Custom integrator vs. big-box retailer

Many homeowners are installing $10,000 to $20,000 HDTV plasma systems with surround sound in houses starting below $200,000. The biggest problem many home builders are facing is choosing an audio/visual installation company that will be able to work within budgets for any price range, yet still offer the high-end components at the end of the day. 

Structured wiring has become a buzzword for home builders, but they use it as a sales tool rather than a source for additional revenue. Many of us have had our reputation damaged by working with inferior integration contractors who fail to perform. As a result, our clients will go to big-box retailers because they do not have any other resources to educate them on the benefits of new technology.

In general, I view competition as good for the industry. I don’t mind putting my integration firm up against any other small firm or any of the big-box retailers. My job is not to compete head-to-head from a price standpoint: it is to educate my clients and offer solutions from the first preconstruction meeting until we are performing follow-up customer service. Most people want quality over quantity and would prefer a long-term relationship over being just another invoice to a big-box store. 

The person who negotiates and beats up their car salesman to the last penny will always think that the car dealership made too much money. But the person who has had the car demonstrated properly and the features thoroughly explained will usually pay more. This person was educated and will rest easy that he made the right decision for years to come and usually will turn to the same dealership or salesperson when he is ready for a new purchase.

Building professionals should consider partnering with companies that understand this concept. I would rather work with builders that appreciate my quality and become the main resource for his clients for years to come because I know that the services my integration firm can provide cannot be matched by any big-box retailer. I also have been working on the education and sales for six months to well over a year, and I should have prepared my client for the expenses that will surface throughout the design, construction and finishing stages. 

The integration firm has an advantage of being selected by the builder and coming with the house. I ask every builder I work with to do a pitch for all of my services and “recommend” that his clients utilize them because of our past performance. But this benefit has to be earned. 

The simple fact is that absent of a resource, people will seek one out and listen to anyone who will talk to them. When the salesperson is only concerned about his commission and not the actual needs of the client, the client and the job will suffer and reflect poorly on everyone involved. As a builder, I do not ever want a third party that had no involvement in the house critiquing my prewire or room dimensions or speaker locations for a surround-sound system. This is the common method a big-box or sub-par audio/visual company will use to appear as an expert. Their best sales tool is preying on the ignorance of our clients and coming in with a low price, then blaming the integrator or builder for wiring the house incorrectly to justify change orders they propose to their client.

Better opportunities for satisfaction exist by developing a long-term partnership with a quality company. This may include building a team of an electrician, a security company and an audio/visual salesperson from an integration firm or big-box retailer. The only way to avoid problems is to get the team involved early and educate the clients so nobody can come in and critique your work. The home technology industry is the most rapidly growing sector of home building and if you utilize your team as a value-added resource, you will be prepared for success?

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