It hasn't been easy for custom installers to attract new clients during the past two years, but it has been relatively easy for CEDIA to attract more attendees to next month's Expo.
Attendance during the Sept. 3-7 event will likely exceed 20,000, up from last year's 19,500, according to CEDIA (the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association). That's despite a decline to 405 exhibitors from last year's 450 because of the show's return to the Indiana Convention Center from Minneapolis' larger convention facility.
This year, the Expo will pack fewer exhibitors but more attendees into 426,000 gross square feet, down from the Minneapolis show's 487,500 gross square feet but still up from the most recent Indianapolis show, which in 2001 filled 403,500 gross square feet with 383 exhibitors.
"There's something magical about custom installation," said CEDIA board member Steve Hayes in referring to the expected attendance.
The magic almost died, however, following the stock market implosion of 2000, slower economic growth beginning in late 2000, terrorist attacks in 2001, and this year's war to free Iraq. The economy and installer attitudes, however, have begun to turn around.
About 55 percent of 178 CEDIA installer members surveyed in midyear described their 2003 business as "improving moderately," according to preliminary results of a CEDIA-sponsored poll. About 17 percent said their business was "improving greatly," and about 22 percent called their business "about the same." Almost 75 percent of the responding installers said they expect to hire more employees in 2004.
Also in 2004, more than 60 percent of 170 respondents said they expect their volume to grow in lighting controls and home networking, the survey found. About 70 percent expect growth in home theater volume, more than 50 percent expect growth in their distributed-audio sales, and about half expect distributed-video growth.
"The first half was a little weak," admitted CEDIA secretary Andy Willcox, but at the end of the second quarter, "things started heating up." This year could see a return to the industry's customary double-digit percentage growth rates, he said. "A few markets are challenged," including San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, and the Northeast corridor, "but the real strong players are consistent" because they're aggressively marketing, he noted.
Even with contracts once again filling the future-job pipeline, getting the jobs isn't as easy as it used to be. Some installers complain that "bids are taking longer to come together, with clients being slower to give the go," said AudioControl marketer Chris Kane. Some installers are also "taking on jobs that are lower in dollars than they would in the past," he added.
CEDIA board member Hayes agreed that installers are working harder to get customers. "Homeowners are becoming more discerning and asking for more references," he said. "We're just starting to see a shift in consumers becoming more savvy and more discriminating in who they hire."
Even with the market firming up, he added, "a lot of folks are in rough times." Installers "running a solid business operation can't keep up with the business," he said, but "some percentage of companies," primarily run by people who are fundamentally hobbyists, "are on the ropes or on the way out."
Hayes also believes independents concentrating on the middle of the market are suffering the most, in some part because of gains by A/V chains in this segment. Installers offering X-10 systems and basic audio distribution "are as busy as ever," as are "elite-end" installers, including systems integrators, doing $50,000+ installs, he said. In between, installers doing $5,000-$15,000 distributed-audio systems, or $8,000 to $25,000 home theater systems, are "underperforming expectations," he said.
Whatever their niche, more installation companies are expected to turn up in Indianapolis, where attendees will find:
- more products that distribute audio or video through low-cost CAT5 cable. GE Interlogix will show audio-distribution modules that distribute music over CAT5 from its structured-wiring panel, and AudioControl will show a new system for sending standard- and high-definition component video over CAT5.
- the first-ever Expo appearance by the 1394 Trade Association.
- the industry's first home satellite radios, with Audiovox and Kenwood each showing a Sirius tuner and a third supplier showing the industry's first multizone tuner, also featuring Sirius service. Kenwood's product is slated for third-quarter delivery.
- new lighting systems from Lutron and IC Lights.
- plasma-friendly speakers from Jamo and Definitive Technology.
- new speaker series from B&W and Phase Technology.
- A Fosgate Audionics-branded wireless home audio distribution, which will be based on the wireless OnmiFi system marketed by car audio sister brand Rockford-Fosgate.