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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 John  on  02/07  at  04:25 PM

“the client has figured I saved him over $300,000.00…”  And the self-congratulatory snake oil salesmanship and BS just continues.  That’s like saying that I bought a Toyota Camry and “saved” $200,000 because I didn’t get a Rolls Royce.  You didn’t invent value added design, and you didn’t save anyone $300,000.

...“which he wasn’t going to spend anyway.”

Wait a minute, I thought you just said you saved him $300,000?

Posted by 39CentStamp  on  02/07  at  05:03 PM

Nice break down Richard. when i read the article the first thing i thought about was the cost to change speakers.

You could easily put in 8 hoursX2 guys just cutting speaker openings to accommodate a different size.

On top of that you have the management costs. Are the dealers/installers submitting change orders and charging restocking fees? This stuff can start to add up.

$4000 at the beginning of the project knocked off the proposal is one thing but trying to trim it towards the end seems like an effort in futility.

Posted by 39CentStamp  on  02/07  at  05:09 PM

I have to say… this is certainly the coolest house i have seen lately. I am getting so bored with french country/cape cod “i miss the 60’s” decor. This place looks cool. That fireplace is insane.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  02/07  at  05:28 PM

The savings are based on the three original bids that went up to 1.3 million (never going to happen).  We were able to give him a full lighting system with 12 enclosures, fully loaded, very important.  A stunning home theater, automation, touch panels, wireless network throughout using high quality product.  He might have settled for less given his budget but he didn’t have to.  96 motorized blinds and drapes that will easily integrate into the Control4 system.  At no point does he feel we went with anything but first tier products. 

Savings is getting what you want for less money, not paying less for something that was already overpriced.  I don’t look for discounts, I look for value.  Compare hardware to programming to price/performance and then make a choice.

The speaker change was pretty simple, The dealer suggested we look at other options, I stopped buy and listened, he told me they would fit in the same holes.  No major design meeting, just send a PO to a different company.

Looking at Richards’ numbers I need to charge a lot more (my clients still think I am over priced, as do some of you).  There are plenty of times that changes cost a lot of people’s time and the client’s money, but this wasn’t one of them.

I put my name on my comments and my work, you should try it.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  02/07  at  05:30 PM

Mac,  The fireplace is my favorite too, look at the detail in the carving.  The guys standing on the mantle look like dolls on display.

Posted by Fins  on  02/07  at  05:37 PM

Wait, lets see if I understand this math. You figure you have saved the client the difference of the most expensive bid and the bid that he actually accepted, even though you admit he would never have ever spent the amount that the most expensive bid came in at. Does that sum it up? Thats like my wife saying she saved us $100 when she went shopping because the $150 shoes she bought were marked down from $250.

Mark, you should go into politics. You are perfect for managing government spending.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  02/07  at  05:43 PM

No, we saved about $800,000.00 from the highest bid.  The savings were based on what others were charging for the same or comparable products based on price and quantity.

Posted by Richard Fregosa  on  02/07  at  05:59 PM


Thank you for supporting my initial point, you said in what? 400 words, in a comment, exactly what could have been used as your preface to your story.

I agree that sometimes changes are simple, but you didn’t explain it that way. So without the total overview of how it went down, I’m left to deal with my own interpretations

As the reader, I’m not there, as such I have to count on you, the writer to effectively communicate to me.

In my opinion, this time around as it relates to your writing - you didn’t - that’s all.

Also, if you can charge more (and you can quantify and justify your value to your clients for it) do it.

Like you, I’ve been at this for decades and I’m well compensated for a reason (something I strongly believe most professionals in this industry should be, but don’t always consider their worth and charge far too little).

The purpose of a client liaison (hopefully) is those people are retained who have the expertise and the track record to support the associated fees (and more often than not the higher priced person - brings just that experience and/or a unique skill set to justify the rates) it’s also my experience that person can get a lot more accomplished in less time than someone less experienced who charges less.

As a client representative, you’re not there to do clients a favor, you’re there to maximize their investment.

I agree with your process, I just feel that if you’re going to the trouble of writing it down, spend a bit more time on editing and concise storytelling first, rather than explaining or clarifying in comments later, otherwise a lot of the salient points of your message get lost.

Which is really the whole point of you chronicling this build out isn’t it?

Best of luck on closeout, the hard part is just beginning…

PS: Mac, I’m totally with you on the architecture, it’s nice not to see yet another “Mega-McMansion”

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  02/07  at  06:30 PM


I’m an inventor, software developer, engineer and consultant.  My writing is more a flavor than a skill.  Luckily my clients hire based on my business acumen and not writing prowess.

Posted by Fins  on  02/07  at  06:38 PM

Mark, thanks for confirming my understanding on the math.

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


That’s all well and good but the constructive criticism I offered was as a reader towards your *writing* - Your CV is immaterial to what my points and feedback were about.

As such, my comments are tailored towards making it a more understandable process for the readers of CEPro. If you feel the need to take it personally or as an indictment of you or your business in general, then I guess you can (erroneously) feel free to - but let’s stick to the germaine points first. I think you’re bringing some good things to the table, I feel as a reader, I think you’re burying a lot of the really good nuggets of info with muddy writing.

Again, Best of Luck


Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  02/07  at  07:16 PM

Well, that’s what the comments are for—questions and clarifications (and criticisms and kudos…)

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  02/07  at  07:17 PM


I stopped talking anything personal on this story years ago.
So far as my writing skills, I plan to learn Spanish before improving my English. 
While you are correct about better writing communicates better I’m not going to worry too much, most everyone understands the points I try to make.  I am paid far more handsomely for my other skills and right now with my next project south of the border, it’s time for Spanish class.  Buenos Dias…....

Posted by Chad  on  02/07  at  07:52 PM

Marks writing at any level generally far exceeds that of most of the other “contributors” on this website.

Posted by Dan  on  02/07  at  10:07 PM

Wow a lot of assumptions that the Totems would have to sound better than Paradigm, and the crack about B&W vs Speakercraft is really out there and shows a high level of ignorance about the R&D efforts of these companies. Totem is a fine company and Vince’s designs are often interesting successes of one kind or another, but when your dealing with architectural installation having some solid repeatable design skills is of much more value. The Paradigm sound is really one of the better choices when it comes to the the varying acoustic problems one is likely to encounter in ceiling and wall mounted speakers. The lack of “hot spotting” in their sound is why the make great ceiling speakers. It doesn’t hurt that all of the speakers used in this project are domestically made as well rather than coming from China and still charging super-premium prices.

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