Distributors Guide 2018: How A/V and Home-Automation Wholesalers Serve Home-Technology Dealers

Improved web portals, regular training events, self-pick warehouses with information kiosks, and broader product lines are among the abundant initiatives from distributors of audio, video, home automation and other home-tech products.

Distributors Guide 2018: How A/V and Home-Automation Wholesalers Serve Home-Technology Dealers

Distributors are not just about selling things anymore. They are taking active roles in helping integrators become more efficient.

Integrators don’t just need to sell equipment, they need make a profit. Likewise, distributors are no longer all about selling “stuff”; they are taking active roles in helping to make integrators more efficient — well beyond just the improving the speed of ordering and delivery of products.

To that end, CE Pro asked several distributors to describe steps they have taken in the past year to help dealers become more efficient. Along with diving into those varied responses, also make sure to keep the accompanying CE Pro Distributors Guide handy throughout the year as a reference.

Curt Hayes, President & CFO, Capitol

Over the course of the past year, Capitol ramped up our customer support program with an aggressive schedule of long-form webinars and concise 'Minute with Mike' tech and product overviews that are accessible to our customers whenever and wherever they have the time and focus to learn about the products that are having the greatest effect on the market.

“In addition, we recently sponsored a day-long Dealer Training and Open House featuring participation from 40 leaders in the custom installation market. Under one roof, our customers will have a private audience with such blue chip brands as Sony, LG, Luxul, RTI, and Nest.

“Looking ahead, Capitol will continue to evolve customer education as needs dictate and technology allows.”

Seth Evenson, Director of Customer Experience Management, AVAD, LLC

“We’ve had another busy year at AVAD as we continue to roll out new features to provide our dealers with cutting-edge tools and industry-leading service. We’ve updated the AVAD website to include new order tracking abilities, account management tools, simplified navigation, and more content, such as detailed product information and videos.

“In addition to our website, we’ve released a new Android and iOS application that makes it easier than ever before to access information and order products on the go, as well as our updated Interactive catalogs, including Audio, Video, Home Automation and Accessories Editions, providing dealers with access to product details, videos, and specs, all available on their computer, tablet or mobile device.

“We’ve expanded our product offerings to provide dealers with award-winning solutions from vendor partners, including Integra, Jamo, Klipsch, Energy, LifeSize and LG Commercial. We continue to work with industry-leading manufacturers to expand our product offerings and provide dealers with a one-stop location for the best solutions in the industry. And, with our new robust reward program, 1-2-3 Rewards, dealers can earn money back on their purchases, which we’ve created as a way to thank our dealers for their business and loyalty to AVAD throughout the years.

“Our touring roadshow, Vendopalooza, continues to grow and reach new markets as we celebrate its 10th anniversary this year. We have new vendors participating, plus more giveaways and prizes than ever before. This year, the Vendopalooza will reach more markets to bring vendors out to the dealers and provide exclusive, free training opportunities.”

Trevor Hansen, Vice President, Volutone Distributing

“Volutone’s focus has been on keeping our integrators at the forefront of the latest products and streamlined technical trainings each month. Each Volutone will call location has been meticulously redesigned for the ultimate integrator experience.

“From inviting, well-stocked sales floors to eye-catching in-store digital signage and new touchscreen kiosk displays at each location, this helps keeps the integrator informed of all upcoming events, trainings and newly released products and promos. Plus, end-of-month Dealer Appreciation Days also allow integrators to not only check out the latest products from onsite vendor reps, but also grab a free lunch.

“We know efficiency is important and Volutone now offers 24-hour pickup rooms available at our Las Vegas, Cerritos, Irvine and Van Nuys locations which provide integrators the convenience to pick up product during off hours. Also, we provide free local same-day delivery right from Volutone to the integrator’s business or jobsite.

“To keep our integrators in front of new products, we’ve expanded our social media presence. Through these platforms, we share information about new product releases, upcoming trainings, and promotions. Integrators can join Volutone’s private Facebook page (Tech Talk) to share ideas/thoughts and ask questions about products with others in the industry. Monthly Facebook Live Giveaways, Live Facebook sessions and a new YouTube segment (Volutone Discovers) keeps integrators directly connected to our sales teams and updates on the latest new products and installation tip and tricks.”

Dennis Holzer, Executive Director, PowerHouse Alliance

“The PowerHouse Alliance and our 12 distributor members have made a concerted effort to help dealers and integrators better manage orders and timely delivery by maximizing just-in-time inventory. With 40 warehouses (and growing) across the country, our breadth of brands and product categories, whenever and whatever a dealer needs A to Z across many categories, we have it in stock. We can also drop ship directly to a site to avoid sitting on products for an extended period of time or forcing integrators to store them. Dealers can also order products in advance and arrange to pick their order up the day that they need it.

“The PowerHouse Alliance and its distributor members are committed to ongoing dealer education in order to provide our integrators/dealers with the best products and service in the industry. Partnering with leading manufacturers and offering continual hands-on training and certification programs allows dealers to stay informed and educated on the latest and greatest in A/V, security, automation and networking products categories, plus learning time-efficient installation and system design tactics.

“During distributor member-hosted education sessions, we introduce products and show dealers how they work. In many cases, we also give attendees the opportunity to take products home and demo them in their own environment in order to maximize their understanding and comfort on their own time.

“This dedication to education and the continuous development of our dealers ensures our installers have the best products and solutions for their consumers and can not only talk about them, but also offer and install them with confidence. In addition to trainings, PowerHouse’s 12 distributor members host open house events providing direct access to manufacturer partners, new product demonstrations and competitive pricing.

“Our members also offer additional support to increase efficiency including assistance with system design, technical support and product consulting. If any problems arise with the products a dealer buys, they have the comfort of knowing our members will work to solve their problems quickly and offer the support they need to get the job done right.”

Alec Haight, Vice President, Pioneer Music Company/Catalyst AV

“We’ve increased our staff by nearly 25 percent to remain dedicated to improving our service. We have also opened a new (our third) just-in-time inventory location in the St. Louis metro, introduced same-day delivery there as well as Kansas City and Omaha, and are on the brink of a mass e-commerce update featuring live inventory and online bill paying.

“Recent additions to provide new technology to our customers are Cleerline Fiber and TechLogix; the feedback has been phenomenal. Other lines like PowerBridge and Ubiquiti were great convenience adds for our customers, allowing them to purchase yet one more essential install item from our one-stop-shop and increase their profitability. On top of that is DMF Lighting, which represents a whole new approach to jobs and a ground-up opportunity for us to educate the custom integrator.

“New rollouts in current product lines are equally important. We host lunch-and-learns reviewing the new Yamaha lineups, and for example we weekly communicate to our dealers on Samsung models. Our communication with our dealer base is huge; they need the news and new technology to make the best decisions for their customers.”

Rich Radimer, President Custom Partners/Catalyst AV

“We’ve taken on additional lines to become more full service, such as Intellinet to help with our networking-based products like Eero, Nest, Ring, etc. In addition we are meeting our dealers’ needs by opening a 24 hour secured pick up area, adding another 1,500 square feet of space to hold more inventory and we redesigned our warehouse space to make it easier for dealers to walk through the aisles and self shop. Our work to help our custom integrators never stops!”

Scott Haslam, National Sales Manager, TecNec

“TecNec launched a brand new, responsive website in January to deliver a consistent browsing and ordering experience regardless of end user device. Another motivation behind its creation was to deliver system integrators and installers the ability to order from wherever they may be at any given time — behind a rack, at an onsite install or at their desk. TecNec has also launched a YouTube channel, which features product videos shot from various tradeshows or post-training with a manufacturer’s representative at our facility.”

Adam Levy, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Customer Care, SnapAV

“At SnapAV, our goal has always been to help dealers be more efficient. Since the beginning, we’ve kept dealer operations top of mind in both product and service decisions. A few examples from the past year …

“Product Decisions — We made OvrC Pro a free software license for the vast majority of Snap dealers. This means more remote management capabilities in more homes, which helps even more dealers reduce truck rolls. Since its inception, OvrC has saved the industry the cost of hundreds of thousands of unnecessary service calls.

“We also included OvrC Home for free in WattBox and Araknis Networks products. This means dealers can provide their customers with a custom-configured app, which allows them to resolve common system issues on their own. Through the app, they can reset any OvrC-enabled devices, plus devices connected to individual WattBox outlets or Araknis PoE ports.

“We partnered with Lutron to co-develop the first third-party product (Radio RA2 Select Repeater) that integrates natively with OvrC, making it easier to sell and support lighting control.

“Service Decisions — We developed an all-new Rack Builder software that helps dealers plan, configure and order equipment racks easily, including the ability to export drawings for proposals and integrate notes for technicians.

“We launched ‘Hold at Location’ functionality on our website, which allows dealers to hold their orders at one of thousands of FedEx locations (often open 24/7) near their office, home or worksite for pickup when it’s most convenient for them.

“We provided dealers with more local access to our products by opening a pickup location in New York and acquiring Allnet to better serve our dealers in the Midwest.

“We built a training section on our website with helpful videos, white papers and webinars organized by topic, so dealers can quickly find the support content they need 24/7/365.”

Randy Criebaum, President, Skywalker AV Supply

“We’ve launched a new, mobile-friendly website allowing our dealers to discover product specs, watch informational videos, and order on the go. The new site is jam-packed with great dealer-centric features such as My Projects. This feature lets installers build job proposals and present bids to their customers. They can also track and organize orders by job or save custom ordering templates for popular configurations.

“We’ve also developed a variety of indoor and outdoor demo stations and displays to allow our dealers to test drive our products. They can even show their customers to help them close the deal with their pending installs.

“Beyond that, we’ve continued stacking our line card with the industry’s top brands to expand our mix. Our goal has always been to be a true one-stop shop for our dealers. What separates Skywalker AV Supply is that we don’t ignore the small products. In fact, we embrace them. We stock things like tape, tools, and hardware to help our dealers maximize their time in the field.”

Ron Perron, Principal, HCA Distributing

“In the past year, HCA Distributing has helped integrators be more efficient by:

  1. We have diversified our offering of local courier services for same-day delivery along the Front Range of Colorado in order to provide better value and a larger delivery area. This allows integrators to enjoy same-day delivery without pulling manpower from jobs.
  2. We hired a person just to deal with web orders, courier deliveries, and emailed orders. This provides a single point of contact for all of the above categories so that our dealers know who to contact if they have questions about orders placed by those methods.
  3. We have implemented a way for our larger integrators to have their orders staged for quick pick up. There is an area in shipping right beside one of the roll up doors where we stage large orders so that the integrator can sign and go. 
  4. We have significantly emphasized and grown our policy with regards to online orders. If you order online with us, your order ships free if it ships UPS ground.”

Wally Whinna, President, Allnet

“Allnet had a very active year focused on a continuation of our mission to provide our customers with the highest level of support. We added a Technical Service/System Design resource to help them enter new markets successfully and with confidence. The addition of 24-hour will call in all of our branches allowed dealers to get the product they need for installations at their convenience.

“Weekends for the last-minute jobs, evenings and early morning when commute times are shorter or even during the day so their technicians can just grab and go to get to that next job faster. Finally, we extended terms to a larger segment of dealers allowing them to collect final payment from their client prior to having to pay for the equipment increasing their cash flow so they can hire that new salesperson or installer which drives their business growth.”

James Rothstein, Senior Vice President, Global Security Solutions, Anixter

“In January 2018, we rebranded Tri-Ed and CLARK to combine all branches within the Anixter platform to bring customers the products, services and capabilities of the world’s largest security distributor … a $7 billion global distributor of solutions for the network and security, electrical and electronic, and utility power markets.

“That technology includes video surveillance, intrusion, access control, fire/life safety, professional audio/video, wireless, connected lighting, telecommunications, network infrastructure, and building management systems. Housing over $1 billion in inventory, Anixter now has more than 300 warehouses/branch locations spanning nearly 9 million square feet of space across locations in excess of 300 cities in approximately 50 countries.

“From the way we train our salespeople to the efforts of our Solutions Group — which is tasked with staying ahead of technology and trends and communicating them to our manufacturers before they’re even in vogue ― to our Technology Support Group that works with our dealers and integrators to help them design and employ the right technologies for the right application, serving as a true technology partner is what drives our efforts.

“Despite the concern about DIY and how it’s going to impact our dealers and integrators servicing residential customers, there’s an interesting trend that’s emerging — the Do It for Me [DIFM] market. Technologies are being advertised to the consumer, but many don’t necessarily want to install them themselves. This makes IoT a viable category they shouldn’t overlook. We’ve recently added Sonos smart speakers to our line card; many homeowners who want a home theater still want a professional to do the installation.”

“Our ongoing technical trainings are offered in our 80+ North American branch locations, as well as through our Anixter University Program, which offers an array of technical and standards-based education for contractors, integrators, end users and consultants.”

About the Author

Jason Knott
Jason Knott:

Jason Knott is Chief Content Officer for Emerald's Connected Brands. Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990, serving as editor and publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He joined CE Pro in 2000 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of that brand. 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 has been a member of the CEDIA Business Working Group since 2010. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California.