New Year, New Era

crewwcall21

crewwcall2 Well, here we are again. And, yes, just like every year I have used last years date. It will take me until February before I get used to typing “2011.” It’s the beginning of another year, one that will certainly change our portion of this little industry. But, then again, to some degree they all do.

However, I wonder if to some extent we are underestimating the level of change that this particular economic cycle is bringing to our business. Because a lot of the discussion I hear is prediction (guessing) about when we will return to “normal.”

My guess is “never.”

I think that many of the changes in the way our clients do things right now are not going to be temporary measures. I think that the new ways of working, and especially purchasing, that we are excusing as signs of the temporary economic times are going to become very permanent changes.

Now, I’m not saying the AV rental and staging industry is done — far from it. But I am saying that we are going to have to redefine what “normal” means if we are ever going to get back to it.

What is the new “normal” going to look like? Well, I suspect it will be different for different people. Because we are all going to have to explore a different mix of business and probably redefine our companies in many ways. And, for those of us who choose to evolve, it will be a good thing. There is a word I use for companies who are just trying to hold on until the times get better. I call them “history.”

So what are the changes I think will produce the “new normal”?

Less Travel

This isn’t a temporary restriction. While it was accelerated by the economic times, companies and other organizations were already headed there. Travel has gotten more expensive as fuel prices and taxes have risen, the wasted time is more expensive as personnel costs have grown — but most of all, it isn’t green. And it isn’t coming back. Travel will be increasingly restricted, meaning the “get everybody together for one big meeting” thing is going to decline. It will never go away completely, but there will be a LOT less of it.

More expense justification

Look folks, a LOT of easy money vanished from our economy. It didn’t just become more expensive, it VANISHED. This means that, for the foreseeable future, expenses of all types will be scrutinized more carefully. ESPECIALLY expenses that might look frivolous to the bailout-burdened public or the beleaguered stockholders. That means that, while the meetings might be big sometimes, they will be going out of their way to justify budgets – and not LOOK flashy.

Smaller, more dispersed project teams/smaller buildings/more telecommuters

Big spaces cost big money. They are expensive to buy, expensive to rent, expensive to maintain, expensive to heat – and no matter what you do, are potentially less “green” than smaller spaces. Combine this with the ease of information distribution and communication by network, and you reach some inevitable conclusions. Corporate headquarters and facilities are going to be smaller, with less people in each one, so conferences — and conference spaces, are going to get smaller.

“New” purchasing methods

Multiple bids, open bids, silent internet auctions, cost+ pricing… I’ve heard friends complain for months abut the things their “loyal” clients were having to do to them during this “temporary” period. Guess what? It isn’t temporary. New methods of communication, especially the Internet-enabled ones, have created a situation of the perfect storm — new methods combined with necessities. And they’re working. By the time we come out of this recession, they will be as “normal” as the fax machine, and faxed bids and changes, became during the last one.

So, in my humble opinion (I get paid by the word, so I don’t use Internet contractions like “IMHO”), these changes reflect a permanent alteration of our mutual business lifestyle.

So, at the beginning of the year, I made a couple of resolutions. And, this year, I’m going to try to keep them (although the “handwritten thank you cards” thing last year lasted almost as long as the last time I quit smoking).

My Resolutions:

  • I will not use the past as a model for the future, either in how my business is offered, or in who the partners and clients are.
  • I will attempt at all times to make obsolete my own products and services – before somebody else inevitably does it for me.

I think, this year more than any year I can remember, we’re all going to be re-inventing ourselves. We’ve done it before – and, despite the pain, and the organizations that joined the dodo, we thrived on it. It made us different, introduced new ideas and services, and created a great period of overall prosperity for the rental portion of the industry (even if some of it was at the expense of our brethren on the sales side of the house).

Bring it on.

joel-2011rAVe Rental [and Staging] contributor Joel R. Rollins, CTS-R, is General Manager of Everett Hall Associates, Inc. and is well known throughout the professional AV industry for his contributions to industry training and his extensive background in AV rental, staging and installation. Joel can be reached at Joel can be reached at joelrollins@mac.com