Who Is Our Competition Anyway?

overhead-0513In my 18th year as part of this industry called AV, I am truly amazed at what has become of this great field we are in.  While I have not been around as long as many of you, I still remember the days of the shoot outs. Not with projectors mind you, but with the real deal high lumen Dukane or 3M overhead projectors and those light sapping LCD panels.  Remember those appointments?  Suit and tie, 25-pound overhead projector, 6- to 8-pound LCD panels, my (company shared) sweet 640×480 resolution laptop, power strip, retractable trolley and that forever set up time. Did I mention any sweat? Well, at least you could still make some margin on those products.  My, how times have changed. At least back then I used to have an idea of who my competition was.

Who were we? We were, and still are, what you would consider a traditional AV systems integrator.  Now, that by no means indicates we have been stagnant in our ways. The traditional integrators, if they are worth their salt, have taken cues from the customers and realize the adaptations to their demands are crucial to being a viable partner. What do those demands look like? Well, we have to give credit to Apple here because they have clutched the consumers’ minds and given them the “Easy” button. “Why can’t I make this boardroom work like I do things at my house? I don’t get what’s so hard about this stuff.”

This certainly doesn’t help those of us who have been out preaching to the construction industry for all these years pleading for them not to forget about the AV contractor. Yes, we are contractors and we do have to meet with HVAC contractors, millworkers, architects, designers and furniture vendors, etc. to ensure we are fully integrated into the process. I still believe many times we are known as the “Addendum Kings” because someone forgot about the importance of our place in the process. Excuse me, Mr. or Ms. Customer, this business is just not that simple.

Now, throw in the whole AV/IT convergence that’s happened over the last five-plus years, analog to digital learning curves, HDCP, SaaS offerings and on and on. If you think this is so simple, then why are we hearing of companies like ours closing their doors? Say what you will, this is one tough industry to succeed in.

chess-0513We are now going to get to the meat of this diatribe. Admittedly, many traditional AV systems integrators have done a nice job with the transitions required to stay relevant in the industry. I’d like to believe our firm is one of those companies. When you visit the traditional AV websites, you understand right away what they are all about. The new challenge we face as the traditional integrator is the “not knowing” who our competition is these days. Ten years ago, you knew who you were battling against when in those wonderful bid situations. Or at least you knew what ball field to go to. Let’s take a quick look at what the landscape looks like now…

“Yeah, we do AV.”

Electrical Companies: How many of you have come up against the electrical contractors? Gary Kayye’s “We’re Under Attack By… The Electrical Unions” article on December 4, 2012 made me laugh out loud at the time. Now, having run into several instances of electrical companies winning some of the lower-end work, the article isn’t so much as funny as it has real potential to damage the market place. I have also heard of some electrical firms purchasing AV companies. Go ahead and look up some of your local big electrical firms and see how long it takes you to find where they talk about their AV capabilities. It might not even be mentioned on their website but in competitive situations you should be aware some will say, “Yeah, we do AV.” Some of the work you’ll run across clearly proves they haven’t read or are aware of InfoComm’s AV Best Practices: The Design & Integration Process for the AV and Construction Industries book. Even better, our firm recently lost a project that had roughly $23,000 our cost into the equipment part of the bid. The winning bidder was almost at the cost of the equipment for the bid. Yep, you guessed it: An electrical firm came in with the victory. Checked out their website and they don’t show the qualifications to handle this type of work.

Furniture Dealers: We all know furniture dealers have long been selling sound masking projects. We now need to be on the lookout for these competitors. People care about furniture in the early planning stages of a project.   This provides a nice advantage for those incorporating AV integration within their offerings. There’s a reason the Office Environment of New England made the acquisitions it did in 2010/2011. You know them now as Red Thread.

Low Voltage, Network and Cabling Companies: This is an area where I expected much of the new competition to come from. The fast emergence of running all signal types over Cat cable and parking systems on the network made this arena one I think most people are aware of.

Digital Signage Solutions Companies: I have to say Mr. Kayye was on this one early. Everybody and their former roommate’s third cousin are competing in the signage arena.

lorenesposito-0513The competitive landscape is changing and there are so many types of companies now saying, “Yeah, we do AV.” Some are not so hot and some seem to be pretty successful. Just remember to ask a few more questions when you are out trying to separate your company from the pack. Dig deeper to really know who your competition is. Tout your certifications (CTS, CTS-D, CTS-I, AMX Ace, Crestron Certified Programmer and any other manufacturer certifications) and let the customer know it’s not always as easy as it appears. Understanding who you are competing against may just save you time and money on the projects that aren’t right for you. Would love to hear some of your thoughts on this trend and how the traditional AV companies should be looking at the future.

Loren Esposito is a senior account executive at Graybow Communications. Reach him at lsposito@Graybow.com