AV Matters Header Orange 600

May 2012 - Vol 7, Issue 5
Quick Links
Welcome Back!
I don't produce AV Matters on any kind of a schedule other than it's monthly. To that end, this is probably the pre-InfoComm issue. But who knows? The show is barely four weeks away and there's a good chance I will have more to talk about before we head to Las Vegas.

The early response on the R&S Business Metric Survey has been excellent. If you did not receive an invite to participate and feel that your company should, then please email me. Participants receive a free evaluation of their companies' results.

InfoComm hosts a lot of informative free webinars. I have been privileged to co-host two that were presented by Frank Coker from Corelytics and are now online. We discuss how to apply financial trends data in order to make better decisions.

I am forgoing this month's Best Practices column to talk about InfoComm. This is the bellwether event for our industry and if the wild success of the ISE show in Amsterdam is any indication, then this year's InfoComm should be the biggest ever. Let's talk about how to keep the event relevant for you.  


Thanks for Reading,
Tom Stimson
Stimson Group Logo 09

View my profile on LinkedIn Find me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter
Survey R&S Business Metric Survey
Free and Easy Financial Benchmarks for Rental-Stagers
One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, "Are my business results normal?" It's an important question that is difficult to get answered in niche industries like audiovisual event staging and production rentals. The cost and trouble of major industry-wide studies just doesn't make sense for this segment, but we have an alternative: Focus on the key metrics and only compare them to other rental-based companies in the live event space.
2010 survey result
Sample from 2010 Results

The Stimson Group is providing a free opportunity to get reference metrics for your unique business segment. All you need to do is share some percentages and indicate the general size of your company. For everyone that also provides their contact information, I will personally prepare a report on how your results compare with companies of similar size and profit level. If you participated in last year's survey, then your report will include last year's results in your analysis. It's all free and confidential. No company names are shared with anyone.

What will you learn? We segment results by company revenue and average things like net profit, capex, depreciation, subrentals, direct labor, revenue per employee, and the split between dry hire rentals and production. We also gather growth, capex planning, and confidence data to create indexes for this year's growth. We analyze the trends behind these numbers then we look at where your company fits in. Not bad for a few minutes of your time.

Why do I do this? If you follow my magazine columns or AV Matters newsletter, you know that I talk about industry trends and how they affect your business. This survey data helps me track relevant issues for Rental-Stagers. For the past six years I have collected data that I know helps my clients and colleagues make better decisions for their businesses. I share this information in consolidated form with anyone that needs it. The more folks that participate, the better the results. It's a ton of work for me, but the results pay off all year.

Ready to submit? Email me for your link to the survey. Only one per company please.

InfoComm 2012
IC2012 InfoComm '12 Registration - Don't Wait Till the Last Minute
Tom Stimson to present two business seminars

InfoComm 2012 Registration is open and many classes sell out, so register as soon as you can. The Conference is June 9-15 and Exhibits are June 13-15. I will be presenting my Survival Kit series again this year. I start from scratch by listing the top challenges and solutions seen in my consulting practice the past year. My sessions are always lively and I will work very hard to keep you engaged and entertained with real life stories and business anecdotes. You will bring home ideas that you can put to work on Monday. What more could you ask for?

Systems Integration Business Survival Kit
IS066 - Thursday, 6/14/2011 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM 
Completely new every year!
This course will present real challenges and applied solutions for systems integration and contracting companies. In this session we will redefine the enterprise sale, explore practical diversification and how it affects sales and operations, and the Top Ten ways that
Being Cheap hurts your bottom line.

Rental & Staging Business Survival Kit
IS067 - Thursday, 6/14/2011 12:30PM - 2:00PM
Completely new every year!  
This course will present real challenges and applied solutions for rental and staging companies. This year we will take an updated look at job costing and commissions, how to make money at project management, and the Top Ten out-of-control costs in staging companies.

InfoComm Preview
What to Listen for at InfoComm    
The language of AV Integration is changing. Are you? 

My first InfoComm was in New Orleans in (I believe) 1991. To put it in perspective, we flew from Dallas to New Orleans in the morning, walked the floor until we had covered everything, ate a great lunch, and flew home. Back in those days, we carried purchase orders with us and wrote them on the spot. Often we bought gear right off the floor and had it shipped to us after the show. I believe Kodak was still the biggest booth.

Twenty years later and I still run into some of the same folks, and too often I find that their game plan for the show has not changed over the years: Show up, walk the floor, maybe attend an event or party, go home. This is more true of Stagers than Integrators, but too many companies are not getting their money's worth out of the trip. InfoComm is an event that influences an entire industry. If you don't pick up on the year's important trends, your company will fall further and further behind.

Systems Integrators: Who Should Attend?
In years past I would have said that the most important people that needed to come to the show were management and lead designers (engineers) in that order. My list now starts with Business Development followed by Designers and Programmers, then Lead Techs, Management, and lastly Sales. The reason Biz Dev is now at the top of the list is twofold: First, there are a lot of end-customers at the show including many of your own. Send your Biz Dev folks to ensure your clients get some attention. Second, understanding technology trends is mission-critical for Biz Dev personnel. Engineers may focus on what can be done now, but customers want to know where things are headed.

I think it is always important for Designers to attend because they of all people need to accept that technology is changing and that should influence their designs. Too many companies are stuck in the same old design paradigms of black boxes and over-engineered solutions. The reason I would send Programmers is that one day soon (maybe already) they will be more important than Design Engineers. Programmers are the real face of your company and your control interface will probably determine whether or not a customer will ever work with you again. In addition, customer expectations of system capabilities and user interfaces are changing much faster than the typical Integrator's solutions. Programmers deal with these requests everyday and can help discover better ways to serve your clients.

What Should You Do There?
Divide and Conquer. As a company you have four missions: 1. Simplify your business relationships, 2. Modernize your designs, 3. Address the needs of your customers, and 4. Get educated. This year my recommendation to Management is to focus on item1 by objectively examining all of your dealership lines and noting how much redundancy and overlap there is in the products you use. Challenge your Design team to eliminate product lines, agree on standardized solutions, and reduce the number of SKU's you put into systems. Think about the real cost of maintaining too many manufacturer relationships, the expense of designing every project from scratch, and the risk of not having standardized solutions. Your purchasing and accounting departments will agree with me.

Designers and Programmers should focus on new technology in an effort to eliminate boxes from system design (item 2). This year pay particular attention to trends in audio-video bridging (AVB) products and ask manufacturers how they are incorporating HDBaseT technology. Your goal is to be 100% IP-based, which means eliminating a lot of tired, traditional solutions. This is as technical as I get, but trust me - your clients (hint: the IT Managers and their bosses) are amazed that AV can't do these things consistently well.

Business Development should learn about the future. Your job is to represent your customers' biggest pains (item 3). End-users are asking for simpler systems that work all the time. Technology Managers are faced with BYOD (bring your own device) issues every day. Everyone wants to know why they can't use their smart phone to turn on the system. What can your company do to solve those problems? In addition, there are some great seminars that will help open your eyes to possibilities. And when you find yourself sucked in to a product demo on the exhibit floor, ask the expert how this technology will be relevant in five years. The customer relationships your are building now really care about the future.

Anyone else that attends should be at InfoComm primarily for item 4, Education. Lead techs need to be in technical classes on ANYTHING related to networks. Have your techs earned their CTS-I yet? What are you waiting for? Look at all the initials behind your client's name now. IT Managers have more certifications on their own than many AV companies have in total. If you can't figure out how to free up field personnel for training, then YOU need to attend one of my Business Survival Kit seminars!

Stagers: A Quick Strategy
I know a lot of Stagers feel like they get short shrift at InfoComm, but they aren't paying enough attention. If you are not bringing technical staff, then your company is missing out on a great opportunity. There are many relevant courses, demos, and exhibits that your team needs to attend. Stagers have the best networking event (Rental & Staging Forum, Awards, and Reception) and there is even a cool Super Tuesday Session on interactive technologies. Who are you sending to Andre LeJeune's Staging and Events Management three-day course? Seriously, you don't think someone in your company could learn something from a professional trainer that is also a veteran Stager? Plus there are many of business seminars that I personally know you need to attend! You get one shot at this a year. Make the BEST of it.

In conclusion I would be remiss if I didn't mention the business networking aspect of the show. InfoComm is the place to meet people, share ideas, and spot trends. You can learn a lot by listening to what other attendees have seen. Come armed with a list of questions to ask folks you meet in the aisles and classrooms. These need to go beyond "how's business?" or "see anything you like?" (which, means something completely different in Vegas by the way). Ask how other companies are dealing with network designs, how long it takes to write a proposal budget, or where they are finding outsourced installation crews. One good answer could pay for your trip.

Do you have an opinion or idea to share? Email me.


Closing Thoughts

Here's a few scribbles from the margins:
  • Writing a proposal is a huge investment and giving it to the customer is a leap of faith. What does the prospective customer need to do for you first to earn this trust and commitment? Once the relationship is out of balance with you doing all the giving and they doing all the taking, is there ever really a path back to a win-win?
  • "Value added" simply means free. When you give something away for free in a commoditized pool, it becomes part of the expectation. Examples: project management, CAD, shipping. The seller has real costs associated with these things, but the buyer perceives little or no additional value that they are willing to pay for.
  • There are about three rational reasons to pursue revenue over profit, but the list of reasons to embrace profit are endless. 
About Thomas R. Stimson, MBA, CTS
Stimson Portrait

Tom Stimson has thrived for over twenty-five years in the information communications technology industry. As a Consultant, Tom helps companies define their goals and then design a plan that will take them there. For more information visit the website.