By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Installation-training schools proliferated in the mobile electronics industry in the mid- to late 1980s, and now they're coming to the custom home-electronics industry.
Two pioneers in mobile-installation training — Derek Lee and Tom Gazda — launched a home-installation training program earlier this year to provide a flow of trained installers to an industry sorely in need of them. Their co-owned venture — Media Dynamics — conducts training in its 11,000-square-foot Toronto and Phoenix facilities, where the duo's Mobile Dynamics venture holds mobile-electronics classes. Mobile Dynamics, which held its first mobile-electronics classes in June 1990, has been training 350 students per year during the past few years, Lee said.
The two ventures employ 10 instructors, four of whom teach home installation.
At first, the partners were reluctant to diversify into the home market despite continuing entreaties by suppliers and distributors. "CEDIA has a tremendous education program, and we thought we would be redundant," Lee said.
Then the two thought it over and concluded there was a need for a school that would train entry-level installers "who can go to a business and on the first day generate revenue," Lee said.
"CEDIA has its boot camp, and we encourage our grads to take boot camp because you pick up more insights when you hear more teachers," he explained. "But boot camps are held only a few times per year and are only three-days-long. We run our program every month." The company's four-phase program runs two weeks, and additional phases are in development, he noted.
CEDIA also offers frequent training in more advanced topics, but like manufacturer training programs, they're "not geared to the entry-level installer."
Initially, Media Dynamics invited graduates of the mobile training program to participate in home training. "We wanted to debug and streamline the classes, and the car graduates could give us relevant feedback to see if the home side was as effective as our car side."
In phase: Phase one of the company's program begins with the basics. They include AC/DC theory, the fundamentals of sound, an introduction to tools, system-design fundamentals, reading blueprints, construction fundamentals and construction math, determining proper wire-run locations, and wire-run concepts such as zones, home runs, and series and parallel wiring. An exam follows the three-day course.
The four-day phase-two class covers the basics of wire/cable infrastructure for current and future technologies and basic audio, video, data and voice distribution. Installers also learn hands-on retrofit and new-construction install techniques, including sheetrock cutting, wire pulling, continuity testing, wire termination, interference elimination, and the like, followed by an exam.
The two-day phase three class covers satellite-system installs, including tuner calibration and alignment, choosing dish-mounting locations, single- and multizone installs, and HDTV antenna installs, followed by an exam.
The fourth phase, lasting three days, focuses on home theater installation and design, including speaker placement, choosing video display technologies, A/V calibration, acoustic treatments, lighting controls, and choosing a screen size.
On the last day, students take CEDIA's Level I certification exam, which is administered by a CEDIA representative.
Mornings are typically spent in a classroom environment, and afternoons are devoted mainly to "lab work." In the Toronto facility, the students' lab includes the interior of an eight-room home in a 50-percent-construction phase. Plumbing pipes and electrical wires run through walls that are drywalled on one side.
The Phoenix facility, opened as a car install school in 1996, also offers hands-on home training.
Outreach: To attract students to the training courses, Media Dynamics continues to brainstorm new marketing plans. Lee and Gazda have advertised successfully in autosound enthusiast books to reach consumers interested in entering the mobile install field, and some of these autosound students have begun to stay on to take home courses. Advertising in home-theater enthusiast magazines, however, has been less successful because readers of those magazines "are not as interested in getting into the industry," Lee said.
To attract experienced car installers to the home field, Media Dynamics might use car audio trade and buff books — but not for awhile. "Phases one through four won't be challenging enough for experienced car installers," he said. More advanced phases now in development, however, will be.
In another effort to promote home training, the company this fall will launch a four-day home course at the end of its car classes "to give students a taste of home" and perhaps make them more valuable to home/car installation companies, Lee said.
The two-week home course costs $1,900, including manuals and materials, and the six-week car course costs $3,599. An eight-week home/car package costs $4,799.
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