Taking the Cuss out of Custom

For the longest time my industry clung to the notion of customized systems. There are 4,382 companies out there with the name Custom in it as evidence.  That’s not a real number, but take a look at the CEPro top 100, sift through CEDIA dealer finder and get a count. Now multiply by 10 for all those smaller companies who don’t care to or can afford to pay to play by spending advertising dollars or pay membership dues.

In the good ol’ days the way this all worked was go out, find a client, compare what we do to all the cool stuff (technology wise) they ever saw on an episode of the Jetson’s and as a kicker we’ll throw in the cell phone and Jacuzzi so you can control it from Switzerland, you know, because we got it going on.  They’d throw gobs of cash at us and we’d head back to the shop and sit down and kill ourselves to make all this work. We’d re-invent the wheel every time. We’d pull off some way crazy “stuff”, the clients would be thrilled after nine months of blood and guts being spilled, we’d brag to our buddies, and get our picture on the cover of some industry magazine as the latest greatest thing since sliced bread. It was very cool, we were hero’s, and our clients loved us (sort of).

The reality was , we were losing our shirts. Clients were thrilled because we were finally out of their house nine months after they moved in. The magazine cover shots were still cool.

The world has changed since then. Actually,  it hasn’t changed. The AV industry just realized what everyone already had. We need a bit of a history lesson. One glaring example is the industrial revolution. Yep, pretty much in it’s entirety shows what we needed to learn. I’ll fast forward to something a little more specific and a standard business model to articulate. Henry Ford. In a nut shell Mr. Ford figured out that repetition was the key to being successful.  His process churned out cars fast, and the process made it economical for an entire slew of the population to be able to afford a Model T. The reality is our industry is realizing that we need to adhere to the basic principles that we need to be able to repeat our process on a high level to stay in business.

We are starting to see in the AV industry stable platforms that follow this theory. A few years ago Systems like Niles ICS, Control 4, Crestron’s Prodigy, etc.  These control platforms and a few other platforms, for the most part, are out of the box set. Add in some codes sets, tie together a few macros,  a little cinnamon, some nutmeg and voila, you got yourself a nice control system without to much fuss. Well, not much fuss as compared to the miles of code that used to be punched, graphics that needed to be designed.

We would also use different gear for every system. Every job would get different wiring topologies.  So on and so on……

I understand it’s virtually impossible to get the mythical home theater in a box cookie cutter package.  But it seems to me that a standardized system and philosophy could be instituted and we’d simplify the the whole experience.  Model T like. Repetition, standards, controlled product selection.

The Model T’s came in any color as long as it was black.  I can hear the groaning out there. This is a lame, tired example.  There’s not enough flexibility with systems like that.  My clients need something that’s never been done before.  On and on it goes…… the rebuttals and excuses.  However, A bit more digging in history will show that a whole slew of  companies sprang up that offered all kinds of after market options for these cars. It was a boon.  People had the option to personalize their rides.  So too, as the Model T’s had options, we do to.  The trick is , the base platform was the same. So, as with the cars, we too can provide options and tweaks to the systems we provide.

The Custom AV companies should be a cross between Henry Ford and the guys who install the after market options. Let’s be the guys who can mold a standard issue platform to our to fulfill our clients needs and life styles. Lets get away from building the car from ground up. We still have to have skills , we still have to provide a quality recommendation, we still have to be the experts. If you take a systematic approach to your designs, you’ll find that in reality 75% of the system will be repeatable job to job. Let’s face it, whether you have your gear in a rack or on shelves you still can have the same power/surge product in place, you can still organize your wires in a standard fashion, and I bet you could even use the same label methods for those wires.  You’ll still be able to provide a system  that meets your clients needs and wishes.

I know we’ve heard this before, and I do not claim to be the originator of this concept. But how may of us truly do this? Are all your projects getting a surge power condition system that is the same every time? Are all the wires in your systems labeled ? The list goes on and on.

And for those of you who answered yes to those questions, have you found that you are more profitable,  finish faster with less hangups, have systems that are easier to service? Of course you have found all these things to be true.

To some degree we all have to do these things to stay in business, but what if we were to ratchet this theory up a level or two in our business, or sales , or installation methods? Could we be that much more efficient and profitable?  Take a look around, what else can you standardize? I bet for every standard instituted, the amount of cussing about your projects goes down proportionately. Standardize something. Dare to dream.

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One Response to Taking the Cuss out of Custom

  1. John Kelsey says:

    I like your thoughts on standardization. Audi’s A3 and the VW Golf/Rabbit use the same chassis, each is made unique through suspension tuning, body styling, interior styling, etc. Many other manufacturers use the same formula to manage design and fabrication time. I think the approach works as long as you can create a totally unique solution for each customer throughout the product range. In my profession of interior design, the tempation is to pull a detail from a previous job and recycle it. If it’s done too frequently, projects begin to take on a predictable sameness. For some people, that’s fine. I like to think each person and family is unique.

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