Home Theater of Long Island: Catering to High-End Clients
Home Theater of Long Island has access to a super-affluent metro New York client base, and the integrator is devoting resources to meet high-end expectations. That includes a unique design center with distinctive video demos such as a 103-inch plasma TV and disappearing Seura model.
The guys who run Home Theater of Long Island (HTOLI) admit they don’t ordinarily wear suits, like they did for our photoshoot, but they don’t exactly endorse “business casual” either. Presentation is a priority when you deal with clients who frequently carry eight-figure incomes and can have anyone outfit their homes and home theaters with the latest technology. It’s part of the bigger picture that needs to be addressed and carefully calculated for any integrator that caters to the ultra high-end customer: why should they choose you over someone else?
It’s a question that’s certainly not foreign to the custom industry, just like other industries where performance, satisfaction and service are critical. Affluent clientele can have their pick of automobiles to drive, so why buy Mercedes, for example, over a competitor?
HTOLI is a young company with young employees on average, but they “get it,” when it comes to serving their targeted affluent client base from their Manhasset, N.Y., perch. The presentation part not only includes their personal professional appearance, but that of their 5,000-square foot design center. They’re working on a cohesive branding and marketing message to create greater impact for their name. They’ve scaled down their vendor and product choices to focus on premium solutions. They’re getting more into cutting-edge categories like LED lighting and remote diagnostics.
“We needed to set ourselves apart from the other A/V dealers and integrators in our area,” says Kaloma Smith, one of HTOLI’s three managing partners. “As the recession hit, we made a risky decision to move more up-market. We cut our brand selection significantly, moved into more technically-demanding technologies, and focused specifically on the aesthetics in our installations. The challenge is to integrate this new focus into all areas of our business.”
Adds managing partner Nick Tzortzatos: “We’re not only selling high-end products, but the lifestyle associated with it.”
About Home Theater of Long Island
Location: Manhasset, N.Y.
Web Site: hometheateroflongisland.com
Principals: Managing partners Nick Tzortzatos (center), Kaloma Smith (left) and Anthony Chrisostomo (right)
2011 Revenues (resi/commercial split): $1.4M, 98/2
Years in Business: 5
Number of Employees: 8
Specialty: High-end integration
Top Brands: Meridian, Savant, Lutron, B&W, ihiji
FYI: (one piece of advice to another dealer): As technology progresses, so does the client. As a company, you have to be able to offer solutions that match the client’s needs of today - don’t be afraid of the non-traditional path, embrace it.
Team of Role Players
The professionalism in the custom industry has to begin internally, and HTOLI has set up and evolved its operations to foster technology expertise, creative thinking and sales success. The small firm of eight employees produced about $1.4 million in revenues last year, but with an average age of just 26, the staff realizes there’s ample room for growth and maturity that comes with hard work and experience.
“We strive to have a culture that sets everyone up for success,” says Anthony Chrisostomo, the third of HTOLI’s managing partners. “If the employees out in the field express a need or an observation, we listen and implement if applicable. It must be a team effort.”
In line with the “team” analogy, HTOLI has managed to find various roles to suit its members’ strengths rather than play anyone out of position. It doesn’t necessarily hire traditional tech people, but relies on in-depth training from places such as Bedrock Learning, CompTIA and InfoComm to bring employees up to speed.
It begins with the three-headed leadership, who themselves maintain distinct roles within the integration firm. Smith and Tzortzatos split the sales duties around 60/40 percent, respectively, but that’s just part of their jobs. Smith spends time focusing on the administrative efforts, back-end office stuff and technical research/product vetting. Tzortzatos is heavily involved in the design center activities and customer relations and to that end also specializes in video systems.
Chrisostomo works in the field, designing systems and dressing equipment racks for the firm. Technicians have their own mix of core competencies, like lighting and electrical, networking, audio, etc., to complement Tzortzatos’ and Chrisostomo’s expertise.
An administrative assistant helps out with the operations, including ordering and tracking. Smith notes HTOLI has also embraced a mix of Google Apps and 37signals products such as Highrise and Basecamp, he says, as the firm tries to find the right balance between cloud-based and paper-based processes.
“Our goal is to be like the hedge fund of A/V integration, a group of highly specialized individuals who serve specific functions to maximize the results of the project for our clients,” says Smith. “We’re not there yet, but our goal is constant training for staff and using best practices from other industries such as software development, architecture and high-end restaurants. We want to have everyone be self-managing in his or her particular part of the process. We’ve already seen the fruits of this process in our lighting department and sales department.”
Smith adds that the company goes beyond looking at tech skills and instead more personality attributes during the hiring process, having been burned in the past. Certain life skills will transfer into whatever job the prospective hire might be applying.
“We actually hire outside of our industry. We bring in candidates and interview them based on character and what they’ve accomplished in their personal lives,” Smith says. “We recently hired a technician who led a youth group through Africa at age 21; that showed us that he was able to be a leader and take charge.”
Centering on High Design
When potential customers walk through HTOLI’s doors - whether by appointment or walk-in, as it caters to both - the idea is to make them feel like they’re working with a high-end architectural or interior design firm. The showroom space, everything from the lobby to the back-office blueprint table, must reflect the meticulousness and upscale nature of their work.
The firm is still evolving the design center, too. It’s in what they’d call “revision 1.5” right now, and marked by areas that flow in a relatively open layout where technology is presented in an uncomplicated manner and gets a little more impressive at every turn.
Arlen Schweiger is managing editor of CE Pro, Commercial Integrator and Security Sales & Integration magazines. Arlen contributes installation features, business profiles, manufacturer news and product reviews. Have a suggestion or a topic you want read more about? Email Arlen at [email protected]
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