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$20M Project: Equipment Upgrades & Downgrades

Networking equipment gets upgraded to handle concrete and some loudspeakers get swapped out to save money. Home theater is ready to be built out.

Any good athlete or politician is always looking straight ahead, both to what they have to do right now and the next event. Looking back is something you do lying in bed at night. During work hours, taking care of business means forward progress.

We have been reviewing the products for this project for the past two years (hard to believe) and watching every up and down by manufacturers along the way.

No Regrets About Control4 Choice
Control4 has worked through some issues with my dealers telling me all the good and bad at any given moment. The status of the project, as of now, is better than I could have imagined.

Control4 garnered more than a little heat with some fan boys taking offense to my choice for the project. Since then, dealers from all over the country (and world for that matter) have contacted me to say they have added Control4 to their lineup with great success. I didn’t do anything other than catching them on the way up and talking about it.

A commenter on one of the forums called C4 “ankle biters,” but with sales looking to pass $100 million soon, I think they have made “player” status. Control4's new HC-800 controller is really fast and the door station looks very stylish. The cameras now come up on all the touchpanels, more than my client had asked for at the onset of the project. Exceeding expectations is great, but not always possible. I’m sure somewhere else I will disappoint at some level just to keep me in line.

Photos: $20M Home a Work in Progress

Had this project been some techie client looking for every wiz bang function, it might have gone different. My client wanted a certain level of control and we will give him that, and more. Most of my clients are “titans of industry” as opposed to the younger tech-hungry set. I work on very few jobs since my other businesses take up most of my time, but the ones I do work on are very interesting.

Switching Speakers
Loudspeakers is one of the products we decided to change from Totem to Paradigm. It was hard for me since I have made no excuses of my appreciation of Totem speakers. When the manager of the integration company Cinemagic, Terry Kohler, suggested we look at other speakers, I wasn’t very interested. Keeping an open mind and the fact that we could save some money for the client and even upgrade all speakers to 8 inches, I had to look and listen. The speakers were impressive and the savings substantial. So now I’m at the tipping point.

I decided to call Rob Sample, the Western regional rep for Paradigm, and talk about not just the line but how they work with consultants. No, not money, but support. When I call someone it would be nice if they got back to me quickly and didn’t treat me like a nuisance. Rob couldn’t have been nicer and more supportive, answered all my questions and sent anything I asked for.

The client was sure I was slipping in sub-par product and making something on the side. He is, in his own right, a large commercial contractor and always leery of changes. Once he knew who Paradigm and Anthem were, he still had his doubts. Finally asking friends and other contractors he saw what he was being offered and decided to go with Paradigm for all in-ceiling products. Totem speakers are staying in the massive Grand Room and the dedicated theater, but the rest of the project is now Paradigm.

Every project either reinforces or kills a product for me. Totem is still the right choice for our theater and the large Grand Room, but Paradigm is now my speaker of choice for in-wall/in-ceiling. Changing to Paradigm, at retail, saved my client over $4,000, the dealer then upgraded to 8-inch speakers.

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Article Topics

News · Slideshow · Installations · Home Theater · Installation · All topics

About the Author

Mark Sipe, System Designer
Mark has been both a commercial and residential integrator and systems engineer for over 25 years. He works with Builders, Homeowners and Architects to design and support all types of projects around the world. He is also a software developer (SalezToolz) and mad scientist/inventor (Xspot Products) all developed around what he saw as a need for the businesses he works with and supports. He has been a CEA Mark of Excellence judge the last 6 years and CE Pro Best awards Judge.

72 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Scooper  on  02/07  at  11:29 AM

I am so glad you where able to save your client $4k by dropping sound quality on his 20 million dollar project.

Posted by Hagai Feiner / Access Networks  on  02/07  at  11:40 AM

Hi Mark,

When, if ever, will you be able to share your network design and changes with us? Would love to go offline with you on this one.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  02/07  at  12:18 PM

I have to agree with Scooper that the change is pretty odd. Paradigm makes great stuff, but Totem does as well. If nothing else, shifting products mid-project must be a pain. How much time and energy was expended learning about a new vendor? $4k worth?

Posted by Michael Hamilton  on  02/07  at  12:24 PM

$4k on a $20mil project -

that’s a staggering savings…..

Posted by Fast98ws6  on  02/07  at  12:24 PM

Hagai is the man when it comes to managed systems.  Time spent with him reaps many rewards!

Posted by John  on  02/07  at  12:28 PM

The April Fools project continues…perhaps next you should swap out a few interconnects and save 10 dollars so you can write about it.  And what possible reason is there for keeping the network equipment a secret until you “finish testing and reveal the brand”.  lol

Posted by Chris  on  02/07  at  12:54 PM

Which models did you switch to/from?  I suppose their might be a comparable Paradigm speaker but in my experience that’s like comparing B&W to Speakercraft; i.e. I’d rather have a 6” B&W than an 8” Speakercraft.  The savings seems minimal to me in the grand scheme of things especially mid-project.  I suspect something else is going on here.  And that isn’t meant to imply anything going on with Mark, per se.

Posted by John  on  02/07  at  12:55 PM

Also, this is another perfect example of how any company hoping to get good press from this ridiculous project can’t count on it.  First he makes a big deal about how they are going with Totem because of how great they sound.  Then because the new dealer is obviously not a Totem dealer they change to Paradigm.  And then he sounds like a 15-year old car stereo buyer who is excited because “now they get 8-inch speakers”, as if that has anything to do with performance.

Posted by Enrique  on  02/07  at  01:26 PM

Hi Mark,
If by now your Client still does not trust you on your knowledge and guidence to make the right changes along the way. I feel terribly sorry for you.

Posted by Enrique  on  02/07  at  01:31 PM

by the way $4000.00 savings on a $20,000,000 equates to .0002% savings. Hope that was not your only pitch.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  02/07  at  01:37 PM

So far as trust, this client probably trusts me more than most which isn’t much.  When you make your money on the margins you are always looking over your shoulder.  This is a very “strong minded client” and reason takes considerably longer.  I have worked with him over 17 years and am use to his “style”.  In the end he is happy or he wouldn’t keep using me.

Don’t feel too bad for (most don’t), not like a 9-5 job.  I do my work and get the job done.  The next job is in Mexico and then maybe Montana, not so bad.

Posted by Chris  on  02/07  at  01:39 PM

Haha!  John that is classic!  What movie is that?

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  02/07  at  01:44 PM

Hey, rich people want to save money too (which might be how they got rich in the first place), I just don’t get how $4k is a savings, after considering the time spent evaluating new vendors/products, incorporating them into the design, etc. Or does the $4k take all that into consideration?

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  02/07  at  02:10 PM

Since I started on this project, designing and choosing products, the client has figured I saved him over $300,000.00 in our products choices and design, which he wasn’t going to spend anyway.  Minimizing excessive hardware, choosing systems that fit his lifestyle and controlling programming costs more than pay for my services. 
Most of these choices were made at the onset of the project.  There are just a few made now as the job progressed. I work for the client to constantly review the systems under my umbrella.  Choices made two years ago may not be the choices we would make today, corrections need to be made to our design. 
Julie, Paradigm 8” speakers fit in Totem 6.5” openings, wasn’t all that hard.  New vendor, Paradigm, Are you kidding? Jack George (local rep) is an old friend, he was surprised we didn’t do it from the beginning, We already had Anthem as the surround processor.
The client has scaled back in any number of areas and probably shaved off over a millions dollars from the project, pretty impressive since most jobs like this go way over budget.
Some of these comments show how little we understand the clients perspective to get the best value for the money.  I didn’t ask the dealer to lower his price but rather to make a fair profit on a high performance, high value product. 
Just trying to sell the most expensive products every time is what a lot of clients think of our industry is about when most of us offer a real value in our experience and products.  Every job is different and I have mentioned before, this client definitely falls under that area, in the end he will be proud of the systems in his home.
So far as the math you need to look at the bigger picture, we have saved over 30% in just our area, if this client does that across the board, that’s real money.
Old saying “watch your pennies, your dollars will take care of themselves”

Posted by Richard Fregosa  on  02/07  at  03:17 PM

Standard Caveat - “he who lives in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones, etc etc etc”

First I continue to commend Mark for making the effort to chronicle the project and as a result leave himself open to arm chair quarterbacking and second guessing, that’s just part of the territory that comes with any levels of transparency in your practices.

With that said, I think the story and the reasoning could have been presented a lot better and here’s my reasons why:

Let’s first remember that the 20MM is not Mark’s budget, it’s the construction cost of the home (which he’s stated several times prior) so let’s figure that the actual budget (excluding lighting) is in the range of oh, say 400k.

Now we’re at a starting point in terms of what a consultant does towards project management, budget allocation, value engineering, etc. All the day in day out tiring elements that occur when managing a large multi year build out (of which I also have extensive experience with here in the Silicon Valley)

The story doesn’t state where the change originated, was this a client request or was this consultant/contractor driven?

If it was client driven, then you have to factor in some numbers into the 4k savings.

Let’s just assume for arguments sake that design / project management fees are approximately $150/hr which tends to be the going rate on the west coast.

Here’s the work that had to be performed to perform this change

1) Re-Design (making sure that the speakers can fit in the holes, potentially specing new cut in rings + several other itens that need to be researched to make sure you don’t cause more problems than you solve

2) Telephone and E-mail Correspondence with vendors, AV contractor and client

3) Documentation Revisions and “refresh” of project documents to reflect all changes (supposedly why you have a consultant on board in the first place)

Let’s say conservatively speaking, you can get this all done in one business day - more realistically this will take closer to 2 business days by several parties involved to perform all your due diligence.

Now, let’s consider the costs -

16 Hrs X 150/hr = $2,400.00

So the net savings is actually $1,600.00 *not* $4,000.00

Now 1600 bucks is still 1600 bucks and that might be worth the cost of the exercise, but this is where I feel the story should have opened - what are the reasons for the change and do the reasons justify the change in the first place as opposed to “staying the course”

If the client said “I want you to exercise all savings, no matter how small the cost” then Mark is following the law of the land.

If the vendor or Mark had revised thoughts about an equipment choice (natural during a long build out) and decided that Paradigm offerred “more bang for the buck” with little construction changes needed, then also a decent enough reason.

But if the exercise was just performed to show that “see, I’m earning my keep here” then, that wasn’t totally accurate when you consider your net net expenditure.

PS - not spec’ing something isn’t a “savings” it’s just part and parcel of creating a realistic budget, the primary reason to have an objective entity involved - another point of distinction I wanted to make.

Like I said, kudos to Mark for even chronicling the process (I probably wouldn’t be willing to make the effort on my own jobs)

I just wanted to provide some feedback from another professional who has just as extensive and similar experience with this kind of project and what I believe are our professional obligations and to point out some of the necessary “truth in advertising” of what it is that we do.

If the point of the article is to educate integrators looking to get involved in these types of projects, it’s important that you get all viewpoints.

Best of luck Mark,


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