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Inside AVI

At a time when many AV firms are finding it difficult to grow at all, the last three years for Tampa, FL-based Audio Visual Innovations Inc., have been nothing short of phenomenal. According to the company's executive management team, AVI will bring in about $200 million this year, an increase from about $170 million in 2004 ? and double the company's revenues from only three years ago.

AVI also doesn't hesitate to put its vendors directly in touch with its top salespeople, Bergdoll says, citing AVI's semi-annual incentive trips, to which the sales force competes for invitations based on performance. Vendors support these gatherings and are invited to attend, giving them an opportunity to interface with top management and the most productive salespeople in a relaxed environment.

Business breakdown

Schaffel founded AVI in 1979 in Lakeland, FL, and set up its corporate headquarters in Tampa in 1981. The first regional office followed in 1985 in Ft. Lauderdale. By 1987, eight years after its founding, the company had annual sales of about $2.6 million and 25 employees. The early 1990s showed years of stagnant sales, but AVI returned to its growth path mid-decade and soon began to realize much more substantial year-to-year gains.

Business nearly doubled from 1996 to 1997, then grew by one-third in 1998 and 75 percent in 1999. The early 2000s also saw the proliferation of regional offices, with AVI adding four locations in 2002 and five in 2003.

More than 700 employees are now spread across 20 regional offices nationwide (see map on page 49). The company also has a hotel rental division that embraces 30 “partner locations.” The past year has seen the opening of a new regional office in Sacramento, CA, along with the launch of Logistic Innovations, a subsidiary in New York, NY, and Electronics Specialists, a new residential systems integration venture based in Sarasota, FL.

AVI works through six divisions devoted to AV systems integration, equipment sales, creative show services, rentals, service, and support of corporate extranets. Scanlon says business is strong in all divisions and across all types of clients, but cites the hospitality industry (particularly casino installations) and education — from kindergarten through the university level — as arenas of ongoing robust growth.

The Gaylord Texan Resort and Conference Center in Grapevine, TX, is a recent example of AVI's capabilities. Scanlon terms it both “a very large and complex project.” The project included networked AV, conferencing and signage systems throughout a convention center exhibit hall, meeting rooms and ballrooms, center stage and pre-function areas, along with the hotel common areas, lobby, and a sports bar. AVI also designed and installed systems in staff training rooms, high-end suites, and boardrooms, and put a large Barco LED display in a bell tower that's part of a 4.5-acre indoor complex of gardens, lobbies, and pathways. There's also digital signage throughout the facility. The Gaylord Texan is AVI's largest project to date, and the company calls it one of the largest AV systems in the world. It's all linked by an IP-based Crestron control system.

Focus on mega-projects

The ability to handle large, complex projects is one of the key advantages AVI brings to its markets, Schaffel says.

Bergdoll notes that AVI “picked up very early” on key shifts in the industry that would put a premium on design and construction expertise as well as the ability to handle the financial risks of large projects.

“There are only a handful of companies who have the bondability and expertise to run a mega-project,” Schaffel says, referring to projects worth $2 million and up. “We have the wherewithal to see a project all the way through, including the financial ability to buy all of the necessary equipment in advance.”

Scanlon also points to the company's detailed knowledge of the construction process. “Any integrator who wants to work in the mega-project area needs a good understanding of construction best practices,” Scanlon says, adding that AVI actively looks for construction savvy in hiring prospective project managers.

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