Subcontracting, Part 2

Previously, I began an exploration of the relationship between AV pros and subcontractors, and examined ways in which the relationship can work. Now it’s time to consider the converse: when it doesn’t.

We all know that not everything pans out. Silicon Valley old-timer James Altucher famously said, “90 percent of everything doesn’t work out.”

One AV pro I’ve known for years, and done some consulting for told me a story about an instance where subcontracting wasn’t the right solution.

He had been forced to dismiss his operations manager for non-performance and was now facing the reality that the back end of his company was a train wreck: purchase orders not tied to projects, stacks of work orders not signed off on and shelves of hardware with no indication which jobs, if any, they had been ordered for. And that was the good news!

For some time now, he had been utilizing subcontractors on an as-needed basis, and it had worked well. So as a experiment, he sought to hire a contractor as operations manager.

There was one problem: experienced operations managers are hard to come by. After a lengthy search, he took a chance on someone one who had no direct AV experience, but related experience on office management and strong organizational skills. His rationale was that his firm could benefit from experience from outside the industry, and at the same time, his new subcontractor could pick up the details of the AV business on the job.

It wasn’t the right decision and he confided in me that he bore his share of responsibility. For the contracted operations manager, the lack of direct AV experience was a bigger issue than either party anticipated.

When managing projects and allocating materials, not knowing the difference between 14/4 and 16/2 speaker wire impeded the contractor’s ability to be productive.

At the same time, my friend admitted that, having been the sole decision maker for so long, he found it difficult to relinquish enough control to the operations manager to take control of areas of the business in which their expertise would have been the most beneficial.

It’s not easy to foster a relationship between the AV company and subcontractors, and it can take time to find the right partners. Headaches and challenges will happen. Talking to AV pros, their consensus is that the biggest issues are quality control, and availability.

Trusting that your contractor will deliver consistent, quality work is paramount, and that trust takes time to be established. And, as is so often the case, you’re only as good as your last job.

Availability is more difficult to manage. If the contractor is a specialist, and good at what they do, they’re going to be in demand. And if you’re not their only client, their schedule is on their time and not yours. They might not be able to accommodate you when you need them.

More than one AV pro has confessed to me that one of the reasons they’re wary of relying too heavily on contractors is the worry that by outsourcing too much they stop being at the center of the project. They don’t want to risk being perceived by clients and their peers as less about what they know, but who they know.

That said, I’ve known a few successful AV pros who haven’t run full-service shops, but have been in essence a design and project management service, relying heavily on contractors to complete even very large projects.

It’s definitely possible to make the arrangement work and we’ll explore that in more depth next time.