The Dealer Differentiation Decade?

edit-energystarlogo-1109I recently wrote a column where I celebrated the few manufacturers that managed to differentiate themselves from the me-too of projector companies out there. Instead of just making smaller, brighter, lighter and higher resolution projectors, they managed to spend the past ten years or so doing things differently so they stand out from the other 40 or so manufacturers of projectors.

That column received a lot of feedback and sparked many discussions with industry friends about how integrators and systems designers of commercial AV gear can differentiate themselves, too. Here’s some of the top ideas from those discussions:

Green and LEED

In case you haven’t noticed, green is more than a trend – it’s quickly becoming a shift in lifestyle. We, too, can be green. Everyone from Lutron to Extron has launched GreenAV stuff that’s Energy Star-compliant, can help you achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification in buildings, or just saves energy — and money.  I’d highly recommend you leverage as much of this as you can, as quickly as you can.  Instead of just installing the same old AV systems you’ve done for years, consider becoming THE EXPERT in your market for GreenAV. Put on seminars for clients on why they need to consider LEED certification, GreenAV gear and energy-saving AV stuff. In fact, you can start to design systems that save more energy than your competitions and show your potential customers the cost-savings and the so-called carbon-footprint offset.  


Networked AV Systems


Believe it or not, less than 16 percent of commercial AV systems installed in 2009 were networked. This is a BIG mistake.  Without being networked, you can’t even offer remote monitoring and systems management – thus, throwing away a LOT of potential service revenue (see the next section to understand the lost margin potential of this).  But, even more important, networked AV drives the content side of the business.  For example, the money in digital signage (a totally networked AV application) is in providing the creative content.  

Networked AV represents the future of our market.  So, take a leadership role in steering the AV-ship by going 100 percent networked AV NOW!  

Service Galore

By now, I’m sure you’ve realized that providing service is a lot more profitable than providing gear. The margin on all four service opportunities AV systems provides (systems design, systems integration/installation, proactive maintenance and 24/7/365 remote management) provide higher margins than selling AV gear.  Are you providing them?

oldman0909If not, why not?  Become the service leader in your market.  In fact, if you become good enough at it, offer those services to your competition! Seriously. If you’re better than your competition, then call them up and offer to be their service provider.  Let’s face it, some companies are great at gear sales and some are great at gear maintenance – and I’d much rather be great at providing services than providing gear. 


One of the BEST services you can add to your arsenal is creativity. In fact, the fastest growing segment of the commercial AV market totally derives the majority of its profit potential for the integrator from graphics design and creativity: digital signage.  Unfortunately, the AV channel isn’t the primary go-to integration firm – the IT channel is.  You NEED to seriously consider adding graphics design and creative services to your repertoire. Why stop at the installation?  

THE Emerging Market

Everyone in the commerical AV market does boardrooms, conference rooms, training rooms, etc. But, not everyone is focused on the emerging markets. The biggest emerging market in commercial AV right now is, no doubt, the digital signage market. I intentionally mention digital signage as the ultimate emerging market as, interestingly enough, it is also the ultimate market for your to aggregate all the aforementioned stuff, too!

  • It’s Green: Not only can a digital signage application be promoted as a green install (e.g., on a university campus, it eliminates the need for the school newspaper; in retail, it eliminates the need for a coupon or flyer) – don’t believe me? Just ask the 30 or so college campuses in the U.S., alone, who have opted for giant digital signage deployments rather than continuing the school paper.
  • It’s Networked:  All digital signage installs are 100 percent network driven.  And, the best part about it – it’s the best way to understand the future of the commercial AV install, which is eventually going to totally network driven content.
  • It’s A Service-Based Solution:  According to their own industry stats, 91 percent of the digital signage installs include monthly 24/7/365 service contracts at an average margin of over 60 percent.
  • It’s Creative:  Offering your client the gear is one thing in a digital signage install, but offering them the production of the content is the ultimate in profitability and partering.

Still not convinced?  Geez, then you’re probably still selling overhead projectors to 70-year old tenured professors…

Reprinted with permission from Sound & Communications. Founded in 1955, Sound & Communications is the premiere magazine for AV systems integrators, contractors and consultants. To subscribe or read sample articles, go to