Ask the Advisors Will ‘Crush’ Integrators Who Don’t Do Electrical
Ask the Advisors has evolved from car stereos to home systems integration to full-blown electrical contracting.
Back in 1982, Ask the Advisors opened its doors under a slightly different name, Audio Advisors. The founders had car stereo in mind as its specialty. But the small company was about to embark on a ride that would take them off that beaten path. Technology has come a long way since the ‘80s and so has this West Palm Beach, Florida company.
Not to worry, car buffs; Ask the Advisors still does those car stereos, but the company quickly expanded its scope. “I bought my first house and wanted to do my own work,” says Jeff Hoover, president of Ask the Advisors. “I knew it was time to go into the audio/video business.”
Of course, it wasn’t easy. This was at a time when the custom industry was still in its infancy and many of the products had yet to be developed. “There were a lot of times when we had to solder up our own black boxes to make things work,” Hoover says. But as the market for home theater and technology grew, so did the availability of quality parts from different vendors.
Hoover decided he wanted Audio Advisors to be a one-stop shop, not just for car stereos, audio and video. The company was moving into central vac, security, control, and beyond. But it wasn’t a push to become all things to all people. Instead, Hoover’s idea was to have Ask the Advisors deal with less customers and sell the existing client base more stuff.
In the late 1990s, Hoover got involved with Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA). “I was one of the few people on the board who was into security, data operators, central vac, and all of this other stuff,” Hoover says. To keep up, the company was selling the stuff to clients first, then trying to figure it out after the fact. “We pushed on that for a long time,” he says. “Basically, our biggest saying was ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’”
Faking it wasn’t as easy (or legal) when it came to adding outlets, an issue that seemed to come up a lot. Trying to find an electrician on the fly wasn’t just impractical, but often, impossible. So again, Hoover decided it was time to add something else to the company’s lineup. “We had to weigh when becoming an electrician was more valuable to us than the referrals we were getting from electricians,” he says. About four years ago, Hoover pulled the trigger to offer line voltage as part of the company’s package. It was around this time that he also started to transition the company’s name to Ask the Advisors.
With the company now approaching its 30th anniversary, Hoover says a large part of the business involves servicing the systems they’ve installed over the years, and they’ve had to adapt to make that happen. “We’ve been doing low-voltage electronics for 24 of those years,” Hoover says. “If you focus on trying to keep your customers happy, they’ll keep coming back. We have a huge service base. That’s a big part of our business.”
Hoover also has the one-stop shop he wanted, currently offering everything from audio and video to shades to security. He says wired and especially wireless networks are also pretty hot. “Our clients walk to the pool, walk down to the beach and controlling everything with iPads these days,” he says. “Wireless has become very important.”
It’s important, but not always an easy sell. Hoover says many clients have become used to picking up wireless equipment via retail, so turning around with an $8,000 bill can be a shocker to clients. “They think we’re crazy,” he says. “But when you have a 20,000-square-foot concrete mass, if you don’t use that kind of a system, you just aren’t going to get the kind of service that you want.”
However, it’s the type of service that keeps clients coming back, which Ask the Advisors uses to drive the business. And, of course, they continue to branch out. Some of that is due to the addition of line voltage services, which Hoover looks at as a natural progression for this industry.
“I think that five years from now, there won’t be a top flight electrician or low-voltage specialist in my marketplace who doesn’t do both,” he says. “I don’t think they’ll be able to. We’ll crush them if they don’t.”
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