Oct 13, 2010 3:14 PM, By Dan Daley
Maximizing the worship AV budget.
David May, president of DCI Sound in Marcellus, N.Y., says this type of client relies more heavily on automated systems solutions to take the place of operators. DCI had traditionally applied the same Crestron systems that are found in high-end commercial installations to his Catholic church clientele, customized for each project. However, in the last two years, the company has switched to using a more standardized systems interface, composed of a Lectrosonics DM series DSP and a Crestron TSP-4 touchpanel controller, for most of its installations. “This has simplified the way we approach automation, putting all the programming toward the end of the project instead of using a lot of different kinds of elements in custom configurations toward the beginning,” May explains. “That’s lowered costs.”
He cites the renovation done at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, N.Y., as an example of how a lower-cost DSP and controller package lowered the church’s costs. “Between the cost of the equipment and the amount of labor for installation and programming, this [combination] reduced that part of the original budget by one-third,” he estimates.
Another phenomenon in response to the diminished parish sizes has been consolidation of two or three churches into a single congregation. That has actually helped increase AV budgets for the consolidated facility. “It lets us keep quality of the equipment at a higher level, too,” May says.
Even as one of the nation’s largest systems integrators, AVI-SPL has noticed the effects of a two-year recession on its HOW clients, including longer cycle times between project phases, more deliberative time in budget committees, and tightened budgets in general.
Ward LaDuke, a sales engineer who oversaw projects including the Valley Family Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., and the Resurrection Life Church in Cadillac, Mich., says the company continued to adhere to its practice of presenting a single design proposition to clients based on the project’s requirements. However, the company has increased the use of more efficient systems components and found ways to streamline systems design, such as using inhouse networking infrastructure throughout an installation rather than using multiple cable types.
“We’ll use IP-based infrastructure all the way throughout a design because it’s inexpensive and reliable, which gives us the ability to choose I/O components accordingly,” he explains. Self-powered audio speakers are an example of a product-based solution, but their benefit versus their somewhat higher cost also reveals how integrators have to budget time to explain the long-term economic advantages of certain products to HOW clients, who are understandably focused on the short term at the moment. Citing the self-powered ISP speakers line-array systems he often specifies for that reason, LaDuke says, “Each driver has an amplifier specifically designed for the specifications for the driver. Having all the amplifiers at the drivers that are in the speaker minimizes the need for multiple cable runs, and instead of having to run 10 12-gauge strands of copper, we can run it all on one Cat-5 line, so the installation costs are also lower. It also reduces the number of racks we need since the amplifiers are part of the speaker cabinets. But we have to take time to lay out [to the client] where the long-term savings will come in.”
The same goes for the use of LED lighting. LaDuke ticks off long-term savings in the form of lower BTUs emitted, resulting in lower HVAC costs as well as longer bulb life, reducing spare parts costs and replacement labor costs, and eliminating down time for components like lighting fixtures.
Yet another strategy that some integrators with engineering and other expertise are making use of is moving into or increasing the number of design/build propositions they take on. “That gets us into the process earlier, which is better for the budget and for how we work with the other trades,” says Dave Collin, vice president of sales for Communications and Entertainment in Atlanta, who says they applied the strategy for HOW clients who were adding onto existing structures. One such client was the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Atlanta, where the company worked in conjunction with an architect on a new parish hall, education rooms, and a chapel. Citing why the design/build aspect was so useful, Collin points to intricate millwork in one the spaces that would also get a Da-Lite motorized screen system.
“They would need access points to the screen that would be in the millwork,” he explains. “We were able to work with the architect and the woodworking guys on that ahead of time, something we might not have been able to do as well if the process had to go through a consultant, who might not have foreseen the issue.”
But as well as many of these tactics work for integrators and their HOW clients, there will be long-term strategic consequences of this recent downturn. As Kurt Bevers, director of technical engineering for Delta AV in Milwaukee, points out, “Churches that are putting off investing in their AV infrastructure will be facing major [systems] failures at some point in the future, and then they’re going to need those systems very quickly and more expensively than had it been properly planned. The recession has changed the complexion of the cycle. A lot of churches will have put off upgrades and deferred maintenance for close to a decade if they hadn’t begun to address it before [the recession]. That’s going to lead to catastrophic problems in the future.”
In response, Bevers is taking the design/build approach out a lot further, as well. The company is offering churches a technology evaluation, generally at no charge, with the intent of starting the upgrade process well before any funds have been allocated or even raised. “Without a plan, there’s nothing for them to be pushing forward toward,” he explains. “The idea is, let’s start the conversation, even if there’s no money for it now because what’s happened in the last couple of years is going to be affecting us all for years to come.”
Coming To Terms
The recession has had systems integrators rethinking their financial strategies. In the past, churches tended to pay cash for systems, often after special fundraisers had brought in additional capital specifically for the project, says John Westra of Audio Design Specialists. As the recession deepened, Westra would increasingly design new systems based on what was in his inventory. This has allowed him to offer better prices and faster turnaround, which helped him win bids. But as HOW budgets have became even tighter, he has modified that concept by offering to extend payments over the course of a year. This idea was first applied to a new 800-seat church in Wisconsin this year. The congregation agreed to use Tannoy PA components and MC2 amplifiers that were already in Audio Design Specialists’ warehouse. “That allowed the deal to be sealed immediately,” says Westra, who adds that the idea was also prompted by the expansion of the company’s woodworking shop, which needed some of the space currently being used to store inventory. “We’re looking for solutions that help everyone, including us.”
Other companies, like DCI, have become more liberal with their terms, spreading payments over longer periods. However, as with others whose main client base is HOWs, DCI does not impose finance charges, which would contradict scriptural prohibitions on usury. “That’s just the nature of the market,” says DCI President David May. —D.D.
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