AV People: Ike Eckstein of Visual Word Systems

ikeeckstein-0214Forty-two-year AV industry veteran Ike Eckstein is one of those rare breeds who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, isn’t afraid to work overtime, and believes in the core value of taking care of your customers.

“I never wrote a resume in my life,” said Ike as he recalled his early days in the industry. “While I was in my junior year of college at Pace University, I was living in Queens and worked part time at a bank as a stock boy. I’d ride the subway every day and I’d stand on the same platform and nod at the same people day in and day out.

“This one day I see this woman who I would see regularly and she asked me if I was looking for a job. I told her, ‘Yeah.’ And that’s how I got my first AV job. I was an AV salesperson making $150 a week.”

Ike worked at an AV company for nine years. This was during the time of word processors and eight inch floppy discs – before the days of PCs and laptops. After nine years, Ike and his colleague Ed Boyle left the company to start their own — Visual Word Systems.

“I’d schlep around equipment on the subway going from company to company selling wireless remote controls for slide projectors and portable 8mm cartridge film projectors,” said Ike. “At the time our business was 80 percent sales and 20 percent rentals, but the major players began offering many of the same products at a lower price and suddenly I began to see the writing on the wall… I had to make a business decision, I can b*tch and complain [about the major players] or I can change the way I do business.”

So Ike decided to change the way he did business flipping Visual Word’s model to an 80 percent rental and 20 percent sales company.

As Ike and Ed have been in business over the years, Ike has continued to run his business on a few basic principles that he commits himself to.

“These basic business principles are really so simple that they just work. And they are in no particular order,” he says. “First, everyone talks about it… customer service. We’re not in the AV industry, we’re in the customer service industry. It’s all about making sure the customer is taken care of.

“Second, give people a straight answer. All answers are black or white, not gray. It’s either yes or not. So many people fib and refuse to tell the truth, that’s just not good practice.

“And third, strong financials. Be able to pay your bills. If I call up a manufacturer or rep firm and I say I want to buy 50 of this or 50 of that, the rep will give me a price. But, if I have bad credit, he’s not going to go the extra yard to give me a deal.

“The hardest part of any industry [any job] is being a business man. Many, many people have gone out of business simply because they’re not good business people.”

Ike’s seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the business side of the industry. He’s seen the mistakes that other’s have made, including ones he has made, and worked tirelessly to make them right and learn from them.

Ike is a character and he knows it. Oftentimes his business practices may seem unorthodox or out of the ordinary, but it works for him. It’s what makes Ike tick.

Visual Word, for example, does not have voicemail.

He’s asked all the time: “But how do you survive?”

“Because we are a small company,” he says, “and so after six rings, if nobody answers the phone, the call automatically goes to my personal cell phone. If it’s after 6 p.m., I still answer the phone.”

It’s that part of his business model that has helped to make such a small company located in the heart of Manhattan so successful. He’s there at any time, day or night for his customers and for that, his customers never forget him and he creates loyal customers for life. He’s proud of the fact that they can work all year round. “I am Jewish and my business partner is Catholic,” he joked. “So we can work on Rosh Hashanah and Christmas.”

Ike isn’t afraid of taking on challenges either. Finding solutions to problems, any problem, is what fuels him. He often partners with other rental and staging companies to get the job done. For the last three years, Visual Word provided an LED truck for the annual Fourth of July Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest that takes place at Coney Island in Brooklyn.

Outside of the industry, Ike is a family man with a storied background. His parents are Holocaust survivors.

“[My parents] escaped from Poland and went to Paris, France where they lived for three years. They had to stay there and wait to get the proper paperwork and then they went to Canada,” he says.

Ike was born in Montreal, Canada (he likes to say how he can never run for President of the United States), then moved to Queens, New York and now calls New Jersey home.

His wife of 38 years, Lynn, is a Juilliard graduate and a classical pianist. They have a son, Brad and a daughter, Danielle. Ike loves his family, loves his life and loves enjoying the little things. But at the end of the day, he loves what he does for a living.

“I’m here to be profitable [in this business],” he said. “That’s the key. It’s not how much you bill a year, it’s how much you make a year. I want to know how much profit there was. I want to take care of my customers. I want to do good business.”

As he says, Ike may be a character, but he’s one incredibly smart, savvy and knowledgable character and many businesses can learn a thing or eight from him. Check out his website Visual Word System – Save Your @$$ AV.