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Q&A with Dawn Meade, Advanced Video Systems

Dawn Meade, CTS, is part owner of Advanced Video Systems in Owings Mills, Md. She writes a blog, We asked Meade her views on how AV integrators have evolved.

DAWN MEADE: Meade, CTS, is part owner of Advanced Video Systems in Owings Mills, Md. She writes a blog, We asked Meade her views on how AV integrators have evolved. For more, see "Inside the Pro AV Channel".

Dawn Meade

Dawn Meade

PRO AV: What is an integrator's role today and how has it changed over time?

MEADE: AV integrators wear a number of hats in today's business world and what they do exactly can vary from one firm to the next. While some AV integrators are merely sell-install-service type establishments, others provide a one-stop-shop for AV needs. Design and consulting, sales, installation, training, service, and even remote monitoring and content production, in the case of digital signage or advanced control systems.

On the one hand, we have to know how to work on construction sites and relate well with architects, general contractors, engineers, and the trades. However, we are also the technical staff who has to understand IP addressing, traditional and cloud networking and any other number of Information Technology (IT) concepts and practices. After decades of AV being the same old speakers, mics, and overhead projectors as before, we're suddenly in an era that has seen the rise and fall of entire technologies in just a few years' time.

PRO AV: How are integrators supporting and interacting with the sales channel?

MEADE: For manufacturers, it is usually the integrators who drive the refinement process of product development. I know our firm immediately passes information about bugs, issues, or just plain inconveniences to the manufacturers. From a front-panel display or different button/knob style, to full-scale connectivity issues like adding [certain] connectors, the integrators provide essential field testing.

Integrators also serve as a valuable resource and safety net for end-users. We provide training and documentation on every system we design and install, and our clients know that if they have problems of any sort, a simple call our way will result in quick response. This safety net of service and training is what sets a professional AV integrator apart from a big-box store.

PRO AV: What is the biggest challenge to doing business in today's market?

MEADE: Dealing with customers who do not understand the value of hiring a professional AV integrator. We have to compete against Dell or Wal-Mart or Costco or Best Buy on price, when we do nowhere near the same volume of sales. We also have to deal with the IT guys and the computer store guys, and even the do-it-yourself customer. Many times, we inherit jobs originally done by others and have to spend large amounts of time trying to repair or cobble together functioning systems from a flawed design. Then we cannot properly bill for the time and materials to make these changes because that would cost as much as the original installation. In reality, hiring a professional AV integrator from the start would have cost less money, time and aggravation for the customer.

PRO AV: What can an integrator do to improve the sales channel?

MEADE: There are several things that integrators need to do to keep the channel running cleanly. First, be good people. Provide feedback to reps and manufacturers. Make sure your clients have the training and support they need for their systems. Act ethically in your sales practices to end-users. Make sure your manufacturers and reps are also acting ethically for just the same reason, and if you find a rep firm or manufacturer that does not act ethically, vote with your wallet and take your business elsewhere.

Integrity is vital in business. Be honest with your reps and manufacturers regarding business matters. Pay all your bills on time and if you cannot, make sure you communicate with the vendors and work things out with them. Being open and honest about short-term cash flow difficulties and then following through with payment arrangements as quickly as possible gives you far better footing than a duck-and-run desperation approach.

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