An Independent Voice Can Assist Both Homeowners and Custom Integration Companies
For most homeowners, any type of large-scale home-improvement project can be a challenging and downright stressful task. Regardless of whether it is a backyard landscape project or outfitting a home with the latest technology, with so many contractors to choose from and product choices to make, it’s hard to know what steps to take. Fortunately, when it comes to residential technology, independent consultant firms can be of great help to both homeowners and custom integration companies that provide home tech designs and installation.
For some homeowners, hiring a tech consultant is a way to keep the design and installation teams separate, just like one would hire an architect to design their home and a builder to construct it. Sometimes consumers want an “independent voice” to assist with making the right tech decisions and at the right budget. From there, they can take a design to a couple of integration companies to request a direct comparison of the cost to install a system that is made up of the same parts and pieces.
For custom integrators, the necessity for an independent AV consulting company can vary. With small businesses starting out, installation work is often done by the business owner and for many, they already have a lot of work to do and can’t risk spending time on designing systems and putting proposals together. Others might not have the experience designing systems based on the size or scope but do have, or will have, the technical experience to install them by the time the project is ready. Even larger companies can run into resource challenges based on the cycle of their projects.
Whatever the reason, many top-level integration companies use independent consultants to help them with their business.
For example, Mike Zarb, co-founder of Tekkease, has consulted with integrators and end-users on residential projects as well as boardroom, winery, and bar projects over the past six years. Tekkease’s three-person team does approximately 50 projects a year, varying in size.
Zarb grew up in the custom installation industry, having worked for his father’s AV company for six years, before moving on to a job with industry automation giant, Crestron. From his experience he saw both homeowners who were sometimes skeptical about the system proposal they were getting from their integrator and also many integrators who struggled to balance time and resources while managing their business. This often would lead to challenges with the quality of the designs they put together and resulted in lost profitability from missing parts or inadequate labor and sometimes resulted in a poor customer experience. Many companies also didn’t have someone on staff with CAD, Visio, or D-Tools Software experience that could put together elevations, 3D room renderings, touchpanel designs, and sometimes even high-quality proposals to present to their customers.
Zarb explained that dealers use his company’s services due to challenges with handling details and documentation, particularly on larger jobs that can take much more time and experience. Tekkease finds that integrators typically reach out for help when systems exceed $30,000 dollars, but most of the work they do is on projects that are more than $100,000, with their largest being nearly $1.5 million.
When necessary, Tekkease works on behalf of the integrator, meeting with the homeowner often three or more times for design meetings and spends anywhere from 5 to over 40 hours on creating a fully engineered proposal, which they help present to the homeowner. In addition, finished projects typically have more than 60 hours of drawing and design work invested with some being over 300 hours for the larger or more complex jobs. Tekkease makes sure to include every connector, insert, rack parts, etc. in a package that may exceed 100 pages once you include all of the schematics, line drawings, heat mapping, and theater room designs. They are so confident in their work that if any part is missing, they will cover the cost, bringing peace of mind to both the dealer and the end-user. The end result is a proposal and design that is far more detailed and professional than what their customer could create on their own.
One of the biggest benefits that Zarb has found with dealers who use his services is that the dealer is charging for all of the system design work. Too often, integrators don’t charge for this, for many reasons, and the end result can be a lot of work being done that is not generating revenue for the company. Zarb’s customers are able to save money on staffing, make money on the proposals, save money on paying for parts that were missed and the time to get them last minute for the job, and can ultimately focus their resources on other things while ensuring a better result for their customers. Tekkease even helps with creating purchase orders for the products in the design and tracks change orders to help ensure that any changes are being properly invoiced.
Back to that million-dollar plus project. One example of how Tekkease helped their customers grow their business involved one of their integrator customers who was referred to a Hollywood A-List celebrity. Unfortunately, the integrator had not done a project of that size and wanted to put their best foot forward when presenting to this high-profile opportunity. They used Tekkease to help put all of the documentation together and not only successfully completed the project, but the end-user has three more homes that he is looking to have work done from this team and has also provided recommendations to some of his friends. Ultimately, the partnership gave the integrator greater confidence to do larger projects and they have since started growing their business to be able to go after this higher-end segment of the market.
For homeowners looking to use an independent consultant, most of the time the customer has a fear of the unknown or perhaps has had a bad experience before and is not sure where to start. They see Tekkease as an ambiguous resource and want to make sure they are getting the best products while not being taken advantage of, explained Zarb. Ultimately, it comes down to working with someone who can ensure their needs and wishes are met.
While most of what was described with the experience for integrators who work with Tekkease is the same for end-users, there are a few more details that differentiate. For the system design, the customer is provided with a proposal that includes retail pricing for all items and standard labor rates. They also try to design a little bit bigger than the initial scope so the customer can scale down in performance or size based on the final number. This gives them an estimate in-which they can budget, knowing that most companies who bid on the job will come in at or below the price of the estimate.
Tekkease also provides project management services to end-users only to help ensure that the dealer chosen by the homeowner is installing the system the way that it was intended and with the same functionality. For most of these projects, they also provide programming services that help to ensure that the system performs from a software standpoint in the same way the hardware was designed based on the understanding of the customer’s needs.
Often, once the design is complete, the customer will ask for a recommendation of integrators with whom Tekkease has worked, so partnering with a good consultant can sometimes lead to additional projects for their integration partners. Their team likes to make sure that they refer based on experience and personality and will only refer the work of companies that they have seen firsthand.
The cost of all of this is typically around 5-10 percent of the overall cost of the project, additional for the programming services, but very much a reasonable price for any homeowner looking to make a sizeable investment into their home’s technology.
Commercial AV consultants are far more common than those in the residential market, due to system size and budgets. There are, however, many low-voltage consultant companies that specialize in residential and can be a great service to both custom integrators and end-users.
While there are hundreds of custom integrators around the country who do a great job with having system designers and programmers on staff, some would argue that outsourcing these skills makes for a “best in-class” type of experience for the end-customer. Either way, it’s important to remember that these businesses exist and can be a great business partner or customer resource.
So if you’re a small business and feel like you don’t have enough time in the day, or maybe you’re a customer who is looking for an advocate to help guide you through your technology needs, remember that these very experienced companies just might be the solution you’ve been looking for.