It’s Time to Take Smaller Projects Seriously

Jeff Gardner
Feb 15, 2013

smaller projectsDo a quick Google Images search for home theater. Or, visit CEDIA’s website for consumers and industry partners, www.cedia.org. Go ahead…what do you see?

Invariably, most of the images that pop up will be of very high-end projects. The kind of projects everyone dreams of, but few actually get to do.

This “eye candy” plays an important role in our industry; it is the real work done by a few, the work many others aspire to, and a great source of ideas for integrators and clients alike. But, let’s face it. Most of our clients are not billionaires, or even millionaires. Increasingly, our core business is not only retrofit projects, but those under $20,000.
Per CEDIA’s 2012 Benchmarking Survey:

  • The typical CEDIA electronic systems professional’s* average project is $12,383.
  • 88% of the projects done by typical CEDIA members are under $20K.
  • Even companies with annual revenue in excess of $2 million report that over half of their projects are under $20K.
This is not a new phenomenon, but things have definitely been trending even more strongly in this direction in recent years. Of course the recession has made money tight, but there are several other reasons. For instance, customer awareness has grown rapidly as the average consumer realizes it is now possible to control their various systems from mobile devices they already own. These capabilities are further expanded as more and more common devices are becoming network-enabled.

The price drop in displays has also impacted the overall price of a project, regardless of its scope. The actual functionality available to a client at the lower price point can be pretty stunning. Happy clients send us more clients, so delivering an impressive feature set on a budget can be the key to growing your business, if you do it right.

Here are some of the interesting challenges posed by smaller projects:

  • Integrating highly diverse devices and technologies into a seamless system. Phones, tablets, media players, computers, OTT TV devices, game consoles…you name it, it can be part of this 21st-century system. In some ways, this is a lot like the very early days of residential systems: many different devices from different manufacturers, speaking different languages, made to play well together. But today the common thread is the network, and this requires a whole new skillset.
  • Ensuring stability and ease of use. The system must not only work when you leave the jobsite, it has to keep working and remain solid. Today’s economics don’t allow for multiple truck rolls to fix little things and sort out glitches.
  • Most importantly, maintaining margins. If there is no money to be made on displays and customers are utilizing devices they already own, where is the profit?
And some ideas to help meet those challenges:

  • Make sure each project has well-defined goals. Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it should be implemented. Discuss functionality with your client in very finite terms. Even small projects need a scope statement. Many great companies have gone under as a victim of scope creep.
  • “Rinse and Repeat.” When you find a system configuration that works, emulate it for other customers. We call that “taking the cuss out of custom.” If every job is a science project, you will spend more time scratching your head than making money.
  • Improve your business practices in general. CEDIA has an entire series of webinars that cover a wide variety of topics that can help.
  • Become your client’s “tech guru.” If you establish credibility and solve problems, they will always come to you first.
  • Embrace the network. This is not optional. Everything is moving to the network. The days of the $50 router are over. Learning this skillset is mandatory, and can be your key to success.
Work on ways to make these smaller projects the backbone of your business.

And when you do one that you think is noteworthy, consider an entry into the $20K & Under category in CEDIA’s Electronic Lifestyles® Awards competition. We’ve heard from you that homeowners want to see great work being done at every price point – so help us show the full range of what can be done. Questions? Contact awards@cedia.org.

*During data collection for the 2012 Benchmarking Survey, CEDIA used the term "electronic systems contractor" to refer to this type of company. Going forward, "electronic systems professionals" will be the standard term we use to refer to this group.

About Jeff Gardner
CEDIA Director of Technical Training since 2007. Past experience includes system design and installation, acoustical consulting, recording studio design, live and studio engineer/producer. CEDIA, ISF, HAA and other credentials. Contact at jgardner@cedia.org.



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

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