A Shout-Out to CEDIA’s Old School - and Why I Think You Need to Go to EXPO

Rich Fregosa
Aug 21, 2012

I proudly wear the mantle of CEDIA Old School. (Or if you grew up like me in the ‘80s and ‘90s on a steady diet of 2Pac, Ice T, NWA, and Snoop, CEDIA OG.)

The integrators of CEDIA’s New School entered the market with no experience with how it “used to be,” nor any preconceptions of “this is the way we used to do it when all we had was 480i video, Dolby surround, and cathode ray tubes, and we liked it that way dagnabbit!” during the Golden Age of CustomTM.

(By the way, New Schoolers: Don’t use “back in the day” when referring to the tools and gear I had to work with 20 years ago. I get it. I’m old.)

Nevertheless, these guys and gals are the new mavericks, and I relish seeing their youthful exuberance while blazing new paths for the custom industry as a whole.

But this post is not for them. This post is for the many company owners who share my story in part or in whole. The ones who entered the field a decade or two ago young, fresh-faced, and in love with music, movies and electronics. When asked why we got into this, we often answered, “I’m probably not going to make any decent money playing in a band” (or making documentaries, or some other artistic outlet), and we needed a day gig.

Fast forward 15-20 years, and we’re now seeing middle age on the horizon. We’ve got businesses, employees, families and mortgages, and what we used to love is sometimes now just what we do. We’ve been there, seen that. We are no longer really impressed with anything. We’re jaded and sometimes flat-out pessimistic.

Business was great for a long time, but over the last few years it took a hit. Now we might find ourselves  wondering, “What can I do to turn this around?”

Last year, that was me. And after a lot of soul-searching, I decided to go back to CEDIA EXPO for some answers after an eight-year hiatus. I even wrote about it here.

A year later, that post still has a lot of relevance for me. But this new post is for you, Old Schooler - and it’s about why I think you should go to CEDIA EXPO 2012.

Reason #1: You’re Not in this Alone

When we’re faced with the day-to-day struggles of running a business, we wind up on a lonely island. Eroding profits, lack of skilled technicians (or worse yet, downsizing), competition from big-box retailers, having every item you propose immediately shopped on the internet WHILE YOU’RE SITTING THERE… any of this sound familiar? It can take a toll on even the most upbeat and positive-minded person.

Without getting all Kumbaya, let me just say that when you come to EXPO, you experience a pretty comforting realization: We’re truly in this together.

Unlike a webinar or a manufacturer’s road show or even a visit from your sales rep, EXPO is the one place where you can speak openly and honestly with people who know exactly what you mean. A venue where you can not only gather with people who sympathize with you, but also learn how to overcome those concerns with practical and useful feedback. Sometimes your own “a-ha!” moment comes from hearing someone else’s story and what they did about it.

Oh yeah, there are also cool parties and beer - and did I mention those are free? Drinking alone makes you look troubled, but eating and drinking with industry friends of questionable rhythmic skill and the propensity to Dance Fight and recreate scenes from the movie Breakin’ at a moment’s notice? Well that’s pure comedy gold, son. Come for the business, leave with stories you’ll tell forever.

Reason #2: Real-Time Connections 24/7

No, I’m not forming Match.com for Integrators, but EXPO is the place to collaborate with people from non-competitive regions who you can keep in touch with even after the show is over. Clients aren’t always end-users. Sometimes your best business can come from someone who does what you do and feels like you can be a trusted resource, and vice-versa.

Maybe you’re based in Florida and your colleague is based in Los Angeles, but they have a client with a project out your way. Could there be an opportunity to work together that’s a win-win? It does happen.

EXPO is the place to meet those people and discover that sometimes the best way to feed everyone over the long term is learning how to share the pie.

Me personally? Prior to CEDIA, I started to actively investigate and use social media as another outlet for my business marketing and overall brand presence.

Consequently, I made contact with a lot of people throughout the country and even internationally. At EXPO, I was able to spend time with many of these same people in person. Post-EXPO, I maintained contact via Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and I found new business opportunities and now good friendships that didn’t exist before.

But what about the dollars and cents? The moral of the story is, I generated a little over $40K in additional revenue this past year from referrals I got from people I didn’t previously know, and I generated a decent amount of business for some of them as well. If ROI is what drives you, that was a pretty decent return on my investment. Which leads me to my last reason…

Reason #3: Collaboration, Not Competition, is the Key to Business Health

Twenty years ago, you could be the “stereo guy” or the “home theater guy” (heck, my license plate still reads HMTHE8R) or the “[fill-in-the-blank] guy.” You had a pretty limited bucket of options in terms of what made for a “connected system.” You could be a specialist selling “only flat-screen displays for five figures,” and you could make a pretty good living doing it.

Today? Why hello there, 80-inch plasma that I don’t make any profit on! And top o’ the mornin’ to you, $99 streaming device. Hey, iPad! Oh, sweet, you brought free Pandora and cheap Wi-Fi with you - beers are in the fridge!

It is extremely hard to be a specialist anymore and be profitable. Our sphere of influence is now shared with anyone who can potentially be on the other end of the network your Cat5 cables are connected to. And even that concept is going away fast - now we’re dealing with devices that don’t even need wiring.

So now who do you think your competitors are? The other AV company in your region? Nope, try again! It’s now the nationwide security company, your phone company, your local cable company, and a little place called Amazon.com.

The last entity you need to be worrying about is someone on your side of the AV coin. This is probably the toughest one to consider, but as we’re all adapting to the current economic conditions, it’s hard and expensive to staff up and be “everything for everyone.”

So what do you do? You seek out industry partners and form relationships with companies that you might have viewed as your competition. You align with those whose strengths complement your weaknesses, and vice-versa.

  • Maybe your brand selection offers some benefits to your industry partner and theirs helps you. Does it really make sense for both of you to carry it?
  • Maybe outsourcing work outside of your core competency allows you to keep the client that you could have lost otherwise?
  • What if we took a small page from the commercial integration handbook and you present a unified front to the client that allows you to all make money?
There are a lot more maybes and what-ifs that can seriously help you strengthen your business and set you up for long-term success. And guess where you might be able to get answers for them?

Come to Indy starting September 5. I’ll be there out there doing the same thing. And if you see me, please be sure to come up and introduce yourself, because I’m sure looking forward to meeting you and hearing about you – us Old Schoolers have to stick together.

Note: Some of my fellow #CEDIATweeps have already written their perspectives, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Read them here.

About Rich Fregosa
Rich Fregosa, Principal at Fregosa Design, is a member of the #CEDIATweeps social media team. Follow Rich on Twitter at @rfregosa.



CEDIA blog posts are intended to provide general information and should not be regarded as legal opinions or advice.

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