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Aspen Custom Electronics: iPod Over Audiophile

Some CE pros might call it heresy, but Aspen Custom Electronics calls it "giving clients what they want."


Matt Hall (left) and Scott Cochrane have made Aspen Custom Electronics a different type of CE pro — one that embraces IT in the home and uses those skills to snag commercial jobs like this high school football field.
Tom LeBlanc · September 3, 2009

Audio and video take a backseat to control at Aspen Custom Electronics. That’s rare for a high-end custom installation company. Companies usually hang their hats on astonishing home theaters and astounding audio. Not Aspen Custom Electronics.

Instead, the Stillwater, Okla.-based high-end integrator hangs its hat on designing easy-to-use systems that reflect what its clients actually want. Here’s the real shocker: it has determined that most consumers — even those that can afford it — really don’t care about high-end audio or video.

“The audiophile thing is kind of going out the window,” says Scott Cochrane, director of design and implementation. That may read like blasphemy to CE pros, but consider that Aspen launched in late 2007 — well after Apple released the iPod — and always de-emphasized audio/video while focusing on control.

In 2009, it projects to double its 2008 revenue while generating clients almost entirely from referrals.

Leading with Control

It’s not that Aspen doesn’t care about high-performance audio/video systems, according to Matt Hall, chief technology officer. He notes that the company uses high-performance brands and its systems sound and look great.

Aspen Custom Electronics
  • Location: Stillwater, Okla.
  • Principals: Melissa Hall, president; Matt Hall, CTO; Scott Cochrane, director of design and implementation
  • Revenues: $500,000 (approximate in 2008); $1 million (projected in 2009)
  • Years in Business: 2
  • Number of employees: 7
  • Residential/Commercial Split: 60/40
  • Specialty: Control and consistent results
  • Top Residential Brands: Elan, Sonance, Integra, Universal Remote Control, Furman and Middle Atlantic
  • Top Commercial Brands: JBL Pro, Middle Atlantic, Furman, Shure, Crown
  • Top IT Brands: Microsoft and Cisco
  • FYI: Our systems have to be reliable, easy to control and provide the expected result every time. Our primary customer in any home is the woman, and we need to make sure she is completely confident in the use of the system.

It’s just that clients that are thrilled with their control systems tend “to lead to many more referral systems and pre-qualified customers,” he says. “But I’m not sure we’re sacrificing high-performance audio. Our systems still sound very good. I think we just recognize the reality of the fact that it isn’t the customer’s primary interest in the system.”

Hall and Cochrane began to sense consumers’ attitudes toward audio changing years ago when they worked together at a small audio/video store chain. Hall was a co-owner and Cochrane a general manager of one of the stores.

They noticed that many of their most profitable customers rarely came into the store to demo audio anymore. In fact, they rarely came into the store at all, preferring to have in-home consultations. That’s one reason why Aspen, which has an office and consultation space, says it won’t invest in a showroom.

While with that previous audio/video chain, Cochrane had a bit of an epiphany after doing a $70,000-plus “beautiful theater,” complete with Runco and Anthem products. “It sounded great and looked fantastic,” he recalls. In following up with the clients two weeks later, Hall asked them if “they’re loving it.” The couple responded that “it’s pretty good.”

Baffled, Hall pressed further and discovered that the couple found their high-performance system hard to use. As nice as the components in their system were, they were more frustrated than satisfied. “That’s when we really started to focus on control,” he says.

It was around that time that “the iPod changed the industry,” and it became important to build control systems that had digital audio sources, Cochrane says. “At this point you either embrace it and use that market shift to your advantage or get passed by guys that do. A major part of our sales stems from customers wanting to use their iPod in some form.”

This confluence of factors led Hall and wife, Melissa, to start a custom installation company with a different — perhaps more evolved — approach to system design. They enlisted like-minded Cochrane to join them.

The result is something of a post-iPod generation company that leads with functionality and follows with performance. “We begin all of our systems from an aspect of control and then work backwards,” Cochrane explains. “We then determine the required product.”


  About the Author

Tom has been covering consumer electronics for six years. Before that, he wrote for the sports department of the Boston Herald. Migrating to magazines, he was a staff editor for a golf publication and an outdoor sports publication. Now, as senior writer/technology editor of CE Pro magazine since 2003, he dabbles in all departments and offers expertise in marketing. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Tom at tom.leblanc@emeraldexpo.com

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