Man oh man … trunkslammers. They are like bunnies. More of them appear every day. I cannot drive down the freeway without seeing some new A/V company's van rolling past me.
The side of the van usually has a long list of specialties — Home Theater! Plasma TV installation! Surrounda Sound! (not a typo, I actually saw that once) Home Networking! Christmas Lights! Gutter Cleaning!
Many of you integrators smirk with superiority as you cruise past these vans. Sometimes you peek in to see what kind of ex-con is driving the van or maybe to see if they are wearing a clown costume.
You bid against these guys all the time. You mock their misspelled proposals, scoff at their product selection, and chuckle at the missing parts that you know are needed to successfully complete the project. You think to yourself, “Nobody would hire this company, we are sooooo much better.”
Well guess what? These guys are getting hired. They are walking into jobs that are clearly over their heads and taking business from you.
Do the math, we are in a $14 billion industry. If we added up all of the revenue from the CE Pro 100 (excluding alarm companies and TV stores) it would only equal less than 3 percent of the annual revenues of the industry!
That means that some of the best guys in the industry are only getting a tiny sliver of the business. In my market (Los Angeles) the biggest local distributor has more than 1,000 A/V companies purchasing products from them.
When I think of how many companies I know of that do good work, I struggle really hard to get past 25.
That means that more than 97.5 percent of the companies I compete with are currently working on my next “rescue” project.
CI Industry Has Worst Satisfaction Rate
A private equity firm that dumped tens of millions of dollars into a well-known manufacturer in the custom-installation market did a bunch of due diligence on our industry prior to writing that giant check. The results were terrifying. According to their research, over 50 percent of luxury homeowners who purchased a control system were dissatisfied with their purchase.
And what is our success rate with these clients? Less than 50 percent!
So who is our primary customer? Uhhhh … luxury homeowners.
Which industries have a better customer satisfaction rate than ours? Ummm … almost everyone.
Assuming our satisfaction rate is 49 percent, that puts us lower than the lowest of the most recent public customer satisfaction index poll. The industry at the bottom of that heap is, wait for it, cable companies.
Guess what their satisfaction rate is? 64 percent! That means the bottom of the barrel is beating us by a good 15 points.
Hey people … we're lousy!
Guess what is happening to the cable companies? Anyone ever heard the phrase “cut the cord”?
What is in store for all of us if we don’t start making customers happy? I’m not sure exactly but I am going to roll the dice and guess that it isn’t going to be unicorns and rainbows for the CI industry.
I know you are scratching your head saying, “But I make my clients happy.” Well, you are probably right, but there are 950 other “A/V guys” in your town that might not be.
4 Tips to Defeat Trunkslammers
Back to our topic: how to beat trunkslammers.
Now I know the control system manufacturers have been making extra effort to prune their dealer lists to improve the success rate with their end users. This has been a great start in upping the game in our industry but much more needs to be done.
Let’s help your great custom installation company win more projects so clients can get great experiences and our industry can be pulled from the ashes. The key to saving our industry is to get more projects in the right hands — yours.
Tip #1: Don't Assume
You think your very smart client can see what you see and would never hire a knucklehead. They can’t. If I have learned anything, it is that smart rich people throw out all common sense when hiring an integrator. They hire their brother-in-law, they let their office IT guy take a stab at their house, they hire the nice guy who installed some Sonos products for their Mom.
They don’t do due diligence, don’t investigate qualifications, and they don’t act in their own best interest. Here is why: Outside of TVs, they understand nothing in their bid.
This is the tech shopping experience from a client's point to view:
Three separate custom installation guys show up at my jobsite trailer. They all seem like nice guys. They all have a “D-Tools” bid and it all seems like the same stuff. They all seem to know more about technology than I do.
At the end of three interviews, the client is completely confused, overwhelmed, and wants to move on to selecting their bathroom tile. So they ask the builder, ask the designer, ask their Mom, or just simply hire based on price.
They do no meaningful comparison of the companies' talents and do a minimal comparison on how the bids differ. It is maddening.
Never assume they can see that you are better. Tell them why in concrete examples:
- Our firm has won 10 national awards.
- Our firm has 25 years of experience.
- Our employees all have background checks.
- We are licensed.
- Our firm is certified.
- Our firm has 24/7 support.
- Our firm does not work out of a van down by the river.
Point out what makes you different than the guy who hung his shingles last year and specializes in a control system called the Shinwoo 2000 that he concocted in a public storage unit out of a gaming PC and some refurbished Viewsonic touchpanels.
Tip #2: Make Your Proposals and Presentation Materials Look Great
Clients can detect quality. If your presentation is simply a PDF of a D-Tools standard template bid, you are not helping your cause. Any trunkslammer can push one of those out. Make a snazzy document that tells the client what they are really getting. Show them the cake, not the list of ingredients. Sell them and tout your differentiators.
The client also typically checks out your website at least once, so that photo of the silver Fujitsu plasma should be replaced with something slightly more current. Fujitsu TVs make them sad and remind them of the recession.
Post some great new work, and if you don’t have photos, go out and hire a luxury real estate photographer (they work cheap) to grab some photos of your most recent masterpiece.
Their bad iPhone 3 photos of run-of-the-mill jobs in tract homes will not compare to the quality of your installations, rack work, and finish quality. If anything, it lets the client know what types of homes you work on … and what types they work on.
Tip #3: Get Certified!
Get industry certification that shows you have the chops to do custom-integration work. There are several relevant certfications out there from organizations like CEDIA, Home Technology Association and CompTIA.
You would be amazed at how many trunkslammers and even higher level companies are not licensed or insured. It’s madness. When you pass certification you have a powerful weapon against the trunkslammer. When clients hear that there is a standard in our industry they immediately want to make sure the guy they hired has met the standard. They will even pay more to avoid hiring an “uncertified” guy.
The other incredible benefit of being certified is giving that powerful weapon to the builder that loves you but is getting pressure from the client to hire the interior designer’s cousin. When he says, “I only work with certified firms,” he now has a legitimate reason to get you on the job and it shows he is hiring based on standards and not favoritism.
Stop messing around and get certified … if you are good.
Tip #4: Ask Lots of Questions
You are not a trunkslammer. You have a track record. You have been around the block. You know lots of stuff. You are techy.
My advice to you: Shut up and listen to the customer. Don't walk into an interview and start pitching. Ask questions, lots of them. A client will respond more to someone who is interested in what they want and need over the guy who has a great sales pitch (and most sales pitches are pretty terrible).
You will display your expertise through the thoughtful questions you ask. This also gives you an opportunity to talk about your company and what makes it different when they share with you their worries and concerns about installing a technology system.
Trunkslammers pitch, they “show up and throw up.” They typically don't ask great questions and listen to clients. If you do, you will win projects.
Great industries are successful in making clients happy. Since there is almost zero barrier to entry in our business, there are thousands and thousands of bad installations performed every year. We are shooting ourselves in the foot everytime an unworthy company wins a bid against us and botches a job.
Some people think the biggest threats to our industry are Amazon, Apple, and Google. Others think that the commoditization of technology will kill us. These threats pale in comparison to the unhappy consumer. Unhappy consumers don't spend.
Ever heard this from a homeowner? “My last system was a disaster. For this house, let's just install some Sonos and some regular light switches.” Clients love tech, they just hate the experience that a bad company gives them.
So go out and sell. Beat trunkslammers, get certified, and create great looking proposals. Ask questions, don't pitch, and never assume a client knows why you are better.
Eric Thies is principal at DSI Luxury Technology, a home-technology integration company based in in Los Angeles.