, big-box competition who try daily to look like the specialist. They claim to your customers that they can do what you do. One of the key ways a specialist can most easily differentiate himself from the bad guys is an area that is very important from a performance, value, and profit standpoint and where the big-box guys can’t and won’t compete because they haven’t a clue about how to do it. The Wire The fact is—the wires and cables throughout your

Set in Concrete

It’s hard to impress a Silicon Valley executive who is heavily involved in technology. The level of sophistication that this particular client expected was high, and he required that all technology be hidden from view and fully integrated into his home’s sleek, streamlined urban architecture and minimalist décor. “This is one of the most demanding clients I have ever worked with,” says Brian Hodges, VP of sales at Engineered Environments ( “He [pays] immaculate attention to detail. If you couldn’t play at his level, he simply wasn’t interested.” To navigate this complex project that was being built from the ground up, Engineered Environments

The ‘Predictable’ Consumer

The only most certain forecast for the upcoming back-to-school and holiday selling seasons is unpredictability. An article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune headlined “The unpredictable consumer” suggested that “a potent combination of factors has dampened consumer spending and thrown retailers’ best-laid strategies into confusion.” The latest BIGresearch study suggests that women, in particular, may be spending less than previously. The survey contends that many consumers are confused. They wonder why they are feeling bad when the experts say they should be elated. Folks on Main Street USA, where 70 percent of the economic activity takes place, may not feel the impact

The Art of the Proposal

A well-written proposal is the starting point for any successful project. Besides being the key document that will be delivered to your potential customer, it can be the differentiator that wins you the job over your competition. A winning proposal clearly maps out all aspects of the job so that there is little room for mistakes. It effectively communicates exactly what, how and when specific aspects of the installation will be done, not to mention specific products that will be installed and total cost. All elements of the project should be included to ensure project accuracy. If even one element of a proposal

The Right Touch

Leaving the site of a professional custom install you’ve just completed must feel something like dropping your son and daughter off at the dorm for their first year of college. In a sense, all of the tools and knowledge they will utilize to circumvent this new wonderland will be those you provided them. And because of that, you feel a certain sense of pride and responsibility for how they get along once you get back in the car for the long drive home. When you see them again for the first time, will they gush over how simple it was to accomplish their

The Trading Line

Editor’s note: Last month, Ira kicked off his new series of educational columns with advice on building relationships with clients, prospects and business partners. n Part 2: Taming Ethan Allen Draw an imaginary line in the sand. Let’s call this the Trading Line. The Trading Line represents a transactional event. Your prospective client is on one side of the line. On the other side are the people from whom your prospect is buying. Where would your client place a designer from an Ethan Allen store? On the other side of the line, of course, because this designer is about to sell

This is what’s going to happen to Tweeter—and why

Breaking up is Hard to Do Neil Sedaka and H. Greenfield Tweeter was a Real Love Fest for Years. Suppliers, employees, customers…everyone. A Marriage Made in Heaven, or at Least Audio Heaven. What turned Heaven into...well something else? It was really more than commodity pricing in the TV business. The real problem occurs when we look at the potential customers and see how they desire what we sell and the stores that sell it.... Audio was a hobbyist love...true and deep. The customers, the buyers, the management team all had a love of music and for many of them a love of the equipment.

Want a More Profitable and Efficient CI Business? Start a Relationship with Your Local Distributor

So what was your business day like today? Let me guess. You dispatched your two crews to the projects they’re working on this week at 7:30 a.m. You did some paperwork while you waited for the UPS truck to show up carrying an overnight shipment for a last-minute product you needed (and you paid $62 in freight to get!). You finally got out of the office for a late morning meeting with a new prospect when you get a call from one of your job sites. Your lead installer tells you he is missing two key items and will have to send people back