REDBAND: At your convenience. by Mark Coxon

So it’s no secret that I have not endeared myself to the Residential AV crowd as of late.  I have had more than my share of feedback on articles I wrote about Residential Integrators entering the Commercial AV Space, the digital signage market, or slamming their trunks to never be heard from again, (I think someone called me a “pretentious pejorative” on that one).

Maybe then to many readers it may be surprising that I am writing an article praising Residential Integrators for some things they do overwhelmingly right.  For those who know me personally, you know that I worked in the Residential AV space for almost 8 years and I actually loved it.  I am fond of many Residential AV firms.  I’m just a fan of them sticking to what they do best.

How many times have we lost commercial work to Residential firms, because that company did the CEO’s home audio system?  There is a reason that this happens, and its less about it making business sense, (it usually doesn’t gauging by the mess that is often made when a residential firm takes on complex commercial work), and more about the relationship that the Residential Integrator built.

Freakin People

I read many posts from fellow band members Puma and Sciacca, (@ToddAnthonyPuma and @Sciaccatweets for the Twitterpated), and lately I have seen a common theme emerge.  Great Residential Integrators do have a thing or two to teach the guys in Commercial AV.  Here are three I think every commercial integrator should adopt.

1)       “It’s not personal, it’s business” is a lie.

In the words of Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail:

“You keep saying it’s not personal, it’s business . . . All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me…Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” 

(I know I’m gonna get my man card pulled by someone on that reference).

Residential Integrators are typically great relationship builders, and they address the personal wants needs, and pains of their customers, as opposed to coming in with a sanitized proposal that sounds like a high school English paper- “If one were to consider multi-zone audio, one might first measure background noise a with an SPL meter and. . .”  No one identifies with that approach, and I am shocked that I see it used so often in commercial work.  Even when trying to accomplish a business result, people buy for personal reasons.

 2)       Empathize with the Client.

I have been to more than one meeting with an architect, where my firm and a couple other Commercial AV firms were invited to walk through a project, and the other firms just couldn’t empathize.

In one case, I let the two SCN 50 competitors berate the architect for nearly 3 minutes about analog and digital transmission and HDMI and DVI distribution.  Finally the architect looked over at me, and silently said “Help” with his eyes, at which point I intervened and saved him from the techno babble chest bumps. Needless to say, I was able to close that job, and was able to do so being the highest bid.

Great Residential Integrator’s excel at putting themselves in the customer’s shoes.  They learn about the customer’s lifestyle, their children, and their musical tastes, and they know how to speak plain English.

3)       Be Flexible.

In my experience Commercial AV firms are too rigid in two areas.

The first is their line card.  If you come to every meeting wondering how the products on your card will fit into the project at hand, you are starting from the wrong place.  You have to start with the end in mind, and then work backward to define the products used.  Many of the products on your line cards may fit well and others may not.  You may have to go outside of that and bring in a specialized product or two to do the job right.  Put away the shoehorn.  It is not the customer that needs to be wedged into your idea of the system you want to sell him, but your system should be custom fit to the client.

Residential firms are much better at adopting new technologies and lines and bringing them to their clients.  However this also requires the second thing Commercial Integrators often lack, and that is flexibility in the Scope of Work over time.  I’m not talking about being flexible with “Scope Creep”, where the client tries to get more an more out of the contract over time, that is always dangerous to the bottom line.  I am talking about being flexible in upgrading or changing components when it has little or no effect downstream to the rest of the project.

I had a church where iPad/Apple TV mirroring became available, and was a much better fit for them than the KVM extension and laptop desk behind the altar.  It was nice to be able to change that on the fly.  All of my projectors, lenses, screens, video extenders, and infrastructure cabling stayed the same, so there was little to re-engineer, and the end result was an ecstatic customer who was very appreciative that we continued to think about and improve their system even after the formal contract had been signed.

At the end of the day, whether the job is Residential or Commercial, we are dealing with people.  People buy because of personal reasons, and appreciate working with others who can put themselves in their shoes, speak to them in their own language, and adapt to their changing world.  If Commercial Integrators want to get to the next level, they may just take these lessons from their Residential counterparts. They may not know about pink noise and DSPs, but they know people very well, and that will always play to their advantage.

Mark C.

REDBAND_Coxon

Mark has been in the IT & AV field for over 12 years. He currently works as an Account manager with  Horizon Display and is a contributor with Commercial Integrator magazine. You can follow Mark on Twitter @AVPhenom.  The expressed opinions are his own…You have been warned.

REDBAND: Vacation Time: Preparing Your Staff and Clients for Your Absence by Todd Anthony Puma

Like many custom AV integrators, I work really hard and spend long days doing estimates, programming systems, and keeping my company’s financial books in order. So my wife finally convinced me to take a vacation this spring, and I’m glad that I finally did.

The key to my enjoying a restful and (relatively) stress-free break, however, was making sure that I’d properly prepared my company and my clients to deal with my absence. I came up with a pretty good checklist and learned a few things I should have done differently and figured I would share my advice for getting ready to take your next vacation.

1. Prepare Your Customers
Make sure you’re clients know when you are leaving, when you are returning, and whom to contact in your absence for urgent issues. You can make personal phone calls to large or more recent customers, send emails, send regular letters, or a combination of all three. Be sure to set up an out-of-office email with the same information as above. Do this for your voicemail outgoing message, as well…

To continue reading click on the link below:

http://www.residentialsystems.com/default.aspx?tabid=90&EntryId=575

ToddRedband

Todd Anthony Puma is the CEO & Founder of The Source Home Theater. Check out his  website at The Source Home Theater and follow him on twitter at  @ToddAnthonyPuma .

REDBAND: WTF? CEDIA Invites Nest CEO as Keynote Speaker?!? by John Sciacca

Like many of you, I received a postcard from CEDIA the other day getting me pumped for the 2013 EXPO.

Honestly, not much pumping is required. I love the EXPO. And by “love” I mean I frickin’ love the EXPO.

Also, the EXPO is moving back to Denver this year which I think sent a chorus of collective, “Praise be!” throughout the entire CEDIA membership and press corps. CEDIA in Denver is just awesome. The weather is great, the city is clean, it’s easy to walk and get around and there is an awesome baseball stadium right in the downtown! (Note to manufacturers: If you are hosting any events that involve seeing the Rockies playing, I am totally in. Consider this a firm Sciacca + 1.)

To continue reading the article click the link below:

http://johnsciacca.webs.com/apps/blog/show/25786627-wtf-cedia-invites-nest-ceo-as-keynote-speaker-

JSRedband1

John Sciacca started a personal blog back in 2010 which dared to ask the hard questions like, “Huh?” and “Whaa?” all written in a pithy, deliciously witty and uproarious manner. His blog likes to make new friends and would love to have you over for some caramels. You can follow John Sciacca on Twitter @sciaccatweets  and at his personal blog www.johnsciacca.webs.com

REDBAND: Switch Wars by Mark Coxon

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

 

switchwars

If anyone has been following the Crestron/Extron/AMX Video Shootout of their HDMI switchers, let me start be saying. . . WAKE UP!  I’m sure the 5 minute demonstrations have lullled you into a slumber, so get some coffee.

I will first take AMX out of the fray here, because their response video was awesome.  1 minute of “who cares”, with some quick red asterisks pointing out the “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” sections of the original Crestron Demo.  I give AMX a free pass to Endor.  Go have a great Friday, those Ewoks really know how to party!

As for the other two. . .It’s hard to tell who the Evil Empire is and who is the Rebel Alliance.

Crestron obviously took little care to set up a controlled demo, or  could have purposefully slanted the demo in their favor.  If they did the latter, they are no better than Best Buy and the other box stores whose salespeople turn up the color and brightness settings on the TVs they want to move that month, so they look brighter than their low margin, out of stock counterparts.

Extron responds by setting up a controlled demo, and then saying “look over here” while playing slight of hand with their stopwatch and button presses.  Don’t get me wrong, given that Crestron took the first punch and didn’t care to make sure the equipment was set up the same, turnabout is fair play.

None of this changes the fact however that the whole video switch shootout is just a big distraction.

I’m hearing Vader tell me to “Search my Feelings”, so here they are:  We are stuck in a galaxy of AV that is dependent on HDMI, and given its variances, the real world performance of either of these switches will pale in comparison to these controlled video demos.

Take a closer look at both videos and as an integrator think about these things.

1)      In the Extron demo all cables are the same length and all source material is 1080p.  When was the last time you had a job where that happened?  Different run lengths, 720p signals on satellite, SD video on legacy gear, etc are the real world we live in.

 2)       In both videos the Sony Display and the BenQ display have dramatically different switching times.  In the real world we are faced with various models and brands of screens being integrated into one job, and neither switcher can provide a ready, set, go that triggers all screen equally.

 3)      HDMI extenders through a whole new kink in the chain.  Copper based extenders are commonly used and commonly don’t work as needed.  It may be due to the source and sink, it may be due to the cable length and EMF, it may be due to poor tolerances on the extender, but whatever the case, unless you’re transmitting at Light Speed over fiber, you risk some major problems.

 So congratulations Crestron and Extron!  Neither video has helped serve any purpose or proven anything definitively.  My guess is the switching time is probably the same on average if you add up and average the large variance in times across brands and models.

At the end of the day, no one cares how many parsecs it takes your ship to do the Kessel Run if the journey takes us through a star system with pink sparkles and black holes that swallow video randomly.

I think you both have been indulging in your own glitterstim spice along the way.

“Help me Hd-SDI, you’re my only hope.”

Mark C.

REDBAND_Coxon

Mark has been in the IT & AV field for over 12 years. He currently works as an Account manager with  Horizon Display and is a contributor with Commercial Integrator magazine. You can follow Mark on Twitter @AVPhenom.  The expressed opinions are his own…You have been warned.

 

REDBAND: Why Apple’s Advice is Right and Wrong for Us by John Sciacca

When I come across a quote that I find especially meaningful or poignant in magazines or books that I’m reading, I write it down – or take a picture of it – so I can remember it.

In reading an extensive interview with Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, in the December 10-16, 2012 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, I stumbled across this quote from Apple’s new CEO:

“A great product doesn’t mean an expensive product. It means a fair price. The iPad mini is all the way down to $329. This isn’t an expensive product. So when we can do great products and achieve a great price, we feel great. But what we shouldn’t do is say, ‘We’ve got to have something for this price, and then let’s see what we can do for it.’ That’s not how we think. We think about the product and making a great product that we want to use. When we can do that and achieve another price point, that’s great. But our customers have a high expectation, and we’re not going to try to pass off something – we would never do that. That’s not how we think.”

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been inspired by something from Apple, or by Apple mind-think, and this comment from Cook immediately got me  thinking about our business and how I used to specify A/V systems and how I go about specifying them now. Let’s break this quote down, shall we, and see what custom integrators can learn from one of the most powerful and successful tech giants on the planet…

To continue reading click the link:

http://johnsciacca.webs.com/apps/blog/show/25720504

JSRedband1

John Sciacca started a personal blog back in 2010 which dared to ask the hard questions like, “Huh?” and “Whaa?” all written in a pithy, deliciously witty and uproarious manner. His blog likes to make new friends and would love to have you over for some caramels. You can follow John Sciacca on Twitter @sciaccatweets  and at his personal blog www.johnsciacca.webs.com

 

REDBAND: Remember to Listen by Joshua Stackhouse

I remember it very well. It was the first time I had ever heard anything like it. It grabbed me. The sadness and grief. The raw emotion. The melancholy. It was blissful and radically different than the European pop and (what now is considered “classic”) Hip-Hop plastered all over the air waves. I could have been no older than 12 years old, yet I remember. I had never before experienced a musical composition that so powerfully captured my imagination. It was a virginal experience. I had never felt music before, I had only…listened. It would be many years later that, as my appreciation of music grew, that I would understand that what I had experienced that day in my youth was true listening. You may ask yourself what song could have this sort of influence on a young man? The answer is simple, it was Moonlight Sonata. A Mozart masterpiece whose influence has lasted me my lifetime thus far, and I firmly believe it will remain my favorite piece of music above all else for as long as I shall live.

What I experienced that day was the universality of music. It was my first taste of understanding the connectedness of our species through our creative voices. Across time and geography, languages, cultures and customs divide us, but only a few things have the universality of music. It is easy to partake of, and costs us little if anything. It can be as simply as a human voice or as complex as an orchestral arrangement. Nothing, except for maybe food and the act of eating, binds us together as a species like music. Music is simply an expression of the human experience and the emotions which come with it…

Continue reading by clicking the link below:

http://stackhouseav.tumblr.com/post/48033219656/remember-to-listen

 

Check out Joshua Stackhouse profile on LinkedIn and follow him on his Blog and on Twitter: @StackhouseAV

REDBAND: Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself by Mark Coxon

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself.

 

Let me start off by saying that I’m excited to be joining the RedBand bloggers.  I have followed most of the crew for some time, and always look forward to a new Neto, Sciacca, Tucker, or Puma blog.

For anyone who may follow me or be familiar with some of my work in the industry, you may already know my take on a variety of AV issues.  For those of you who know me in person from my work in AZ or CA, you know I am at heart a nice guy and a father of 3, as well as someone who likes to engage in some light hearted sparring, (verbally and otherwise ).  I do hold strong opinions but I am not mean spirited, and I am usually very fair.  Even when I competed in Muay Thai, I felt bad when I kneed someone in the face, but I was OK with it because we both entered the ring with the same expectations and knew the rules of engagement, (as well as the possible outcomes).  For this reason I wanted to layout my Rules of Engagement, and what I will be writing about in RedBand.

So. . .

“Let Me Clear my Throat!” –Beastie Boys

In the RedBand Spirit of polite irreverence and honesty, there are a few things that will quickly get my attention and the e-ink flowing.

1)      Superfluous Press Releases- If you are on my Google Alerts for AV everyday announcing that you are now installing in the closest suburb or have just hired an intern to shuffle paperwork, you may find your name in my blogs very quickly McCann Systems.

2)      “Me Too” Product Releases- So it is the nature of innovation that we will not always be the first to the party with a new piece of gear or industry changing technology.  However, if 18 months after a major competitor develops a product, you decide to finally copy it, do not announce it in a coming out party to rival the Ellen announcement Extron.  When my grandma finally got e-mail, it was kind of cute that she made a big hurrah about it, but when it’s a product you should have made a year ago it’s just sad.  Have a private webinar, send out a new catalog, add it to your website, but please don’t put it on twitter as “Sliced Bread” if you don’t want me to comment on it.

 3)      “Pretennovation”- Like everyone else in the Band, I’ve been around the AV block a couple times, and the thing that drives me more crazy than almost anything else, is the creative marketing of features that aren’t new, don’t make a difference, or pretend to be more than they are.  240Hz HDMI cables, formats without content, or strobing eyewear have all made my articles in the past, and anything of the same ilk will definitely get some attention in the future.

 4)      “Yes” Men- As Edmund Burke so eloquently stated, the reason that evil exists is that good men do nothing.  When any of the above scenarios happen, there are 3 choices: Ignore the mistake, help promote the obvious idea out of some sense of loyalty or fear of loss, or call them out.  I will always do the latter, but many choose to help promote obviously failed logic and products out of a sense of loyalty or loss.  Instead of admitting the manufacturer’s baby is ugly, they first contemplate the ramifications and choose instead to Follow You into the Dark in Cutie’s Deathcab.

I’m sure many other things will come up between now and the time I put keyboard to backlit screen, but I thought I’d introduce myself, and let you know what to expect.  I encourage your comments, feedback, and well thought out arguments, and promise I will always respond in a kind and loving manner while either coming to a whole new perspective or attacking your premises at their foundation.  Either way, it’s bound to be fun!

Best and God Bless!

Mark C.

 REDBAND_Coxon

Mark has been in the IT & AV field for over 12 years. He currently works as an Account manager with  Horizon Display and is a contributor with Commercial Integrator magazine. You can follow Mark on Twitter @AVPhenom.  The expressed opinions are his own…You have been warned.

REDBAND: Maintain Price Margins and Keep the Sale When Clients Go Price Shopping By Todd Anthony Puma

It happens in every industry, to everyone. It’s what killed Border’s and Circuit City. Price-shopping online. We’ve all felt the pain of a client taking our estimate, after we’ve put in hours of work to formulate the perfect package for them, and then calling us back a day later telling us how they can get everything cheaper online, completely ignoring our expertise and time put forth to recommend just the right product. I’ve found it tends to happen more in the middle-market (jobs under $30,000), but will still occur in the high-end as well.

While it is tempting to get into a negotiating and bargaining back-and-forth to salvage the sale, there are some other great tips I’ve learned along the way to help maintain margins and keep the sale. Some of these I’ve had the great fortune of being taught by people who’ve been there, done that, and some I’ve learned on my own through trial and error.

Just today, one of my very close peers got a call from a client in Queens whom he had gone to visit several months ago after Hurricane Sandy. The client was rebuilding his flooded basement and wanted to make it a family room and listening room. He was originally looking at a few different brands of speakers, receivers, and remotes but my friend steered him toward Paradigm Studio towers, center and surrounds, a Marantz SR7007 and a URC remote, along with all of the ancillary products. He was pinging the integrator constantly with questions, and I just knew he was trying to bleed him for information so he could either work with another integrator or try to do it himself….

To continue reading Click the link below:

http://www.residentialsystems.com/default.aspx?tabid=90&EntryId=570

ToddRedband

Todd Anthony Puma is the CEO & Founder of The Source Home Theater. Check out his  website at The Source Home Theater and follow him on twitter at  @ToddAnthonyPuma .

REDBAND: Ain’t No Cure for the Job Huntin’ Blues By Joshua Stackhouse

Ain’t No Cure for the Job Huntin’ Blues By Joshua Stackhouse

I realize many salty AV veterans either didn’t go to college at all but instead learned on the job or went to school for something not related to AV at all. However, as some of you will know, this “kid” is probably the only person you have ever heard of who has a degree in AV. Yes, you heard me right. Let me say that again. I have an actual college degree in audio/visual systems and electronics.

Here, don’t take my word for it. Check out this video here of my graduation commencement.

See that right there, yeah, that’s me walking across that stage receiving an actual academic degree in audio visual systems. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Degrees in A/V actually exist, and I am one of only a handful of people in all of our industry to have one. That makes me special…and highly unemployable.

If the that statement seems odd, let me explain by plainly telling you that just having a degree in A/V doesn’t get you jobs. In fact, it has only served to make things harder in some ways. While you might think that I have the holy grail of education for our industry, many employers do not even really recognize my degree as a valid alternative to experience in the field. This is something in the industry which I am hoping to reconcile. As you read this, if you are an employer, consider that just because degrees in A/V are relatively new, it doesn’t mean that I’m not every bit as capable as doing the job as the guys who have been doing it for years.

Now as I stated, finding employment after graduation wasn’t necessarily easier just because I held an AV degree. I faced many challenges but we’ll just focus the big five. A pseudo sixth problem which I won’t discuss, but deserves mention is that I had to teach myself through research who the players in each market segment are in my local area and the industry at large.

The first obstacle I had to overcome in searching for a job was understanding what exactly employers call each job and what that job entails.  It is a disservice to our entire industry that we still have so many job titles out there and no standards. For example, some companies have dedicated “Structured Cabling Technicians”, whereas another may very well employ someone whose sole job is to install cabling but instead is only called an “Installation Technician”.

Figuring out what each job is called is really minor in comparison to the big two insurmountable obstacles of consistent employer demand for several years experience and the desire for employees with specializations. While I have years of IT and technical support experience behind me, I only possess the experience I gained from two years of school when it comes to AV. Well, that’s sort of true, I’ve been dealing with AV my entire life off and on as a technician, though from an employer perspective that doesn’t really count. Employers consistently asked me about my level of experience during interviews, and each time I had to defend the validity of hands on trade school training.

While not quite as restricting as lack of experience, not having a specialty also made finding a job difficult. My academic studies were blanket program covering home theater systems, fire and life safety, surveillance, live sound, building automation, and more. Time after time I would be drilled on in my interviews about how deep my training went in each area. Without fail, I almost always didn’t have enough knowledge in one or two areas to satisfy them. It was constantly a “close but no cigar” situation.

Normally our personal networks provide us opportunities to interview with a company. Even if you lack a job skill or two knowing someone who can vouch for you helps employers overlook things like not having enough experience or a specialty. In my case, having no industry contacts made this door opening technique unavailable to me. Of course my professors had their contacts, but I am a significantly better designer than I am an installer, and sadly design jobs are rare. While I actively use social media and regularly attend networking events locally, the opportunity to meet A/V professionals is far and few in between.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to employment was that as a whole the A/V industry just doesn’t understand what a degree in A/V entails. Since Madison Media Institute is currently one of a kind, most of the industry has only begun to hear of academic A/V training. As the industry grows to become aware that formal education exists in our field, I believe that employment opportunities will start to open up more readily. Indeed, employers are beating the door down at my Alma Mater asking when our next crop of graduates will be ripe and ready. Each graduating class becomes more refined and better trained as the curriculum matures.

As a rapidly expanding industry that is heavily concerned with gaining recognition, we must concern ourselves with the challenges formal education creates.  Certifications will not take us all the way; we must develop academic programs that deal with specialties such as video conferencing or building automation. We should not be content to continue business as usual and be merely a trade, but instead a valid career field that colleges will find appetizing. We must embrace this change, and do whatever we can to help those entering our industry with solid education find their place in the great electron sea of A/V. The only question left at this point is what part will you play in helping that change to happen? This guy, well, I’m “Mr. AV Education” and will continue to push for formal education in AV for years to come. Will you become an agent of change and actively help or will you sit by on the sidelines as things fly past you? Which side will you be on?

 

Check out Joshua Stackhouse profile on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter: @StackhouseAV

REDBAND: Communication is Key When Working with Contractors by Todd Anthony Puma

Communication is Key When Working with Contractors by Todd Anthony Puma 

The key to success in our business is referrals. Doing great work and providing top-notch customer service are the cost of entry, so in order to grow and expand, you need your clients to pass along your good name. While client referrals are awesome, and we all aim to get those, there just isn’t always enough volume there. That’s why we all strive to work with designers, architects, and contractors. Good relationships with our industry partners take a lot of work and nurturing, and sometimes we are willing to take big risks to enable these partnerships.

If I had to sum up my ideal client, it would be someone who trusts my direction, is understanding of the integration process, is open to communication, and pays promptly. I am currently working with just such a client on a large renovation in NYC. He has brought us on to do all of his AV and to integrate lighting control, HVAC, and security. Being the end result is for us to integrate all systems, we are obviously working closely with the client’s general contractor, as well as the other professional teams (designers, architects, landscape architects, security firm, HVAC installer, etc).

While each contractor is responsible for the operation of their own individual trade, we are not only required to ensure the AV system works in and of itself, but that the entire interface operates together as one.

During the beginning stages, each group listed what manufacturers they would be using so that we could guarantee it could be integrated together. Somewhere along the line, one of the trades changed their operating system to one that cannot be integrated by any of our control systems. Since our system will ultimately interface and control the entire home, the GC assumes that we will take responsibility in finding the solution and has put the ball in our court…

To continue reading click the link below:

http://www.residentialsystems.com/default.aspx?tabid=90&EntryId=564

ToddRedband

Todd Anthony Puma is the CEO & Founder of The Source Home Theater. Check out his  website at The Source Home Theater and follow him on twitter at  @ToddAnthonyPuma .