Diversifying Your Business With Multiple Income Streams

church audioOne of the most important things you can learn in business is to not put all of your eggs in one basket.  This can range from having multiple suppliers for parts and equipment, establishing relationships with a wide range of industry leaders in your area, and even looking outside of traditional income sources for stable sources of revenue.

Boom Times

The housing market in the U.S. is currently in a  boom time.  But just 6 years ago we were in one of the worst recessions this country has ever seen.  Right now many dealers are just struggling to keep up with the amount of work that is coming in.  It hardly seems like the ideal time to start researching new potential markets, but if you find yourself (and your business) are beholden to the residential home theater and home automation market, it might be wise to start looking into other options should the good times come to an end.

Many of the indicators that were rearing their heads back in 2006 and 2007 are starting to appear again.  Easy credit over the last few years has spurred an unsustainable amount of building in many of the same towns that experienced the worst downturns.  Unfortunately, the housing market is generally the last to see these moves.  Much of this is due to the long time frames involved in developing and building properties.

Alternative Income Streams

Many residential dealers and integrators got their start in the commercial side of the industry.  Corporate conference rooms, meeting halls, and other spaces are always a great source of consistent revenue.  They require regular maintenance and a schedule of upgrades to ensure that they have the latest technologies for presentations and events.

Another lesser known market is that of houses of worship.  Churches have significant needs when it comes to audio and video systems.  It is crucial that all of their members are able to clearly see and hear all that is going on during a service.  The buildings themselves are often a significant challenge in this regard.  While they are beautifully designed, churches can sometimes be a nightmare in terms of acoustics.  Older churches in particular contain many different types of hard surfaces that can wreak havoc with an audio system.  That’s not to say that these challenges can’t be overcome, they just require some creative engineering.

In terms of a learning curve, you will most likely want to hire a technician with some experience in this industry before attempting to tackle your first job.  The equipment differences between residential and church systems are significant.  Typically you will be dealing with professional audio equipment that most of your technicians will have never seen in dealing with home audio.

A Different Sales Approach

Selling in the houses of worship market can often present it’s own set of challenges as well.  While a homeowner or a business typically has a single decision maker, a church will oftentimes rely  upon a panel or committee to make purchasing decisions.  Many times the decision will need to be put before a the congregation as a whole.

This means that you might be called upon to answer questions from those that have very little experience in the world of audio.  Patience is the rule of the day in these sorts of meetings.  Have your answers prepared ahead of time and give them as much time as they need to ensure that everyone finds out what they need to know.  A few patrons can often cause a stink and delay the entire process if you’re not careful.

If you can clearly and succinctly address their concerns by laying out the benefits of the system you are proposing, and how it addresses their concerns, you will quickly allay their fears, allowing the process to move forward.  Oftentimes the biggest difficulty in selling church sound systems is assuring the congregation and the leaders of the church that the installation will not negatively impact the look of the church.  Just keep in mind that this is their sanctuary and many of them think of it as their home.

That being said, many of today’s technologies, such as lighting control, can help to enhance the beauty and energy efficiency of a church.  This is another powerful selling point when attempting to close the deal.

Start Looking Now

Boom times are the most difficult to manage.  The last thing most integrators need right now is to take on another market.  But preparing for a housing downturn now can help you stabilize your income, and help you sleep better at night knowing that all of your eggs are NOT in one basket.

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Can Automation Help Your Business Make More Money?

saving moneyHome technology integrators live in an increasingly complex world.  When home audio first started technicians needed to know about one thing: Audio.  Now many high end audio dealers and home theater installation teams are also installing home automation systems.  But does diving into home automation make sense for all integrators?

Making the Leap

Many integrators that started out as audio only dealers find themselves in a totally different business from which they started.  While audio equipment can be finicky and difficult to setup, once the ins and outs are learned you can count on a relatively stable installation that is easy to rinse and repeat. Continue Reading →

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Can Home Automation Offer True Energy Savings?

home automation savingsMuch has been said about making newer homes more energy efficient.  Improvements in HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) technology, solar panels (especially here in Southern California), insulation materials and techniques, and water heaters have all brought serious cost savings to homeowners.  And while some of these systems may take years to pay for themselves, many can pay themselves off in less than five years.  Home automation systems have also been touted to help improve the overall efficiency of houses.  But how do they stack up

What is Home Automation?

There are plenty of terms that are thrown around in the world of smart home technologies, but what makes a home both smart and automated?  It starts with a control system that connects the various and otherwise separate systems within the home. Typically lighting, audio-video, HVAC, pool and spa control, and alarm system would all be included in an automation system.

The capability to control all of these systems from one location such as a touch panel, iPad, or your smart phone creates a great deal of convenience for the homeowner.  And for many this is enough to justify the cost.

Tying all of these systems together can also make them even more efficient.  One example might be in controlling your heating and cooling costs.  A smart home system can detect whether or not a room is occupied and adjust the temperature accordingly.  It can also turn off the lights in that room after a certain length of time with no activity.  This offers a cost savings across two different systems.

Another interesting example might be your hot tub.  Let’s say you’re going out of town for a couple of weeks.  One of the more popular features in an automated home is “Away” feature.  When you leave your home you set your status to “Away”.  This automatically puts the lights onto a schedule to make it look like someone is home.  It turns the air conditioning to a minimal setting, and ensures that your hot tub is turned off.  This can represent a significant cost savings in gas or electricity.

Lighting Efficiency

In a home with standard lighting you typically have two choices for a light.  On and off.  With a lighting control system you can preset each lighting circuit to come on at a specified level.  This means instead of running your lights at 100% all of the time, you can run them at 75% instead.  This represents a 25% cost savings over time.  And since lights are something that are used all of the time, this can add up.

In addition to added efficiency, you can add convenience features as well.  Pressing a single button on a keypad next to your bed that turns off all of the lights in the house can save you time and frustration.  The system can even be programmed to leave certain lights on in the case of small children in the house.

Integrating the lighting system with your alarm can cause all of the lights to quickly turn on in the case of an emergency or break-in.  This can be a life-saver in a town like Los Angeles where home invasions are an unfortunate reality.

True Cost Savings?

So do home automation systems offer true cost savings over time?  When they are properly installed and integrated they most certainly can.  Most systems are quite expensive, but if well designed and implemented the system should pay for itself in 5 to 6 years.  For more information on home automation systems check out some of these manufacturers:  Crestron, Control4, and Savant.

A company with a proven track record in the LA and Orange County area is Home Automation Los Angeles.  Their systems are designed to enhance your enjoyment of your home as well as improve it’s overall efficiency.

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Control System Showdown, Crestron vs Savant

savant touchscreen remoteFor nearly a decade Crestron ruled the world of home automation.  They have a long history of highly innovative products and beautifully designed interfaces.  In fact the home automation would not be where it is today without the continued hard work of this impressive group of engineers.  But one big complaint among both dealers and customers was that programming the systems was far too complicated and time consuming.  These costs can quickly balloon out of control, wrecking the budget for an entire project.

Savant stepped into the industry with the intent of capitalizing on this dissatisfaction with many of Crestron’s products.  Rather than designing all of their hardware from the ground up like Crestron, they offered products that were based upon existing hardware.  They utilized Apple processors rather than designing their own processors.  They also integrated Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPad as their controls and touch panels.  This was a brilliant move as it offered an extremely stable platform integrated into one of the best user interfaces ever designed.

The Differences

When it comes to customization Crestron is the king of the hill.  Their systems can be designed to do practically anything.  From the user interface to the hardware behind it, everything can be dialed in to exacting specifications.  It is completely up to the integrator to determine the best way to program a particular system.  And so long as they designed the system properly within the specifications that Crestron sets forth, they would end up with a relatively stable system.

Savant’s system is designed more around a standard template.  They have far fewer equipment SKU’s.  The user interface graphics are generally per-determined.  There is some customization that is possible, but for the most part there is very little work that needs to be done on the graphics side.  Rather than having to learn a difficult programming interface, the Savant system is more work flow oriented.  In this respect it is very similar to Control4.  While it doesn’t offer unlimited customization, it does offer enough to fulfill most clients needs

How This Plays out for Dealers

When it comes to designing and installing home theaters and home automation systems, the more variables you can remove from the process the more smoothly the project will go.  While the customization of a Crestron system can be a big advantage for a dealer that is staffed to properly roll out implementations, those that don’t understand the time and money investment required to train a staff in this process can end up losing a great deal of money.

Let’s look at an example.  Dealer X is performs home theater installations in Orlando, FL.  He want’s to pick up Crestron as a product line because they offer high margins and very elegant products.  The problem is he has no one on staff that can program these systems.

The skills needed to install and calibrate high end home theater equipment are not the same as those needed by a programmer.  So the dealer may end up having to hire someone, or outsource the programming of the system.  This all costs money.  And on top of all this when you are unfamiliar with bidding programming work, it’s difficult to price a proposal properly to account for all of this time.

If anything goes wrong on the installation from a programming perspective it’s not difficult to imagine that your programming budget can quickly explode beyond what you originally proposed.  Client’s don’t want to pay for this additional time, so often the dealer ends up eating the cost.

On the other hand, for dealers that have the appropriate processes in place, Crestron can be a very elegant solution for just about any home automation need.

A Savant system on the other hand is more cookie cutter.  It still requires training a programmer on how to configure the system.  But the amount of time involved is significantly reduced.  This makes estimating programming time much easier.  It still offers enough customization to satisfy most customers, while enabling the dealer to still make their usual profit margin on the job.

So Which is Best?

This is a difficult question to answer.  For the dealer that is willing to establish procedures on how systems should be programmed and accurately tracking change orders Crestron offers the most flexibility by far.  Their products and support are second to none in the home automation industry.

But for dealers that want to offer home automation products without having to implement major changes in personnel and processes Savant could very well be the best choice.

Here’s a video highlighting some of the features of a Savant system.

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A Home Theater Installation that is a Step Above

home theater seatingWhen it comes to home theaters and home automation systems people can go pretty over the top.  From theaters that cost well over one million dollars, to smart homes that allow you to control and monitor every aspect of your residence there are no limits to what you can do with today’s technology.

All of this is well and good.  But when it comes to anything technology related, service is the key.  And for those that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these types of systems they expect nothing but the best.

This is why selecting the right contractor to handle your installation is crucial.  It’s not just about getting the latest and greatest equipment or the biggest screen that can fit into a room.

More than anything it’s about getting exactly the right system, installed in a way that makes it both enjoyable, easy to use and reliable.

Enjoying Your Investment

Getting enjoyment from your investment is crucial to ensuring you feel you got your money’s worth.  If you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a system that has lots of bugs and issues you will very quickly begin to feel your money was not well spent.  This is obviously the worst case scenario.

A good way to avoid this situation is to seek out references from each of the potential home theater contractors from whom you are requesting bids.

Specific questions to ask would be:

Is the system easy to use?  Is the system reliable?  Does it perform all of the functions on which you were originally sold?  How are service or maintenance issues handled?  Is the company timely with service requests?

Getting good responses on all of these is crucial to understanding the philosophy of the business you are about to hire.

Easy Peasy

While it might sound completely logical that a home control system should be easy to use, oftentimes they are anything but.  We are accustomed to devices such as iPhones and iPads that have very intuitive user interfaces.

Make sure you are allowed to touch and use the same interface or controller that will be used in your home before you make your purchase.  This is key to getting everything you’ve paid for out of your system.  There’s nothing worse than having to explain to your wife why you spent thousands of dollars on a remote that doesn’t work.

Reliability Is Key

A reliable system is one that works day in and day out with very little maintenance.  But let’s not confuse little with none.

These are electronics and often times they fail.  But an installation company should have a line of products with which they are intimately familiar and that offers consistent performance.

When installed and configured properly under the right conditions these products should last for years and years.

Having the latest and greatest bleeding edge technology is often not all it’s cracked up to be.  You want something that has a proven track record that is going to operate the way you expect it to every time.

A solid installation company should help you design a great system that gives you years of enjoyment.  One such company in Florida is Innovative Sight & Sound.  They have offices in Tampa, Destin, and Charleston.  The link to their Tampa website is http://beinnovative.com/locations/10600/Tampa-Office

And although their Charleston office is brand new, they are already providing high end custom home theater systems in this area.  You can find the Charleston website here http://beinnovative.com/locations/11894/Charleston-Home-Theater-and-Automation

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