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Thursday, July 24, 2014

By CE Pro Editors

Whether you’re a large 20-person organization with a retail showroom, or a smaller outfit working out of a home office, every company strives for the same thing: increased profitability.

There are many levers you can pull to get there: sell more profitable stuff, find new customers, raise prices, trim operation expenses, and so on. While cutting expenses isn’t sexy or easy, it will increase profits, regardless of your ability to grow top-line revenue.

SnapAV deals with thousands of custom integration companies on a regular basis. Craig Craze, CEO of SnapAV, offers a half-dozen solid operational tips the company has gleaned from years of discussions with its dealer base and personal experience from its old days as integrators that might help any business become leaner.

1. Understand your true cost of labor: For project-based work, it’s all about accurate estimations. Do the job faster? More money in your pocket. Do the job slower, well … You can only improve what you measure, so consider having techs fill out detailed time sheets — using categorized codes to show what they spent time doing (travel, prewire, cutout, etc.). It can be a pain, and is definitely time-consuming, but ultimately it allows you to better estimate jobs in the future, making each install — and the company as a whole — more profitable.

2. Wash, rinse, repeat: Once you understand the cost of labor, you’ll know where to make improvements. Here’s where process is king. Any time you can standardize it adds efficiency, saving time/money and increasing your bottom line. Back in the day when we had our custom A/V business, we did time and motion studies…

Posted by CE Pro Editors on 07/24 at 08:00 AM
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Thursday, July 17, 2014

RIP Home Director.

By Julie Jacobson

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a hoarder. Maybe a sentimentalist.

Whatever the label, I’ve amassed hundreds of T-shirts touting such iconic brands as Home Director and LifeWare. Some companies gracing my T-Shirts ... I’ve never even heard of.

Now settled in California and nearly 50 years old, it’s time to grow up, weed through the Tees and part with many of them.

Before doing so, I’ve committed them to the digital archives.

My criteria for keeping the shirts? They must be:
1. Flattering (of course)
2. Appropriate in public (“Nice Rack!” didn’t make it)
3. Relatively unsoiled
4. Kinda cool or wildly nostalgic

With apologies to those whose brands I’ve besmirched, here are some of the CE tees that didn’t make the cut.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 07/17 at 08:50 AM
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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Taking a few moments eating burgers and hot dogs allows integrators to take stock on their businesses at the midway point of 2014. (From left) Stephen Tucker of Tucker & Tucker in Scarborough, Maine;  Mike Bonetti owner of Home Theater & Beyond in Merrimack, N.H.; and Paul Johnson, proprietor of Custom Installation Services in South Dennis, Mass.

By Chuck Schneider

For the bevy of integrators gathered under the dining tents at distributor Professional Audio Associates (PAA) June open house, eating delicious burgers was like a truth serum. They openly shared with me some of the positive and negative of their custom installation businesses at the halfway point of 2014.

I landed at the food area as soon as it opened and stayed there until the caterers were ready to drive away. I was curious as to the mindset of this year’s PAA customer, so I went from table to table with two simple questions:

In the past year, what has been your most pleasant business surprise?

Over the next year, what do you think will be your greatest challenge?

Their answers span the gamut, but several dealers declared with allegiance and surprise with the continuing growth in popularity of the Sonos wireless multiroom audio system, the decline in remote controls and the ever-changing landscape on flat panel TVs.

Jerry Boyson, owner of Lake Winnipesaukee Home Theater in Meredith, N.H., didn’t hesitate a moment with his first answer.

“Sonos. I never thought I’d ever sell as much Sonos as I’m selling.”

Across the table, PK from Sounds Good in Waltham, Mass. was nodding his head in agreement. “Sonos is a phenomenon. What they lack in margin they make up in volume.”

PK’s associates from Sounds Good agreed stating that add-ons and accessories were easy with Sonos which helped boost the margin.

John Hickey from John’s TV in Taunton, Mass., mentioned LG as his happiest surprise. “I was a Panasonic dealer 35 years, direct and through a…

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Stereo Exchange president David Wasserman (shown above) is hosting a unique showroom event that’s a real work of art.

By Jason Knott

How can an integrator liven up a high-res audio listening event at his showroom? Well, nude women might do the trick.

New York City integrator David Wasserman of Stereo Exchange is hosting, in conjunction with Autonomic, an “Audio in the Nude” event. The invitation invites customers to enjoy “a very special evening of music, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres” on June 24 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

The promo for the event says it will feature “iconic album art painted on stunning models. We will tantalize your senses and demonstrate the Mirage whole-house music systems.”

I wonder if The Beatles “White Album” is on the body paint list?

Posted by Jason Knott on 06/19 at 08:17 AM
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Thursday, June 05, 2014

By Julie Jacobson

“We’re terrible at customer service, especially considering the money they [customers] spend,” says David Daniels, principal of the Aspen, Colo.-based integration firm Xssentials. “I can buy something at Amazon and get three follow-up emails, and we forget to thank our customers?”

Daniels spoke at a recent conference of the Azione buying group (yeah, he said dealers “suck” at customer service), and he got a lot of sheepish looks — the kinds that say, “Guilty.”

Daniels gives the example of his BMW dealer, who calls when it’s time for service, sets a date, calls in a reminder, has a sign waiting for “Mr. Daniels” at the shop, takes a ping from the car as it’s pulling up and has a cup of coffee with one sugar waiting, plus a loaner car all warmed up and ready to go.

“And that’s for a $55,000 car,” Daniels sells. “We sell $500,000 jobs and we forget to say thank you.” 

The BMW example may be a little extreme but it does beg the question: Can we mechanize customer service?

Considering we’re in the automation business, it seems like we should be doing a better job of it.

Since my husband and I recently moved, we’ve been buying stuff, receiving deliveries and watching while pros do things like assemble Ikea furniture. In every instance, the provider called the night before to give a two-hour delivery window. On the work day, the driver called 30 minutes and 10 minutes prior to arrival.

Usually, two or three follow-up events occurred. A supervisor or automated attendant from the store called and asked about the experience.…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 06/05 at 07:18 AM
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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, Apple, Inc., alludes to Apple’s home automation partners during the company’s keynote address which opened its annual World Wide Developer’s Conference in San Francisco.

By Robert Archer

Yesterday I listened intently to Apple’s 2014 World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) keynote address. Like many in the custom installation market, my anticipation was quite high for Apple’s entry into a category—-home automation—-which has always been on the fringe of the electronics market and kept alive by a small but loyal group of enthusiasts.

I can’t speak for my more knowledgeable co-workers Julie Jacobson and Lisa Montgomery, or dealer friends such as Nick Tamburri, owner of AHA & Design in New Jersey, but I felt completely let down and underwhelmed by Apple’s passing mention of its home automation platform called HomeKit.

In a press conference that lasted about two hours, Apple talked about and demonstrated its upcoming Yosemite and iOS 8 operating systems, but it only alluded to the potential of home automation before moving to other topics.

Related: Apple Smart Home Predictions: Smart Watches & Home Automation Store

During the weeks leading up to the keynote address, word of Apple’s entry into the automation category spread like wildfire on social media. The buildup leading to the keynote stoked the hopes of many throughout the industry that Apple would give home automation the bump in public awareness the market has been seeking ever since the term “home automation” was first uttered. That did not happen however, and what the custom installation industry was left with is a faint hope that Apple actually follows through with its tease and commits to the…

Posted by Robert Archer on 06/03 at 05:23 AM
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

By Jason Knott

Washington gridlock reared its ugly head last week when the U.S. Senate killed a rare bi-partisan bill that would have made it easier for consumers to purchase smart HVAC, water heaters, lighting control and building management systems that reduce energy. The net result for commercial integrators would have been a boost in building automation clientele.

The bill, entitled the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (ESIC), never came to a vote because an amendment was added on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil from Canada into the U.S. When the amendment was added, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to bring the bill to a vote.

Among other things, the bill called for the creation of a federal model energy building codes and encouraged states to follow. It covered:

  • Efficiency gains made in appliances, lighting, windows, insulation, and building envelope sealing;
  • Advancement of distributed generation and on-site renewable power generation technologies;
  • Equipment improvements for heating, cooling, and ventilation systems;
  • Building management systems and SmartGrid technologies to reduce energy use;
  • Other technologies, practices, and building systems that the Secretary considers appropriate regarding building plug load and other energy uses.

Now both sides can blame each other. The Democrats can blame the Republicans for adding the amendment, and the Republicans can blame the Democrats for not bringing the legislation to a vote. Sadly, according to press reports, the bi-partisan bill sponsored by Rob Portman (R-Ohio) had a high likelihood of passing. Oh well.


Posted by Jason Knott on 05/27 at 01:45 PM
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Harman International and AMX: ‘A perfect marriage’

By Julie Jacobson

The Duchossois Group, Inc., last week said it would divest AMX, the commercial and home automation company, selling it to Harman International Industries (Nasdaq: HAR), a commercial and consumer audio company, for $365 million.

Duchossois had acquired AMX, formerly a publicly held company, in 2005 for $315 million.

It was an odd fit for Duchossois, best known for its leading Chamberlain brand of garage door openers, and its significant investment in horse-racing giant Churchill Downs. Duchossois also owns Brivo, a company that initially focused on unattended access (say, for deliveries when a homeowner was away) but now is moving into more traditional access controls.

We interviewed Duchossois president and CEO Robert Fealy in 2008 about the company’s acquisition of AMX, among other things (story appeared in 2011).

In a nutshell, he said Duchossois looks for companies that are profitable, serve categories that are in early stages of growth, and that “we don’t have to babysit.”

Other than that, there were indeed some synergies between AMX and Duchossois’s Brivo and Chamberlain businesses.

Fealy told CE Pro that Chamberlain’s focus on perimeter access control got Duchossois thinking, “How do you manage from inside the fence?”

In addition, Fealy said that Duchossois had a “human factors group thinking about human behaviors,” asking questions like: “How are people’s habits changing?”

Growing the Custom Portfolio with Milestone

But Duchossois was pretty much hands-off, letting AMX do its thing all by its lonesome. And then Duchossois acquired Milestone AV Technologies, the parent company…

Thursday, May 22, 2014

By Jason Knott

After all the hubbub surrounding the newly enacted FCC regulations for cell phone signal boosters, I was still excited when my latest cell phone bill included my official notification. (See photo)


The FCC mandated all phone companies notify their customer base that they need to register their cell phone signal boosters so it can be checked to determine if the booster has the potential to interfere with any emergency communications.

The notification represents a great opportunity for every integrator to follow up via their own newsletter with clients to offer the opportunity to get a cell phone signal booster installed. Most of your clients were probably unaware cell phone signal boosters even existed until they got their notice from their signal carrier.

By the way, I felt a little bit like Steve Martin’s character Navin Johnson in “The Jerk” when he got so excited when the phone book arrived with his name in it.

Posted by Jason Knott on 05/22 at 10:48 AM
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Monday, May 19, 2014

Who has the advantage in the CE industry?

By Jason Knott

As I was compiling the 16th annual CE Pro 100 list for this month’s issue of CE Pro, I was struck at the overwhelming level of experience among members of this exclusive group. The average CE Pro 100 custom integration company has been in business for nearly a quarter century — 24.6 years to be exact. Some of the companies are legacy firms handed down through generations.

Over the years, I have gotten to know most of the principals on the list from hanging out together at the CEDIA Expo or CE Pro Summit, which this year is November 12-14 in sunny Orlando, Fla., by the way.

The CE Pro 100 members tend to be mostly guys (and a few ladies) about my age. I am always amazed and impressed with their spirit, leadership and business sense that has evolved and been honed through years of hard work and experience. Sure, they’ve all made mistakes along the way, but haven’t we all. They have learned from those errors and built the strongest, most efficient custom integration companies in the industry.

But for some reason the high regard and value that we all place on experience at the integrator level doesn’t seem to be carrying over to the supplier level these days. Indeed, many of the CE Pro 100 veterans will soon find their suppliers’ sales reps to be 20 to 30 years younger than they are.

Why? Because in the past several months, there has been a rash of firings among the manufacturer ranks. Many of the…

Posted by Jason Knott on 05/19 at 06:38 AM
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