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Tracking a $20M Install: Final 4 Integrators

Although the field has been narrowed to four integrators, find out why the client became 'pissed off.'

CE Pro is documenting the ups and downs of this ambitious $20 million, 28,000-square-foot home installation.

Mark Sipe of Abacus Prime LLC, who has been tasked with designing and managing the installation of the electronics, is looking for a CE pro to excel on the project. If you're interested, email Mark at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Here Sipe's next running commentary on the project. Good luck Mark!

After I chose the control system, I thought I would then choose the integrator. Well, not so fast.

I was approached by someone who asked me to rethink my decision. The offer was sort of like a blank check: whatever I needed for the price of the Control4 system. Wow.

I decided to talk to the client since, ultimately, it is his decision. But I found out the person who approached me had also been talking to the client, using a negative spin approach. The client was told the original choice was a beater Chevy and the proposed system was a Rolls Royce.

This approach backfired and pissed off the client, who is not somebody you want to make mad. Given the misdirection and having read all the comments, there started to be a pattern of negative sales going on. I respect - and like - all the companies I was selecting from, as well as the local reps I met with. So this is more of an isolated incident, but it does reflect what I see going on with the blogs and forums.

The client is sticking with Control4.

Picking a Designer

Once you have the product, the next step is finding an installer and making sure we have a good plan and proper design.

Final 4 Worthy?
Mark Sipe has narrowed it down to the final four integrators. What do you think of the list? Is each company final four worthy? Comment
I decided to budget for and select a separate design/engineering company so the integrator could better focus on the installation. Some integration companies have successfully incorporated design/engineering services into their offerings, but this is a small percentage of the industry.

After reviewing numerous design firms, I selected Firefly Design Group. The company has a good track record of working with integrators and contributing to the success and profitability of the project. Once the system is designed and put out to bid, some won't have every product we spec, but they will have products comparable in price and performance.

How will Firefly Design Group properly calculate the number of hours for trim, programming, etc? They will post generic labor hours that only I will see to use as a reference. Each bidder will submit what it takes for their company to do the work. I will ask for a breakdown in each bid to review product margin and labor hours. The whole process should be open and transparent. As technicians, we sometimes lose sight of how a process works.

Final Four

For this project, I want a machine of quality, speed and performance (notice how I didn't mention price). I have seen enough jobs, installers, trims, showrooms, racks and business owners to know what to look for in the bidding process. Here are the companies I have chosen to bid on this project.

CyberSound: One of the largest players in Arizona, Jon Summer runs a tight ship and has built an impressive company. One of the largest showrooms I have ever been in, and it's still growing. Summer has some of the finest products available and can draw on considerable manufacturer support.

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Article Topics

News · 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.

256 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Jason Knott  on  06/11  at  09:48 AM

Looks like you have selected a final four that would equate to Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA matchup.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  06/11  at  10:40 AM

Couple of underdogs next to some pretty big players, should be interesting.

Posted by hbinnovations  on  06/11  at  11:26 AM

Mark - are you saying another manufacturer tried to “buy” the project?  That is low…...

Posted by Michael  on  06/11  at  11:41 AM

There are far better players by a wide margin than whom you have selected in the Phoenix metro market, though the guys at AE are top notch.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  06/11  at  11:48 AM

Better players, wide margin, really? 
Name 3 who have Control4 experience and could handle this size project.

Posted by dkippy  on  06/11  at  11:54 AM

Mark. A manufacture would never have anything to do with trying to go around the consultant who specified an alternate product! No way! Beyond low. No need to go any further on the who, what and how. I was waiting for that to happen and see if it would get back to you. Glad your in control of the situation and the client relationship. Because this once again proves business is about relationships! For those who are shocked by that type of action…..Oh sorry I need to go my ride is here to fantasy island!

Posted by Gene Howarth  on  06/11  at  12:30 PM

Mark. Good luck and great job working hard for the client.

I am just amazed at how any CE company can pull off being everything to everybody. 20 years doing this, I just can’t fathom being a dealer for 3 control platforms. Excuse me Mrs. Smith, are you talking about Crestron, Control4, Savant or Lexus? Maybe tomorrow Plutotron!

Good luck to those that can manage all the different systems, programming etc..

Posted by JoelH  on  06/11  at  01:05 PM

Good job handling that tough situation.

And “Michael”: seriously, stop. You must be one of those ‘far better’ dealers. I’m sure Mark has spent countless hours vetting dealers to make his decision and you can’t just come in on a whim and say he’s all wrong.
Sheesh..people on here are so quick to judgment.

Posted by Bryan  on  06/11  at  01:12 PM

Wait Wait Wait…. I thought Mark was doing the design, then he hires firefly?  This is some of the best reality disaster reading I’ve ever encountered.  For a $500K project the amount of politics and “designers” is crazy.  There are MANY great companies in this industry that could have EASILY handled this project start to finish without all the additional BS.  I’m all for a correctly designed and documented AV system; however, I have to believe that by the time this client pays Mark, Firefly, the AV company, and who knows how many other “consultants” he will over pay by 10-20% since too many hands are in the cookie jar.  Mr. Client, if you are following this thread, my advice is to stop the insanity and hire a good all around company that has recently and successfully implemented projects like yours, not just read about what products are good or trained some dealers on how to run their books.  Nothing personal against anybody or any product, this is just too much for a $500K job.  If we were talking $1-2M I would be singing a different tune.  My $.02

Posted by Andrew Ellis  on  06/11  at  01:30 PM

Not very many people I know can effective program systems on multiple formats. One man shops are going to be better served by focusing on a single format. Incorporating multiple programmers into your business model is what we do when we reach the regional level.

This appears to be the story of a local integrator stepping up to the regional arena a little soon. When an integrator becomes familiar with a product/brand they can essential operate as if they have blinders on in regards to other brands of equipment. this can lead to a compromised ability in the regional market. Recommendations to clients will be biased by the integrators limits. An in depth understanding of the equipment available across the industry is required when you step into the regional integration market. This typically occurs when the operation expands beyond a few people and becomes a true systems integration company. The national market is an even more demanding place to set up shop.

There are many system integrators with programming experience with only one major brand of equipment. The time required to train programmers on multiple systems is considerable. This is a required step when you want to take your integration company from a local player to the next level.

We have an industry that unfortunately has far to many undereducated and over advertised members. One of our tasks is to insure customer satisfaction by educating our engineers, integrators, programmers and installers. I will enjoy watching this project move forward although I don’t how much we will hear about it.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  06/11  at  01:44 PM

You really need to read from the beginning to keep up.  I never said I was going to do the engineering.  My job was to help the client choose the best system and contractor for this project. 
Only a handful of companies can do the level of design/engineering that Firefly does everyday, you should look at their work.
I have talked to lots of companies and reviewed multiple systems before making a choice.  I am the only consultant and very aware of my limited budget.  A comparable system from these many companies you speak of was coming in at 500k+ up to 1.3mil.  At least with my design and Firefly’s engineering the client will have what he wants and not just something someone wanted to sell him.
There really are some great companies out there and then there are some not so good, how is a client supposed to know the difference?
A new client I am working with now didn’t want anything because their last house (12,000 sqft) was a nightmare and they hate all the systems.  Once I helped them understand it was an isolated incident and what we could do for their new home they felt better about our industry.  It only takes on bad company to hurt lots of goods ones.

Posted by Gene H  on  06/11  at  02:24 PM

Specifically replying to Andrew Ellis and the comments about stepping up to “regional”.

Are you implying that once you become “regional” which we are by the way, that you have to start using multiple control platforms? We are 100% Crestron because we can service all of our target market and do it knowing we have implemented a very solid and reliable system. We can do this everywhere and not have to train on 3 or more different systems everytime a new “release” or update becomes available. As you stated, it is very costly and time consuming to maintain the 3 or more lines.Crestron has many choices for clients looking to integrate systems at any level. So I see no bias in recommending black boxes that you believe in and also do not see the argument for limited options. Remember, we sell solutions not boxes…

To Bryan - I totally agree that this project is consuming too much $ and time for a project of this size. It doesn’t speak well to the industry. I am a firm believer in proper system design, implementation & programming but come on… Consultant, private “designer”, endless interviews, multiple proposals etc.. Good luck to the “lucky” bidder.

Posted by JoelH  on  06/11  at  02:32 PM

What looks bad for our industry is this constant bickering over EVERY new detail that gets posted here. Seriously!

Gene and Bryan: do you really know enough about the inner workings of this project and Mark’s process to deem it wasteful? Perhaps the construction timeline is making this appear to take more time than is really being spent on the electronics portion. Either way, Mark has not posted enough info here for anyone to make that call. While there are companies that can easily handle this in house, it sounds like the customer is happy with the way Mark is handling it.

So, for once, let’s have a forum without all the chest thumping that does nothing except to hurt our industry.

Posted by tlit  on  06/11  at  02:42 PM

early in the conversations, mark mentioned that his crestron showroom experience was that of too many boxes that would equate to more expense…
But in honesty, the only way for a system like this to be , imho, handled by C4 is to add a mountain of HC boxes and many extenders. How is a C4 system gonna handle all the shades and drapes listed?
I would be curious to see the C4 pic list to make this system work.

I could easily design a system using crestron for this system using far less parts than C4 needed to use, which would have saved money and programming time…

All to often do i help integrators bid against C4 jobs using crestron and they always come out cheaper with more functions that the customer wanted.

You also mentioned not wanting to be a beta site, but are waiting for C4’s new software to debut… do you really think they will release their new software that has no bugs…?... this is impossible… no one,... let me repeat, no software and or hardware company will ever release something new without bugs…

I am interested in the final days of the project and what it took to pull it all together using C4 as the control system…

it might actually consider not thinking that C4 is much like what someone said it was, a “canned” system.

I wish the best of luck… Still don’t understand why this project is getting publicity…

I do these sort of systems on a regular basis, don’t take this long, nor have so many sub/integrators tasked with making decisions that aren’t all that hard to make…

cheers and kudos for being open minded to a public forum.

I mean no disrespect… I would give you a high five if i could… so here is a virtual high five…

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  06/11  at  02:48 PM

If someone didn’t hear footsteps coming up fast behind them they wouldn’t have offered to supply a system for the same price just to keep Control4 out of the picture. 
This is only one job but the significance is that we are able to handle such a large project with multiple systems using C4.  Crestron is a great product but with new touch panel technology and so many 3rd party manufacturers stepping up with new products limiting yourself to one manufacturer is just that, limited.  I’m not saying pick up 4 or ten but look around for other products to support you main lines.  No one builds the best of everything.
The cost of my services were paid for in getting the client exactly what he needed and eliminating extras, my fee is a flat rate.  Engineering would have been a charge no matter who had the job.  While you and Bryan pat each other on the back, if all your “solutions” are just black boxes with the same name your are still limited in your offerings.  C4 is applying pressure today, tomorrow Netstreams,  NIRV and after that who knows, change comes every day to every business, keep looking over your shoulder.

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