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AV Helpdesk: Breaking the Consulting Mold
This small and innovative firm takes consulting way beyond specifying, into the field and onto a 20 percent per year revenue growth.

Article


Steve Grace AV Helpdesk
“The traditional A/V consulting model is based on an old paradigm,” AV Helpdesk president Steve Grace says. (Photography by Adrien Bisson)
November 01, 2012 | by Tom LeBlanc

There is something very different about AV Helpdesk. It’s a consulting firm, but it doesn’t fit the form factor that consultants and specifiers have established in the commercial electronics industry.

Incidentally, that established consultant/specifier model “stinks,” according to AVHD president Steve Grace. He speaks from experience. Grace has worked in the A/V integration industry since 1989, holding positions like assistant technician, technician, drafts-person, engineer and director of technical operations before co-founding AVHD in March of 2003.

“The traditional A/V consulting model is based on an old paradigm,” Grace says, and comes from a time when “manufacturers had protected territories served by a single or small group of dealers, a time before the Internet when clients were less educated about their technology options.”

As a result of an outdated business model, traditional A/V consultants’ solutions are “intentionally vague to allow flexibility in equipment selection for dealers,” Grace adds. “Their model relies on the A/V dealer to provide the detailed engineering efforts and related documentation required to build systems. This approach results in substantial bid response disparities in pricing and equipment selection, and ultimately to variations in end-user experience.

AV Helpdesk Snapshot
Primary Location: Boston

Additional Locations: New York; Austin, Texas (each provides same services as Boston, but headquarters provides back-end support for remote sites)

Principals: Steve Grace, president; Collin Hogan, CEO

Revenues: Annual revenue growth of 20% for five years leading to 2012 (Editor’s note: Declined to share specific amounts)

Years in Business: 9

Employees: 8 (looking to hire 9th by end of 2012, and likely one more in Q1 2013 based on known project workloads)

Number of Projects/Year: 2011 - 45 projects ranging from $15K to $230K; 2010 - 52 projects ranging from $12K to $180K

Top 3 Vertical Markets: Pharmaceuticals and Biomedical Research; Aerospace and Defense; Insurance and Financial Services

Top 5 Brands: Crestron, Extron, Christie Digital, Sharp, Samsung

Elevator Pitch: AV Helpdesk provides a variety of technical services in support of the design, integration and management of a variety of collaborative technology platforms and solutions. We specialize in developing standards based designs and ensuring their accurate implementation across our clients’ diverse geographical locations.

“These disparities also make it difficult for the client to manage the rooms effectively for ongoing maintenance and support. This approach works for one-off projects of yesterday, but falls apart when the client tries to implement a standardized approach across geographic diverse locations.”

AVHD takes an approach more appropriate for today’s clients’ needs, one that goes beyond a specifying role and into the trenches with the eventual integrator, explains unified communications consultant Chris Neto. He highlights three characteristics that make AVHD unique:

Elevated Detail: “Our A/V drawings and bid documentation is a departure from the traditional way of consulting. Take a look at a set of drawings or our bid sheet and you’ll see the difference immediately.”

Direct Client Relationship: “Most consultants work directly for or are brought in by an architect. Though we do a lot of work with architects [20 percent], most of our projects have come from the customer directly. Typically we work as the technology advocate and voice of the client.”

Presence in the Field: “Our business model puts us in the trenches with the installers. We roll up our sleeves and immerse ourselves in the project and technology by taking a hands-on approach.”

The approach is working for AVHD. Although Grace declines to share specific revenue numbers, he says the firm has seen five consecutive years of 20 percent growth. He adds that AVHD “has never lost a client.” Pressed on that lofty claim, Grace thinks about it for a moment and reiterates, “No, we’ve never lost a client.”

The New Client-Consultant Relationship

Another way that AVHD is very different is in its connection with its clients. The Boston-based company doesn’t possess an actual office. Six employees work out of their homes in the Boston area; Neto heads up the New York operations out of his home; and CEO/senior engineer/co-founder Collin Hogan works out of his Austin, Texas, home.

The team stays connected through virtual meetings and, in essence, their clients’ project locations become their offices. AVHD engineers seem to be constantly on location either meeting with clients to prepare designs or on-site acting as project managers.

About the author

Tom LeBlanc - Editor-in-Chief, CI,
Tom has been covering electronics integration since 2003. Prior to being named editor-in-chief of CI, he was senior writer and managing editor of CE Pro. Before that, he wrote for the sports department of the Boston Herald. Migrating to magazines, he was a staff editor for a golf publication and an outdoor sports publication. Follow him on Twitter @leblanctom.
View all posts by Tom LeBlanc
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