Home Theater

Two-Man Team Outfits $300K Mancave House; Sells 90% Service Contracts

Two-person custom integrator TOAD finds the right business mix from $300K projects to subcontracted cable TV installs, while also selling 90% of clients service contracts. Here's how they do it.

Two-Man Team Outfits $300K Mancave House; Sells 90% Service Contracts
Peter Robbins (left) and Mark Hooper form the core of TOAD. This two-man team handles everything from cable and satellite installations to this $300,000 project that includes a full basketball court that artfully converts into a home theater. Photography by Adrien Bisson.

Photos & Slideshow

Jason Knott · June 15, 2016

Using WattBox, TOAD can remotely reboot cable boxes that might freeze by shutting down the power and restarting. Often those calls from clients happen in the middle of the night. So, TOAD has learned to charge its clients via service agreement coverage for that remote capability.

Currently, Hooper estimates as much as 90 percent of his clients have some form of service contract in place.

“It really depends on the size and scale of the system. I find the smaller ones definitely don’t purchase an agreement … they may not require it, although we say to them that everything requires an update. The typical price is an annual fee between 2 percent and 5 percent of the project cost. The agreement covers equipment and labor,” he explains.

“I include everything. I’ve had systems where I’m climbing ladders in the middle of winter because the client wants to have a Christmas party and the dielectric is corroded because it’s five years old. But I’ve got to change a part out because I cover everything soup to nuts.”

Despite his success, Hooper says he still faces an uphill battle with many home-builders in New England.

“I have knocked on more doors and gone old school more than anyone I know. For some reason or another we have a very conservative building contractor base here. A lot of them don’t do any home technology, and many of them still believe electricians are integrators,” says Hooper, who adds that he recognizes he needs to groom relationships with builders and architects for the long-term viability of TOAD. To do that, he has created an AIA-certified course that he presents to builders.

Inside a $300,000 'Mancave House'

A recently completed project by TOAD in the Boston area demonstrates how even a small two-man shop, if it is run efficiently, can handle a mega-project.

There are mancaves, and then there’s this “mancave house,” which is built in the back of a residential property for a family and includes a full regulation-size gymnasium/home theater, lounge and golf simulator. In all, it was a $300,000 project for TOAD.

The home is entirely controlled by a Savant system, from multiroom audio to lighting to the home theater that includes the Savant video tiling system for multiple picture technology for viewing either the gym zone or the golf zone.

The gym converts to a theater using a custom-made portable Middle Atlantic cart with an NEC PX602WL projector and NEC NP37ZL lens that beams from 28 feet away onto a 110-inch Draper HD Gray screen. The 350-pound cart is rolled out to its position at the free-throw line for viewing, but there was a roadblock that needed to be overcome.

The homeowner did not want a power outlet in the middle of the gym floor, nor did he want to unravel a long extension cord from a power outlet on the wall to the cart. Also, the wood used for the floor is the “bounciest” possible, which means it is soft and the weight of the portable cart on wheels would potentially damage it.

So, first TOAD outfitted the portable rack/cart with a $6,000 Falcon portable power unit capable of delivering six hours of continuous performance. The content is distributed to the cart from a Peerless-AV HD Flow wireless transmitter with a receiver on the rack. TOAD also modified the cart with soft “tires” and, as an extra safety precaution, plastic runners are laid out like a puzzle from the utility room where there is a custom charging station to the position on the floor where the cart is parked.

“It is unique; we are pretty proud of it and the client loves it. Seating on the gym floor is taken care of by giant bean-bag chairs. The kids have a lot of parties,” says Hooper.

Audio was another challenge. The expansive gym has 30-foot-plus-high ceilings and hard surfaces everywhere, so needless to say acoustics are less than ideal. TOAD designed a balanced XLR 5.2-channel system consisting of 12 professional-grade Bose RoomMatch RMU208 speakers and two Bose MB12 subs powered by two Bose PowerMatch 8500 amplifiers delivering 8,000 watts.

“The commercial amps allow you to group together any speakers you want. So the two speakers over the screen are grouped together as center channels for the theater, and two speakers are grouped as lefts and two as rights. Bose sent out engineers to help calibrate the amps,” explains Hooper.

The system is controlled by a wireless IP Savant 008 controller, and there is even a Sennheiser microphone set up.

The lounge, which includes memorabilia from Boston Celtics great Larry Bird, has a 75-inch Samsung flat panel with a custom Bay Audio soundbar with power being delivered by a Savant 125-watt/channel amplifier. 

Hooper also added a fun touch; since the house is modeled after a YMCA he thought it would be great to have the Village People’s “YMCA” play every time someone walks through the door. It is also a doorbell interrupt so if the homeowners are in the gymnasium or golf simulator room, they will hear it.

Upstairs in the exercise room, which includes memorabilia from boxing legend Rocky Marciano, there is a Peerless-AV articulating mount holding a 40-inch Samsung flat panel with four Monitor Audio in-ceiling speakers, also powered by a Savant amp. In the 15 x 15-foot golf simulator room, a Panasonic PTVX600 projector with an AcerT232HL touchscreen overlay drive the $50,000 About-Golf.com golf simulator. A Klipsch soundbar and subwoofer behind the screen provide the audio.

The Middle Atlantic rack housing the gear is in a tight closet off the golf room. The wiring is a thing of beauty, as TOAD “spiderwebbed” together the shielded Cat 6 Belden wires with separators for an ultra-clean look. The rack houses two HD cable receivers, an Oppo DVD player, two Apple TVs, CD player, Pakedge Fortigate R60D router, and Pakedge SX-24Port switch

connected to three enterprise-grade WAPs broadcasting at 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz. As is their custom, TOAD has SnapAV IP WattBox with auto-reboot and Panamax BlueBolt remote management devices in the rack, which is cooled by two Modular Thermostatic Middle Atlantic fan tray systems and one Active Thermal Management Cool Cube unit. Each zone has a built-in iTunes media server.

Anything missing? “One thing we would have liked to have done is shading,” admits Hooper. “It is one of those things that sometimes people don’t realize they need until after they are into the space.”



  About the Author

Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at jknott@ehpub.com

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Comments

Posted by kipoca on June 21, 2016

Boasting a 2-man team is a benefit is patently ridiculous, especially when they also go on to say they’ve used 40-plus subcontractors. Perhaps they need to find some people people to do consistent work instead of relying on unreliable subcontractors.

Posted by mario on June 15, 2016

Pretty nice. I have to ask though—handwritten electrical tape labels? Really?

Posted by mario on June 15, 2016

Pretty nice. I have to ask though—handwritten electrical tape labels? Really?

Posted by kipoca on June 21, 2016

Boasting a 2-man team is a benefit is patently ridiculous, especially when they also go on to say they’ve used 40-plus subcontractors. Perhaps they need to find some people people to do consistent work instead of relying on unreliable subcontractors.