REDBAND: Five Ways to Help Monetize Systems Integration Service Calls by Todd Anthony Puma

One of the challenges of doing many, smaller projects is that service calls can become a large drain on profitability. Even with fewer, larger jobs, the more complex a job gets, the more visits are required to service it.

Just a few months ago, we installed a small six-zone NuVo music system and a few URC remotes for a client. At the time, it was a straightforward job, but it already begun draining the profits we made. First, the clients pushed one zone too hard and blew one of the amps on the music system, requiring two return visits (one to diagnose the program and one to install the replacement part). We also have returned a couple of times due to RF interference with the remote base station.

To help maintain profits when service calls arise, we have clearly set expectations upfront and early on in the process with our customers. They know when they will incur a service fee and when they won’t. That way, there is less likely to be pushback or consternation when we bill a client for a call. We have put a five-prong strategy in place to make sure communications are clear and expectations are appropriately managed…

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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 .

Check it Out… AV Nation’s AVWEEK podcast Episode 91: THEORETICALLY

This week I was guest panelist on the popular AV Nation show “AVweek”.  Check out the details below.

AV Nation Army

Host: Tim Albright AVNation Founder

Guests: Kelly Perkins from Vaddio, Dr. Yoram Solomon, Craig MacCormack from Commercial Integrator  and Chris Neto of AV Helpdesk Inc.

“InfoComm is updating the CTS. Should all current CTS holders re-take the test?   Is voice control the next big thing for home automation? We talk about CCTV and the Boston Bombers. We talk about fiber and AV. Plus, we talk about our choices for a ProAV. “

Here is the link to podcast:


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REDBAND: Making the Most of Small-Budget Custom Installs By Todd Anthony Puma

Months ago, I wrote in this space about not judging a customer by how they dress or what they drive. Last week, I described ways to build partnerships with other firms in the industry. This week, I want to bring it all together. The bottom line is focusing on customer service as the priority. Make the customer happy, work with each other as peers, and we will all not only grow the industry but make more money and be more successful.

Too many times I see service providers in our business scoff at a smaller job just because it doesn’t seem worth the time to them. Just last week, a woman called because she wanted a top-of-the-line system for her boyfriend and told me she’d been saving up all year. I started to salivate. Then she dropped the bomb of how much she’d saved: $1,500. Internally, I was deflated, but of course I never let it show. Maybe that’s my background in retail coming into play, where closing the sale is what counts, no matter the size.

I knew that for what she was looking for in that price range, my company wouldn’t be able to help her, but I didn’t want to disappoint her either. I remember the days when I didn’t have a lot of money but I would scrimp and save to buy something for someone I loved on their birthday or Christmas. Even though it was a small amount (maybe $30), they were ecstatic because they knew how hard it was for me to earn that money and how much thought I put into the gift. I was proud to be able to get them something they enjoyed and appreciated. So I spent time with the client to understand her needs and pulled in one of my Home Theater Rebuild referral network companies to help her with a system at her price point. While it isn’t something most integrators would consider high-end, for $1,500 you can still get a solid receiver, 5.1 surround sound, and a media-streaming device.

We have to keep several points in mind with every customer interaction:…

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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 .


Heading to Infocomm 2013? Grab the official #infocomm13 show app!



If  you’re an android or iPhone user make sure to grab the official Infocomm 2013 app  before heading to the show. The app does a great job of keeping everything “infocomm” in one place…Wayfinder, Map, Transportation info, my schedule, events, sessions, exhibitors, speakers and even the official twitter feed for the Show (#infocomm13 is the official hashtag)

Here is the link to the Google Playstore for the Free App:

See you there,


REDBAND: Getting IT Right by Mark Coxon

Getting IT Right

I was required to make 65 calls per day. My book of business was 300 accounts, so I was through my book in a week. That means I was making nearly 1000 cold calls . . .per month for almost 2 years. Close to 24,000 cold calls in my time there.

Who were they to? What was I selling?  They were primarily to IT directors, as I worked for IBM.

I lay down the introduction here to simply state that what I am about to relate, has a very sturdy foundation.  The reason the AV industry is losing the battle to install our own equipment may be that we haven’t made the proper investment into learning how to navigate our clients’ IT Departments.

1)  Talk the Talk

Based on some basic historical differences between AV and IT, there is often a disconnect that happens when AV firms interface with IT Directors.

I was given 2 weeks of “training” when I joined the IBM sales team, 1.9 weeks of which was learning how to use the inventory and shipping system. The other hour was an overview of how computers work.

The only computer experience I had was accidentally dumping the BIOS on my first PC and that PC never worked again (worked being a loose term for what an 88MHZ 386 PC could do, even with the Turbo button depressed).

I learned real quickly my first piece of advice to AV firms, “You can’t fool an IT director.”

If you don’t have a background in IT, don’t be discouraged. It took you a little time to learn about HDMI, RGBHV, Scaling, Switching, and VTC bandwidth requirements, so this will take a little investment in time as well. However, it is IMPERATIVE that it is made.

If you think an IT director is going to let you install a system on his network without knowing about VLANs, QOS, Harmonic Mitigating Transformers, or any other of the crucial issues you two will ultimately end up navigating together, you are dead wrong.

These folks spent time and money on an education and have paid their dues as IT assistants showing people how to find the Excel file they just saved and create a mail merge for their address labels . . . for the 3rd time.  They expect you to know your business, and if your system connects to their network, they expect you to know the ins and outs of mitigating any issues. They can smell indecision like dogs and bees smell fear, and they will choose a vendor who has put in the time and can speak their language.

2)  Respect the Culture

Now you have a head brimming with terms you can’t wait to use. You’ve scheduled back to back appointments all next week with IT Directors, and you are going full steam ahead. You may want to put on the brakes.

Knowing the Lingo is one thing, using it appropriately is another.

The IT Director is ultimately responsible for all web presence and e-commerce for the company. He is held accountable. He is not going to hire just anyone. He also doesn’t need anyone steal his thunder either.

Even if you are working with another party in a different division of the company like the Architect or the Marketing Department, make sure you isolate and reach out to the IT department. Make them aware that you are there to help them look good, not to take any credit for their work. At some point, the person you are working with will ask the IT Director’s opinion. If he is unaware that anything was in the works and has not been involved, he will feel like you are trying to sneak something by him and become a barrier to the sale.

Respect the Chain of Command and involve the IT Director. Position yourself as a resource, not a ring leader, and defer to his judgment. Make yourself heard, but reassure him that you are there to help his business communicate more effectively.

IT departments have an organizational hierarchy and you are the new guy in the room. Where do you think you rank in that hierarchy?

The IT culture is one that values this organizational structure. Ignoring that is suicide.

3)  Know Their Concerns

The best way to endear yourself with someone in charge of network security and integrity is to show them you know how your product affects their world. Cloud based streaming media services increase the bandwidth requirements of the network. IP based CCTV systems devour valuable network resources.

Remote monitoring and control can require some intricate port and security setups, depending on the confidentiality of the company’s data.

Other scenarios can include things like scenarios on military bases where special approvals are needed for any hardware that touches the network via an ethernet port and even devices that touch a networked PC via USB or Firewire.

Some facilities cannot have RF transmissions, or even IR transmissions if the room has windows where intercepting commands, or sending them in longer range, may be a possibility.

So how do you demonstrate the knowledge? Ask the right questions. Asking questions of the IT Director as to their base bandwidth expectations for data, their bandwidth with their ISP, the brand of switches, available ports, and network and site security all help in 3 ways:

1) They position you as a resource that understands their concerns.

2) It allows you to isolate many unexpected requirements early on, and build your system and scope of work appropriately, assuring success without various change orders.

3) It gives the IT Director or Business owner the information needed to budget for and provision the network hardware and bandwidth appropriately up front, saving them time and money later.

Do your part to educate yourself on any piece of the network that the success of your devices hinges. Just because a gigabit switch has 48 ports, doesn’t mean it can support 48Gbps of simultaneous throughput, (and in most cases they can’t). Make sure you include provisions to keep your system on a completely separate backbone if necessary, and that your bandwidth requirements are approved by the IT Director, so that later down the road, you don’t become the scapegoat when the CEO can’t download files.


I feel like Shoeless Joe whispering to Ray Consella from the corn field, “Talk the Talk” . . . “Respect the Culture”. . . “Know their Concerns”.  So what are the main take-aways if you want to succeed in speaking with an IT manager?

Learn their language, so you can speak to them in a manner they understand fully. Use insights into their culture to know the correct approach to take, and how you can become a credible resource. Then ask the right questions to fully understand their specific IT environment, its limitations as well as strengths, and the importance of their valuable system resources.

It is not a ploy.  It is developing a true relationship, one that will be valued by both you and the IT Director for years to come

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: Top 10 Gnarliest Movies Ever – Woody Edition by John Sciacca

I’ve mentioned my Definitive Technology rep, Woody, before. He is the one where we shared a Gay Chamsake at our local sushi bar, and then I think he *may* have proposed to me with a delicate selection of pastel colored sakes on another occasion…

Regardless, Woody comes to town a couple of times a year to show us new Def Tech product, go over any upcoming specials, and see if we need anything from him to support our business, blah-blah. Then we go out and grab some dinner. It’s a great opportunity to hang out and chat informally and get to know each other beyond the typical, “Hey, Woody! I need another Mythos SoloCinema XTR!” and “OK! I’ll ship it right out!”

Because we’re both in the tech business and intimately associated with Definitive Technology – a company that was basically founded on the principles of making home theaters more awesome-er – talk naturally gravitates to movies. And it turns out that Woody is into some gnarly-ass stuff when it comes to movies.

Now, I have a list of my 10 Worst Movies Ever, and I thought that some of the stuff I’d seen – specifically Leolo and Man Bites Dog – was pretty gnarly. Like, physical making me ill, asking myself why, dear God, didn’t I get up and leave the theater, gnarly.

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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

REDBAND: Partnering with Competitors When Work Piles Up by Todd Anthony Puma

We currently have the “problem” everyone wishes they had: more work than our small company can handle. Every business has its busy season and right now, we have an influx of new projects coming in daily. Trust me, I am not complaining. But while I’m excited for all the new opportunities, I also want to make sure that I am giving every client my utmost attention.

In fact, last week we got a call from a vendor referral, and the client needed new remotes to replace their old Harmony’s that were no longer working. It would be a very small job, especially given that we are currently working on three large installations simultaneously. My company’s workload would have pushed out the smaller job at least two weeks and, to me, that would be poor customer service.

What we needed was a way to either expand or contract our company, according to business cycle, without incurring hiring, training, overhead, and downsizing costs. That is where my partnerships and relationships with other integrators have come into play. A few weeks ago I wrote about building relationships with other integrators (read that here) that you trust to your company to handle the load while you are on vacation. But these partners are important in so many other ways, too….

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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: 4K..The Next Big Thing? by John Sciacca

Last week, I attended a vendor expo in Scottsdale, Arizona hosted by the world’s largest technology distributor, Ingram Micro, Inc. The theme of the expo was “Plugged In to CE,” and along with the manufacturers and venders on hand, Ingram invited representatives from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), including CEO Gary Shapiro, and senior research analyst Chris Ely.

Both guest speakers shared some interesting insights into the future of the CE industry, including “Top Planned CE Purchases for 2013.” as well as the most and least prevalent CE products.

Shapiro said, “Our only mission is to grow the industry,” and he spoke for over an hour on the state of the CE industry and took audience questions Q and A. (I asked him about PrimaRIMA Cinema and what he thought the future of streaming might be, but unfortunately he wasn’t familiar with PrimaRIMA specifically and didn’t have any real insights or opinions to share on the subject of day & -and-date streaming.)…

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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

REDBAND: Stick to what you are good at! By Mark Coxon

It’s a rainy Monday in SoCal and I had designs on creating a RedBand post today, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was going to be on.  I had some ideas, but nothing that really made me open up MS Word and start typing.  That was until I read this article in a magazine called “InAVate” an obvious play on the idea of AV Innovation, of which the article ironically had no hint of relating.

Coupled with the beginnings of a long line of bad reviews on Google Glass and some lingering ideas about brand extension I got from reading Jack Trout, I knew what I had to share.

There is an old joke that asks- “How many software engineers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

The answer. . . “None, it’s a Hardware problem.”

Software engineers know the extents of their realm of expertise, or at least they should, as should we all.  Is it really surprising that Google Glass is getting some bad reviews?  Of course their initial hardware offerings are going to leave quite a bit to be desired.  You may say, well they created Android, and you’d be right.  Android is first and foremost though, a piece of code, and the companies that have leveraged that code with a great deal of success are Motorola, Samsung, and HTC.  They have reputations and market share to uphold in the hardware arena, and probably would have been a better fit to produce glass than Google with its Foxconn relationship.

In the same way, Crestron has little to offer the world with another pair of speakers that are probably offshored at the same factory that produces their competitive counterparts.   They are not known for audio, but for code, and again that is where they should focus their efforts, even if Apple has been taking a chunk out of their touch panel business.

Sticking to what you are good at makes a lot of sense, not only in maximizing the practical skillsets and abilities your company has spent so much time and energy developing, but also because many times it is too hard to earn that spot in the customer’s mind, even if your product somehow turns out to be good.

Offerings like the two mentioned above rarely work, argues Marketing Maven Jack Trout, as the new product does not ring true with the space the brand already occupies in the mind of the consumer, and the product fails and sometimes even damages the core product as a result.

One example he gives is that LifeSavers gum was a horrible failure, as it had nothing to do with the hard, round, candy with a hole in the middle, that consumers thought of when they heard “LifeSavers”.  Yet when they later introduced “Bubble Yum”, it was a wild success.  The capacity for making gum didn’t really change, but they were no longer paradoxically ‘anchored’ by the very LifeSavers brand that was meant to ‘buoy’ the new product.

I think we all know that this argument intuitively makes sense.  I follow this rule with every restaurant I visit.  If I got to a steakhouse I have steak, if I go to a crab shack, I order crab, and if I go to Bob’s Pulled Pork Po Boys (not a real restaurant but I’d eat there if it was), you can bet I’d order the restaurant’s namesake.

Sticking to what you are good at clears the muddy waters, it allows for the best chance of success, and it eliminates confusing your clients, by diluting the value of what you do really well.  In a world of some many great companies, there is much more value in acquisition or in partnership, than there is in extending your brand into categories you add little value to.

Do you agree?  If so or especially if NOT, please chime in below.

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: Knowing When to Say ‘No’ to a Custom Installation Client By Todd Anthony Puma

When business is slow, you have bills to pay, and payroll to meet, it’s hard to turn down a job that you know isn’t the right fit for your company. Most times, it’s important to trust your instincts and know when to say “no.”

In middle of 2012 we quoted a decent-sized job for seven zones of audio and three zones of video in a gut renovation of a Manhattan apartment. The contractor had completed the prewire, and now the homeowner needed a system. In our meetings with them, everything seemed good. They had a budget in mind, they were pretty reasonable with their expectations for what they would get within that budget, and they knew what they wanted and how they would use system. As it turned out, we ended up losing out to a big box store that underbid us by about 10 percent on the total job (using a different equipment mix, with slightly less functionality), and we never had the chance to walk through what we would do differently for the client.

Nine months that same homeowner called us hoping we could rehab the system that the big box store had installed. It wasn’t working up to his expectations and the big box had cut off its free follow-up service calls. His issues were fairly minor (the zone of audio that goes through the AVR was a little delayed from the rest of the rooms, creating an echo; the outdoor speakers are two different zones because the homeowner has parties and plays music so loudly that a shared zone for four speakers wasn’t working; streaming content from Rhapsody and others isn’t available in all zones; and there are some issues with the TV control. His complaints were legitimate, but probably solvable with the existing system. He understandably couldn’t afford to pull it out the current system and start from scratch…

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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 .