At the end of 2017, retailer Guitar Center acquired Audio Visual Design Group (AVDG), a major Crestron dealer and A/V integrator, catapulting the 280-store retailer into the big leagues of commercial integration and home automation.
AVDG will operate as a dedicated arm of the Guitar Center's new Business Solutions group. That group was formed last year when GC melded its B2B operations, serving live sound and commercial venues, into a single unit led Doug Carnell, former general manager of the giant A/V integration firm AVI-SPL.
While we know Guitar Center as a consumer-centric musical-instruments store with some 280 locations, the retailer has a rich history in B2B channels, historically focusing on studios, houses of worship, education, and bars/restaurants.
With more than $2 billion in annual revenues, plus all that brick-and-mortar presence, Guitar Center can help AVDG compete against the “big three” commercial integrators, Carnell says, referring to AVI-SPL ($605 million), Diversified ($450 million+) and Whitlock ($300 million). AVDG generates about $30 million per year.
“From a sales perspective, Guitar Center is bigger than all of the integration firms,” Carnell tells CE Pro sister publication Commercial Integrator. “From a market-competitive situation we have more locations and more capability and, in the case of some of the vendors, purchase multiple times what other integrators purchase.”
While B2B may have been the key driver of the acquisition, the implications for residential integration are not lost on Guitar Center. AVDG is a CE Pro 100 integrator, having moved into the residential sector only a few years ago. CE Pro detailed AVDG's transition in an October 2016 cover story. Today the company generates roughly 25 percent of its revenues from the consumer market.
“AVDG has distinguished itself in the industry by offering system design and installation in both corporate and residential market sectors,” Carnell says in a press release, “providing Guitar Center an important channel to serve these markets …..”
For years, GC has worked with a network of “affiliate” integrators to specify, design and install commercial- and live-sound systems, including loudspeakers, mics, lighting, cameras, electronics, controllers, video projection and more.
Now it can bring more of these services in-house with AVDG, allowing Guitar Center to become the end-to-end supplier, specifier and installer of big and small systems alike, including projects in homes and office buildings where GC hasn't really played.
Carnell tells Commercial Integrator that Guitar Center could acquire more A/V integration companies in the future.
Overall the retail sector has suffered from Amazon and other e-commerce competition. Guitar Center has tried to diversify by offering music lessons in its stores, “hoping that a service component will draw more visits,” Bloomberg reported in 2017. Enhancing its integration business with the AVDG acquisition (and presumably more acquisitions to come) is a much bolder move with bigger upsides.
In terms of buying power, AVDG easily trumps the “big three” commercial integration companies, and it may be able to exploit that dominance in the home-technology channel.
“As we incorporate new acquisitions to the family, my goal is to build and merge talent pools in a way that results in the best of all companies and efficient use of skill and expertise,” Carnell tells CI. “In my mind, a whole team of CEOs from different firms can combine resources and perspectives to figure out ways to truly solve the market’s problems, while also focusing on providing the best customer experience. That’s where I think AVDG is going to contribute, from their unique experience of offering design-build services.”
This story was edited on 2/27 to reflect current financial realities, and to point readers to the complete Guitar Center interview on CommercialIntegrator.com.