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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.

It also dictates some specialized marketing tactics. “We reach out continuously to specifiers and other key influencers,” she says, noting AVI communicates regularly to build relationships with architects, AV consultants, general contractors, and other key construction industry players.

“Many times, AV is an afterthought in large projects,” Scanlon says, adding that “getting in there early is what we have tried to do.”

Covering the whole field

At the opposite end of the spectrum, AVI has also tried to reach out to customers shopping for small orders of projectors and similar equipment through the Internet. But Schaffel dissents from the common view of Internet shopping as price-driven.

AVI launched in 1999, and has never actually experienced the negative impacts some industry observers predicted from the growth of web-based sales. Specifically, Schaffel feels has neither helped commoditize key products nor undermined AVI's other businesses.

“It's an entirely different arena,” he says. “It's very rare for our people in these two divisions to bump into each other. The Internet is not only about price. A lot of people buy on the Internet for convenience, but they still want to know they're dealing with a good company, and if there's a problem it will be fixed. This battle won't be won on price.”

Moreover, no matter how large AVI has grown, it still strives to behave like a small, entrepreneurial company in many respects. Schaffel particularly notes that AVI has developed a technology infrastructure that enables its diverse elements to stay in close touch. “Every employee in our company is a four-digit extension from me,” he says of the phone system linking AVI's many locations. All centralized business data and functions can equally be accessed from anywhere in the firm.

“We've developed a whole infrastructure designed to support the operations of a $500 million company,” Schaffel says.

With sales growth at 20 percent annually, he adds, this goal isn't far off. But he still means to be directly involved in most operations. “He's running this huge company, but he has never lost touch with the sales process,” Bergdoll says. “He knows what every salesman is working on, and he's familiar with every job the company is bidding on.”

People, though, are more critical than technology. Scanlon notes that AVI has always put great emphasis on training its employees, and this has helped the company maintain low turnover over many years. In 2000, AVI launched AVI University, an annual multi-day training program that brought people together from throughout the company.

“We've always believed in providing excellent education, and this also builds team spirit and camaraderie,” she says.

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