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The TWICE Roundtable: Custom Installers Coping With Growth, Change

Custom installation is the great American frontier of the consumer electronics industry: full of optimism, opportunity and confidence in its manifest destiny to expand beyond its current boundaries.

Like a young country facing the challenges of nation-building, the custom-install industry is trying to cope with immediate challenges while it builds a lasting infrastructure to ensure future prosperity.

The immediate challenges include managing growth, coping with tight labor markets, raising the business-skills level of custom installers, influencing the building trades to take the industry seriously, and developing manufacturer-support and distribution policies that meet the custom segment’s special needs.

While the industry copes with these challenges, it must focus on critical long-term issues. Should installers evolve their businesses to include disciplines other than AV installation? How will high-volume chains affect the business plans of installation specialists? And will common FireWire protocols and wireless networks give rise to more competition at the installation level by simplifying install tasks?

To analyze these issues, TWICE assembled a panel of leading custom-install manufacturers and installers. Their comments appear in two parts. The first part, in this issue, is segmented into four topics: managing growthat the installer level, installer strategiesthat work, building partnershipswith the building trades, and the evolution ofmanufacturer supportand distribution polices.

In the June 28 issue, the panelists will present their views on how installers and manufacturers must evolve, whether installers should move into systems integration, and how distribution and technology might evolve in the future.

Key Points

Installer Shortage: Some participants believe a shortage of trained personnel is preventing installers from tapping into the market’s full potential, but the shortage may only be temporary. Organizations such as CEDIA and CEMA are developing trade-school curricula, and some installation companies have begun developing their own talent pool.

Business-Skills Shortage: Many custom-installation companies are top-notch system designers and installers but need to improve their business skills.

Architect Allies: Some suppliers have begun to promote to the architectural community to persuade architects to recommend media rooms and distributed-audio systems to their customers.

Get Focused: Many installers have created a narrow selection of system packages that can be repeatable and profitable, in part because they don’t have to learn how to hook up a different system every day.

The Participants

  • Eric Bodley, consultant and owner of Home Entertainment Design, a Florida custom installation company.
  • Steve Ekblad, human resources VP, United Audio Centers chain in Illinois.
  • Jeff Goldstein, director of Sony’s Consumer Integrated Systems Group.
  • Eli Harary, brand manager of Infinity Systems Home Products.
  • Keith Rich, owner of ISR, a Chicago-area custom installer and manufacturer of TronArch integration system.
  • Kent Sheldon, sales director, Sonance.
  • Frank Sterns, sales VP, Niles.
  • Mark Weisenberg, VP sales, Sonance.


*No. of 1998 respondents: 153
Source: Annual membership survey conducted by Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association, Indianapolis, Ind.
©TWICE 1999


(By % of CEDIA members responding)

*No. of 1998 respondents: 153
Source: Annual membership survey conducted by Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association, Indianapolis, Ind.
©TWICE 1999