How one integrator went from big box to big bucks, and took his Texas firm along.
That’s what Buddy Hughes dined on when a crashing economy (not to mention a series of prior missteps) conspired to doom Circuit City.
Hughes is sharing the story behind his shift from big-box worker-bee to the founder of Texas-based Crown AV at CEDIA’s Business Xchange. It’s part of a new initiative called “I Am CEDIA,” a multi-platform forum that encourages members to share their stories, their passions, and their backgrounds.
For Hughes, this moment is about his recent successes in how he interacts with his customers, first with digital impressions and later in face-to-face interactions.
But back to the meat: Hughes shares the narrative as a curious motivation. It’s pretty clear that when Hughes had to grab something aged and weird out of the freezer, only to discover when the brick of protein thawed that he didn’t know whether it was chicken, beef, or pork, he knew it was time for a shift.
Shift he did, but the early days of Crown AV yielded other “mysteries.” Hughes hired an SEO “expert” he described as “shady” (“He even looked shady. I should’ve known.”), and that individual convinced Crown that they needed no less than 27 websites.
Like a big box store, “we were selling everything we could sell,” notes Hughes. He shares the metrics: After dropping 30 grand in marketing in one year, he had lots of visitors to his sites — and they were staying for about 40 seconds. “What a waste of time,” Hughes remembers.
Crown AV soon focused on solutions, not gear, and before too long Hughes had a recipe for a digital secret sauce: the Crown crew, Buddy included, are featured front and center on the one site he still maintains. “If I’m hiring a plumber, I want to see what he looks like, I want to see him down in it, working — I don’t even care if I see the ol’ crack,” he cracks, in an affable Dallas drawl. (He’ll later note that when clients in Texas use words like “thingamajig” and “doohickey,” it doesn’t mean they’re not buying. “Do we really need the thingamajig to run the doohickey, darlin’?” “Yes, honey, yes we do.”)
The look and the bios — coupled with 63 key phrases on the site that pop up on the first page of a Google search — mean that the site is now pulling in quality hits, not just quantity. That personal presence on the website helped seal Hughes’ success — that, along with the realization that he needed to find the right vendors (those who’d help — and educate), the right clients, and the right projects.
The next bit of positioning was key: namely, Hughes’ insistence on face-to-face pitches and estimates.
“I don’t email my proposals,” he explains. “And if someone sends me a competitor’s email and asks me to beat their price, I politely decline. That’s not the way I do business.”
First and foremost, that’s not how Hughes wants to win a customer. There’s a deference to his colleagues: “I’m a next-generation kind of guy. There’s a mix of us. We’re not in competition with each other. We share ideas.”
Beyond that, Hughes doesn’t want to be painted as the purveyor of some discount hut. He wants to meet with the client, talk through the options, and make the customer feel at ease. This two-pronged approach amounts to a kind of pre-qualification — and it’s likely the reason Hughes has taken his firm from annual revenues of $250,000 to upwards of $5 million in roughly three years.
“At the beginning, we sold something like 70, 80% of those proposals.”
“Today? In the past year…” Hughes ponders.
“I can’t think of a deal we haven’t closed.”