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3.21.19 – CEPro – By Jason Knott

Texas-based Service Tech AV brings a honed installation process, automated ‘Build-a-Bear’ selling system, and requirement that all clients sign service agreements to the high-rise condo and luxury home markets.

HOW MANY CUSTOM installation companies mandate their employees attend the company Christmas party wearing onesies, set up a photo booth, cater it with multiple food trucks, and pre-pay car services for everyone’s ride home post-event? Not many.

But it’s that sort of corporate culture, along with the development of a series of methodical business process in the areas of sales, installation and service, that have enabled Service Tech Audio Visual in Austin, Texas, to become one of the most visionary custom integrators in the industry.

The company, led by president Chris Pearson, has built a corporate culture that embraces diversity and celebrates fun while at the same time successfully competing in multiple markets, including commercial, high-rise condos and ultra-affluent single-family homes. The result is a company where people want to work — an important factor in today’s tight employment market.

But it’s not just the culture that defines the company; it is the development of its innovative business processes, which include:
▷ A commitment to obtain a service agreement from every client in advance — or else Service Tech won’t take on that customer.
▷ A proprietary “Build-a-Bear” digital portal that allows hundreds of its condo clients to select most of their technology amenities without the assistance of a salesperson.
▷ A well-documented installation procedure for maximizing productivity, which includes a mobile warehouse. Those processes have enabled the 22-person company to attain revenues of more than $10 million, with just two salespeople.

The company also excels in large single-family residences, doing several seven-figure projects, including one called Villa Stallarum, which won the 2019 Consumer Technology Association’s Mark of Excellence Awards Home of the Year and includes, among other things, a fully automated observatory.

Pearson started in the A/V business back in the mid-1990s working for an integration company that focused on large commercial A/V and IT applications. So the focus of Service Tech AV when it was launched in 2003 was solely on commercial projects, with an emphasis on service agreements.
“The concept was that we were only going to do service contracts for commercial clients.  at was the whole premise.  That was the part of the business I liked — selling commercial service and earning recurring revenue. I would always get service contracts on my projects and always have them renew it or auto-renew. We would even lease the most expensive part of the project as a technology lease,
like sign up for a 5,000-lumens projector for 36 months but after 18 months you can upgrade to a 10,000-lumens projector and renew the lease,” recalls Pearson, who eventually started doing residential
projects in 2008.

It’s taken awhile to transfer that same service-minded focus to the residential market, but starting this year Service Tech AV is drawing a line in the sand regarding service agreements.
“For 2019, I only want to deal with clients that want a long-term service relationship and they’ll pay for it. In the future, Service Tech AV, along with our partner OneVision Resources, is only going after clients that are willing to pay for service. I’m no longer an indentured servant,” says Pearson bluntly. “ e original thought of the creation of Service Tech
AV was not to deliver products, it was to provide service. That’s why the company is called Service Tech.”

After emphasizing how vital it is for a project to have a higher-end rebootable network, Pearson discusses the necessity of a service agreement with every customer.  That communication about service graduates into a broader talk with clients about the quality of his full operation:

“Thank you for buying a $100,000 system from me, but that doesn’t mean it works 24/7 with no maintenance. You maintain your car, your body, your lawn … and your technology system needs to be maintained, too. I understand that it’s expensive, but if you want someone to pick up the phone 24/7, want people entering your house that have drug checks and background checks, want technicians in modern vehicles with access to tools, then you’ve got to pay for it. Those things cost money. You have to pay me for service.” By having the service contract discussion at the beginning of the project, it also avoids that awkward conversation later.
“We are leading our sales conversations with service. At the end of the project, you can’t say to a client, ‘Hey, here’s the $10,000 service contract.’ You should have led with that discussion,” Pearson says. That should have been part of that seed you plant — that service costs money if you want it done right by professional people. If you’re not interested in any of that, I’ve got to let you go to my competition.”

To achieve its service goal, Service Tech AV has engaged with OneVision Resources as its service partner. OneVision recently conducted its in-depth onboarding process with the entire Service Tech AV team. That process includes creating the service plan, setting the pricing for the program, and outlining specific conversations to have with clients and any processes that needed to be changed, such as eliminating the old habit of having clients call a technician or salesperson directly. Going forth, all those service calls from clients are directed to a central number at Service Tech AV, which is responded to by the OneVision staff 24/7 as a completely transparent extension of Service Tech.

Pearson says one other little-discussed benefit of having the OneVision 24/7 team onboard is that he discovered some clients hesitate to reach out for service because they think they are “bothering” him. Having a remotely rebootable system in place such as SnapAV OvrC eliminates that concern. “I found the frustration of the client is,
‘I like you, Chris. You always respond, but I feel we’re handcuffed to you guys. Tell me, is there anything I can do so I don’t feel like I’m bothering you?’ That resonated with me. My God, we’ve been keeping these people captive. All they want to do is unplug the rack and plug it back in,” he comments. Now, using SnapAV OvrC and OneVision as its instant triage remote service team, Service Tech AV clients can be walked through certain troubleshooting steps and systems can be rebooted remotely. “I think SnapAV hit it out of the park with OvrC,” he says. “I like that OneVision reminds the client that service is not a free thing. It isn’t an expectation — it’s a process.” The other benefit of Service Tech AV’s new service focus is that it is now freeing up the team to pursue other money-making ventures. “We’re trying to do service for a profit,” says Pearson flatly. “When I talk to other integrators and they tell me, ‘We handle it ourselves.’ I ask, ‘Why? What could you be doing if you weren’t busy handling service?’ You could be getting a
certification in lighting design, be building a demo for circadian rhythm lighting, or talking to a developer on health and wellness. You could be doing those things versus rolling a truck.” For Service Tech AV, the OneVision partnership has freed up additional sales time — for everyone. Pearson says now he has the time to go after the next large
high-rise condo project in the area, while his dedicated service technicians can now focus on other revenue-generating tasks, such as seeking out past clients to look for outdated upgrades.

Service Tech AV landed its first high-rise condo project in Austin in 2008. Now, condos are one of the company’s specialties. The company has completed nine condo towers over the past 11 years and just inked a deal for its 10th condo project. High-rise condos, or “resi-mercial” projects as Pearson calls them, require a special way of selling and installing. The most recent condo project is more than 50 doors tall with 365 units, starting at $400,000. In addition, there are multiple penthouses ranging between $4 million and $6 million. Service Tech AV contracts with the developer for the tower infrastructure, as well as the sales center, then contracts separately with each unit owner, who tend to be young-money Millennials or empty-nesters … few families. But how can Service Tech AV and its two-person sales team individually meet with 300 potential clients in an expedited manner? The keys are offering standardized packages and developing of a proprietary digital portal — complete with videos — through which clients can choose
their technology needs. The portal’s software guides the client all way from initial design to formal payment.

“The clients just need to get the information, but I don’t have the capacity to meet with 300 people. But what if there was a way for us to knock 200 of those meetings out of the way while still getting the same amount of sales we probably would have ended up with anyway?” Pearson asks rhetorically. “So we built a portal to do just that, and put those clients in the queue for delivery.”

Using videos, the portal shows customers a pre-designed package for lighting, shades and pre-wire, as well as pre-defined audio and video. The videos are designed in a way to answer potential questions from clients like, “Do you want shades, or do you want speakers in the wall, or do you want light fabric or dark fabric for your shades?” Pearson equates it to an online “Build-a-Bear” shopping experience.

“This Build-a-Bear thing has been in my head for almost my entire career,” admits Pearson. “In today’s market, people want something simple. Millennials already know how to navigate any app. You have to start with a repeatable base and you can’t offer too much in that online environment, which is why customers can always click a
‘Call us for custom’ button,” he notes. The bulk ordering and automatic payment also enables Service Tech AV to expand its buying power. Based on the online orders via the portal, the company now knows how many loudspeakers to order. “I can cashflow it, and I can take advantage of cash discounts,” he says. For the most recent condo project, for instance, there’s a $2,500 pre-wire base with an incentive to add Sonance architectural speakers upfront that immediately turns that base package to a $5,000 price point, or Paradigm speakers for an even higher price point. The A/V packages include selections for soundbars, four- to six-zone Sonos audio systems, Lutron shades, and wall station interfaces layered over Crestron or Savant control. The average technology purchase from the digital portal is $20,000 to $25,000.

Some clients are as low as $10,000 while others use the Build-a-Bear system to reach $80,000 in technology. Interestingly, the packages are not rolled into the condo mortgage; ServiceTech acts purely as an outside agent with a contract with each buyer. That scenario absolves the developer from being a service company for the technology in any way, and it keeps the property taxes lower for the units. “No one wants to pay higher property tax because they spent $100,000 on technology upgrades. That adds up over time,” he points out.

Working on a high-rise condo project will expose any weakness that exists in an integrator’s installation process. There are strict floor-by-floor completion needs, curveballs from requirements related to elevator walls and certain floors with concrete ceilings, OSHA safety requirements and more. Not to mention dealing with the large number of trades on the job — each vying for priority access to the elevator or parking spots. “I used to call it ‘resi-mercial’ because it’s a commercial exterior with a nice residential interior,” says Pearson. “It has different construction requirements. You have to be equipped for it. You have to ask yourself if you can physically pull off installing the technology on four floors per month for five months straight. Most companies can’t. It’s tough. It is a hard environment. It can be 120 degrees in certain areas of the tower that have no air conditioning. In the middle of winter, it is a giant cold concrete cylinder.”

Despite the harsh environment, Service Tech AV has established a track record by developing keen installation processes, including:
▷ Planning out entire floors at a time so products and materials are delivered on time and properly. In some towers, groups of floors will have concrete ceilings, so you are limited in your ability to sell in-ceiling speakers, for example. The pre-wire technician has to know that.
▷ Becoming friends with both the elevator operator and the general contractors so they are trusted to stay on time, especially in that limbo period when the developer still owns the unit and the condo owner has yet to take over.
▷ Committing dedicated resources to the project. Service Tech AV has a person onsite from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day.
▷ Attending every safety meeting. There might be 50 safety meetings that take place prior to Service Tech staff ever even starting to pull their first cable, but it is vital the staff attend those meetings.
▷ Cutting in pre-construction brackets for every architectural speaker location. Pearson says that can make the difference between an eight-minute trim-out speaker installation and a 45-minute installation. When the project calls for 700 speakers to be installed, that time difference is monumental.
▷ Complete documentation of every system package that is sold. “We might need 39 ‘A Project Packages’ and 42 ‘B Project Packages’ delivered onsite. I need a checklist so that when our technician walks out of an A Project unit he has checked out every task,” says Pearson.

But no matter if the project is a highrise condo or a large-scale suburban abode, thanks to having the right processes, people and partners in place, it seems the sky’s the limit for Service Tech AV’s future.