Inside Eli Manning’s Automated Condo
Paul Austi (left) doesn’t pose for many photos with his celebrity clients. His company, Audio Video Crafts, treads carefully with customers, like New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, in order to nurture its network of high-profile referral-based clients. In this case, Manning was happy to help out, posing for photos at his Hoboken. N.J. condo with Manhattan views. PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE HULBERT
The opportunity to hang out with a reigning Super Bowl MVP in his own home is rare. Still, Paul Austi didn't feel good about his recent visit to quarterback Eli Manning's Hoboken, N.J. condo.
The problem wasn't team alliance. As a New York Giants fan, Austi, the owner of Long Island City-based Audio Video Crafts (AVC), roots for his quarterback client.
The problem was that the visit seemed to conflict with the philosophy he crafted for his company.
AVC's niche is celebrity clients. "Being discreet is the key," Austi says. There are lines that AVC is careful not to cross with famous clients. Knowing where those lines are has been critical to AVC's success.
Why Being Discreet Drives Business
Asking a client to allow six people into his home for a photo shoot and interview is crossing the line, according to Austi. "I wouldn't have asked Eli to do this in a million years," he says.
He didn't. Manning and his wife agreed to make their newly remodeled 3,000-square foot condo the subject of an Electronic House article (EH is CE Pro's sister magazine). AVC had nothing to do with it.
Since the company had everything to do with the Manning's installation, Austi had to be there -- however conflicted he felt.
"We never publish our work. We don't take photos of work. We respect privacy. We never give references without authorization," Austi says.
If he seems obsessive about this, it's because he is. AVC's business is deeply rooted in this unique client base. "We don't advertise, publish or even solicit work," Austi says. "Our business is stimulated solely through referrals."
There can't be a misstep because business is driven completely by word of mouth. Therefore, AVC must avoid giving its celebrity clients anything negative to discuss.
- Company: Audio Video Crafts Inc.
- Location: Long Island City, N.Y.
- Principals: Paul Austi, president/owner; Tiziano Iannitelli, vice president of operations
- Years in Business: 22
- Revenues (for 2007): $7,131,791
- Number of Employees: 22
- Specialty: Ultra-high-end residential, integrating systems catering to elite, high-profile clients
- Residential/Commercial Split: 95%/5%
- Top 5 Brands: Crestron, Lutron, Sony, Rotel and Bowers & Wilkins
- FYI: "To be successful in the ultra high-end residential business, you must be very lucky … The harder you work, the luckier you get."
Like most integrators that work within a niche, AVC stumbled upon it rather than strived for it.
Looking to establish a base of clients early on, Austi went after architects and designers. "We just started working with people like that," he says, and "word of mouth took care of the rest."
How Dealing With Handlers Affects the Installation
Dealing with these high-profile clients is a delicate dance. Austi, along with his staff of 22, knows the right steps. Predictably, it comes down to superior customer service. Still, it's not that simple.
AVC's clients often come with built-in challenges. They may be very guarded about their personal life and wary of contractors being inside their home. They are sometimes suspicious of being exploited. They are often protective of priceless possessions.
"We have worked in homes with Picassos on the wall," Austi says.
The most challenging facet, however, is that it's difficult to get actual face-time with many high-profile clients. Austi and his team often have to dig through layers of "handlers" to extract clients' system needs.
This is not a good thing, as any integrator knows, since only the person who will actually use the system can truly represent how he wants it to look and feel.
"A lot of times, we have to work with a rep," Austi says. "It means we have to spend more time on a project. You end up revisiting things multiple times because you're not getting things first-hand."
AVC spent three years working on an ambitious project for an extremely famous (and busy) comedian. "It would have taken a year and a half if he had gone to the meetings," Austi says.