Integrators Find Salvation in House of Worship Market

Survey shows the house of worship market is profitable despite installation, marketing and operational challenges.

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By Tom LeBlanc
March 14, 2011
This is far from the first time CE Pro has encouraged you to tap into the house of worship (HOW) market, often described as extremely hot and fueled by “mega-church” adoption of modern audio/video/telepresence preaching practices.

CE Pro sister publication Commercial Integrator’s survey of those working in the HOW market backs the hype, with 62 percent of respondents expecting the HOW market to gain steam in 2011. Meanwhile, 2010 was no slouch, with about 95 percent claiming they did at least two church installations during the year and a subset of 11 percent saying they installed systems in more than 10 HOWs.

These aren’t chintzy projects either; 16 percent of surveyed CIs say the average job is more than $250,000; only 11 percent say the average job is under $5,000; and the rest say that HOW project price tags generally fall somewhere between $5,000 and $250,000.

The kicker is that, while the HOW market is salvation for some CIs, it’s not for everybody. Marketing is tricky. Running wires through old churches can be brutal. And selling service contracts to an organization that survives on donations is, well, difficult.

Ripe with Opportunity, Profits
Long story, short, though: You’ve got to love a vertical market that showed “no negative impact from the economy” and that’s what Tim Willard, owner of Union, Mo.-based The Edge Consulting, says about his integration firm’s concentration on HOW projects.

There is also “significant growth opportunity,” says Bob Griffin, the HOW account manager for Baltimore-based Design and Integration. Many churches, he says, are looking at upgrading their aging A/V systems “to meet the perceived demands of reaching a younger population.”

There are plenty of obstacles for CIs, however, Griffin adds. The biggest is churches’ general lack of funds. “For every multi-million-dollar mega-church there is hundreds of struggling faith communities who just don’t have significant resources to invest in current technologies.”

Photos: Integrators Find Salvation in House of Worship Market

The churches that do have money often have an unrealistic perception of budgetary requirements, says Tim Mazur, a system designer/project manager for Manheim, Pa.-based Clair Brothers. This is partly due to increased competition for project bids. “The unfortunate fact of the matter is that with the economy being as it is, there are many more companies clamoring for this work, and the impetus is on getting the job instead of being a good steward of the clients’ money,” he says.

This scenario can lead to jobs not being as profitable as they should be, even though church projects usually include everything from audio, video, cabling, sound reinforcement to lighting control. “There is also acoustical engineering, rigging, digital and analog recording, power distribution, surge protection, dimming hardware, numerous lighting fixtures and significant training,” adds Randy H. Whitworth, owner of Lakeland, Fla.-based Audio & Lighting, Inc.

So there is opportunity for profit, especially for CIs that engineer systems and deploy manpower efficiently.

5 Tips to Succeed in HOW
1. “Use Facebook,” advises Willard. “Get pastors as friends, attend church, be active and get involved in district events to build Facebook lists and contacts.”

2. “Winning the bid isn’t always the best thing,” says Mazur. “Take an overall look at what the client wants and what they can afford.”

3. It’s all about building relationships with prospective HOW clients, says Griffin. “Most churches don’t have tech staffs savvy enough to know the minutiae of [technology]. Focus on your credibility and reliability.” He adds that word of mouth hasn’t worked well for him. “[Congregants of] churches, ironically, don’t talk much to each other or cooperate.”

4. Build trust, says Whitworth. “Churches choose people that they trust more often than not. It’s not always about the money.”

5. Talk money, says Ken Smith of Morning Star Media. “We can save a church a great deal of money if they don’t bid out projects, but rather, manage them. We help a church establish a budget and then help them select the right tools.”


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