|Posted on December 19, 2013 at 12:35 AM|
“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.
As 2013 winds to a close, it seems fitting to look back and see how the year treated the three of us: us the individual, us the company, and us the industry. Are we better off as 2013 draws to a close and are we still moving forward?
I came to custom installation with absolutely no background in the industry. At 28 years of age, I was leaving my previous career after eight years as a golf professional and hopefully starting a new endeavor that would allow me to support myself and my wife and hopefully have some fun while doing it. (People ask how we ended up in Myrtle Beach from Northern California. The truth is partly because this is the golf capital of the world and offered a safety net, fallback plan in case this whole custom install thing didn’t work out...)
My timing was fortuitous in that I started with my company, Custom Theater and Audio, in 1998. This was right on the cusp of the booster rockets being engaged and things really taking off, and started a long period of explosive growth period for the custom installation industry.
It was a perfect storm of growth for our industry; construction starts were off the charts, the economy was booming and flat panel and HDTV was just being launched. While President Herbert Hoover may have promised a chicken in every pot, CEDIA installers were delivering TVs in every room. And for my first 10 years at the company our sales numbers looked like the launch angle of a high, soft-fade 9 iron. Or “/” for you non-golfers. Every year was significantly up over the last, and we had as many jobs as we could handle.
But then 2008 hit and, well, things changed. And they changed fast, and not in a good way. And for the past few years we’ve been riding the dark side of that inverted-V and, like many of you, have been trying to figure out the best way for our company to change and adapt and move forward.
In our area of the country—the Grand Strand of South Carolina—things appear to be back on the uptick. We are seeing some new construction again. We are seeing an increase in upscale remodels. And we are having an up year that hopefully won’t turn out to be a dead cat bounce (it’s a Wall Street term.) In fact, we’re in the midst of the biggest job in our company’s history (you can follow the latest installment of my coverage of that project here).
During slow periods, our goal was to do whatever it took to keep the doors open, to keep moving forward, basically to survive until the economy picked up again. For us, that meant branching out into doing security and fire system installations to offer another revenue path. We really went after those “small” service calls of hanging TVs purchased at Best Buy, Costco, Wal-Mart, and Amazon. We embraced Sonos and started doing a lot of quick two- and three-zone audio installs and adding Sonos to our legacy systems to provide iPhone controls and streaming audio options. We started showing soundbars, in three different price levels, in our showroom and went after those add-on sales. I tell my installers all the time that a truck out on the road is a truck out making money, and a truck in the driveway is a truck that isn’t doing anything.
As an industry, it seems like things are looking up as well. Not only was attendance up at CEDIA EXPO this year, but the show had a more upbeat vibe and feel to it. Walking down the aisles, people seemed… happy. And it wasn’t just the free beer in the afternoon! There was an optimism that had been missing from recent shows. Both manufacturers and installers alike seemed to have a positive outlook about where things were headed.