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…

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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: 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….

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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: 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…

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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: Cultivating Vendor Relationships That Benefit Your Business by Todd Anthony Puma

We all have relationships in our lives that really matter, and then there are other relationships that we treat as more transactional, such as those with our suppliers—be it distributors, manufacturers, or reps. I think, however, it’s important to make your supplier relationships as strong as your other professional relationships because this can help you solve problems when you’re out in the field.

We got a call from our NuVo rep recently because a customer had contacted their headquarters concerned with the poor performance of their media server and that the system was continually lagging. Unfortunately, their integrator had moved out of state so they had nowhere else to turn. I could tell right away that the problem sounded software-related and that server needed to be updated and subsequently hard-rebooted. It was not a huge job, but as I’ve said before, you never know what can happen with these small troubleshooting jobs. And I also wanted to support NuVo and help them retain a customer, because I value our business relationship.

I scheduled time to personally go to this customer’s home in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. It was a beautiful apartment, owned by an accomplished producer and talent manager in the entertainment business. The apartment was outfitted with a NuVo Grand Concerto 8 Zone system, multiple iPod docks, a projector in the living room, and an 80-inch TV in the bedroom. While fixing the NuVo system (the problem was exactly what I thought, and it now works great), I chatted with the property’s caretaker and now have the opportunity to maintain and upgrade the system as necessary, run new coax lines for their recently added DirectTV service, re-mount the bedroom TV on an articulating arm, and possibly upgrade the projector and screen. What started out as a quick service call as a favor to a great vendor partner turned into a client worth tens of thousands of dollars in future billings…

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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: Returning to the Basics During a Client Service Call By Todd Anthony Puma

Returning to the Basics During a Client Service Call

By

Todd Anthony Puma

One of the best ways to improve profitability is by reducing truck rolls. Lately, we’ve accomplished this by using technology such as IP-based power management products, remote programming for universal remotes, Teamviewer to troubleshoot systems, and countless other products. But an incident last week reminded me that returning to the basics during a routine service call is just as important.

For a client in Manhattan, we recently replaced a whole-home audio system and separately added new URC remotes for the TVs and video components. On Friday afternoon we returned to their home because they were having RF interference issues, and we needed to move the RF antenna around. One of our technicians went over and quickly found a new spot for the antenna that alleviated the problem. He thoroughly tested the remotes to make sure all of the components were working properly and even showed the client how to detect RF interference and what to do if they encountered it again. The client was very happy that everything worked and that they were given the tools to prevent the issue from occurring again. All was well and good, and my technician went home for the weekend…

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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: Three Tools for Improving Employee Morale by Todd Anthony Puma

Three Tools for Improving Employee Morale

When a new client decides they are interested in your services, they place a phone call to your office and speak to your administrative assistant or receptionist. He or she takes their information and writes down what the client is looking for, then puts them on the schedule for a technician to come to their home. The technician takes the client’s information and arrives to their home for their appointment. He asks questions and completes the service accordingly. Once the technician leaves the client’s home, the interaction with this client ends without any input from you, the owner.

As a business owner, although we would love to meet with every client personally, there just isn’t enough time in a day. The “face” of your company is often not you but the people who go out into the field representing you. But who is to say that your new client is receiving the same level of service from your team as they would from you? How can you ensure that your employees are always the best representation of you and your company?

Three tools for success that I have found work well to promote a positive working environment are education, motivation, and ambition. They mold each of my employees into a “mini me” of myself, so I am confident in their ability to represent my company with our clients…

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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: My Unexpected Crestron Experience By Todd Anthony Puma

My Unexpected Crestron Experience By Todd Anthony Puma

Many people in the industry know them as the behemoth booth at CEDIA and InfoComm, and some follow the misconception of them being impersonal and expensive. The more I indulge in Crestron, the more enlightened I am becoming to the level of personal attention they display towards the integration industry.

Recently, I brought my office manager as well as my project manager with me up to Crestron’s Rockleigh headquarters for a full tour of not just the company’s Experience Center, but also its manufacturing facilities. It was amazing to see good ol’ manufacturing and assembly being done in the USA. Throughout several different buildings, I witnessed a facility for printing motherboards, for assembling final products, and a full R&D center with an RF chamber, and industrial 3D printers for prototyping. In an age when everything is being moved off-shore, it’s great to see a company keeping things local…

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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: Helping DIY’ers Recognize the Benefits of Professional Home Automation By Todd Anthony Puma

Helping DIY’ers Recognize the Benefits of Professional Home Automation

By Todd Anthony Puma

My wife and I went to meet a new neighbor who didn’t know that I am a custom integrator. He couldn’t stop raving about his new wireless audio system and universal remote, both of which he bought at a big box store. I struggled with it, but I kept my mouth shut.

We’ve all been there. A customer calls us to do an estimate and when we get there, they start talking about consumer-grade, DIY systems that they’ve heard about or used in their summer vacation home. You know that the custom solution is better, but they already have a picture in their head. So how do you convince them that what you sell is right for them, often when what you’ll be recommending is more expensive?

I always make sure to start with the current situation, their lifestyle, and how they will use the system. If it is a retrofit project, some of the consumer-grade audio solutions can work well; if it’s wireless and doesn’t require running new wires or patching and painting. However if it is a renovation or new construction, I then start with the reliability discussion.

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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: Social Media: Friend and Foe for Your Business? By Todd Anthony Puma

Todd questions the use of Social media and Customer Relations…

Social Media: Friend and Foe for Your Business? by Todd Anthony Puma

While killing time waiting for an oil change, you decide to flip through today’s Twitter feed. You check your best friend’s last tweet and although they don’t mention you by name, you just know that they’re referring to a conversation you had with them the night before. It just burns you up inside that they had the nerve to post it so that all of their followers could read it. You call your friend and the two of you fight it out until he agrees to remove the tweet from his page.

But what if it’s not that easy? What if it’s you in the “tweeting” seat and you have posted about someone that you don’t know well enough to work it out? What if you vented about a job you were working on earlier in the day and [gasp] that client saw it and knew you were talking about them?…

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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: Clare Controls Online Training was Purely Hands-On by Todd Anthony Puma

Todd goes to school on Clare Controls…

Clare Controls Online Training was Purely Hands-On By Todd Anthony Puma

Remember those huge lecture halls in college with more than 100 students jammed into an auditorium, or even classes of 30 kids or more in high school? How easy was it to zone out, not pay attention, or just get lost in the crowd?

Ever have that experience doing product training with a manufacturer of consumer electronics products? Large class sizes can really influence how effective a training will be and just how much you get out of it.

A few weeks ago, I posted a story about the importance of a great rep firm with an on-site training facility. Well, it doesn’t apply just to rep firms. Being able to do a hands-on training with a manufacturer is crucial, and doubly so when it’s for an AV control system…

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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 .