For Almo Pro A/V’s Sam Taylor, 2017 is going to be a year in which he reflects on his career – whether he likes it or not.
The executive VP of Almo Pro A/V is celebrating his 30th year in the AV industry. “I’ve seen a lot of changes since 1987,” which is when he joined distributor Electrograph.
Many of those changes have been dictated by market conditions. For instance, during the depths of the recession in June of 2009 Taylor saw Electrograph fall victim to economic and market conditions. He bounced back quickly taking a lot of what worked at Electrograph along with valuable lessons learned from the recession to distributor Almo where he launched Almo Pro A/V.
“It was a good fit,” Taylor recalled to CI on Almo Pro A/V’s fifth anniversary. “Almo had very good logistics and was well financed. Almo was our back end. We were able to plug in the sales folks. Most importantly is they had a great corporate culture. When we started we had no customers, no vendors and no inventory. In less than eight years we now have over $400 million in revenue per year.”
That transition provides another layer to a three-decade career in which Taylor has seen a lot – both good and bad – of the AV integration industry. Almo Pro A/V has taken a unique approach to distribution, focusing on launching services for its dealers — Almo Content (digital signage content creation that dealers can offer to their customers), Almo Connect (broadband services that dealers can sell directly), Almo Install (installation and labor support services that dealers can use to augment their staffs) and Almo Control (automation programming services).
During Almo Pro A/V’s E4 AV Tour stop outside Chicago in March, Taylor took time to reflect on lessons learned over the past 30 years.
Almo Pro A/V’s Sam Taylor Puts Today’s Challenges in Perspective
CI: When you think of 30 years in the industry what thoughts and perspectives immediately spring to mind?
Taylor: When I started it was more about selling products than solutions. There was some integration going on, but most dealers were more or less selling products. There were a lot of “box houses” as we referred to them back then.
In the ’90s there was a big change when margins from the dealers came way down. Just selling the projectors and hardware [wasn’t enough]. They had to be integrating the projector. A lot of those box houses didn’t evolve and consequently went under.
Then the true integrator emerged that we know today.
Now I see over the past couple of years the integrators are getting challenged with decreasing margins. There is a lot of competition out there. We’re at another inflection point where they have to re-invent themselves again.
Smart integrators are focused on selling services and focused on recurring revenue and ways to help their customers grow and concentrate on the great end user experience. Those are the companies that will make it through the next round of consolidation.
Watch Now — Related Webcast: The Forward-Thinking Integrator’s Guide to Content Creation
CI: In a challenging environment like today’s it’s probably temping for integration firms to try to ride it out because they’ll say the industry has been through challenges like this before and bounced back. But is this a more challenging time than that time you alluded to before?
Taylor: It’s hard to say. I think the next time the economy hits a downturn — and obviously we’re not going to be in recovery forever – many companies that haven’t evolved are going to go out of business. However, the companies that are evolving will reap the rewards. It is like evolution – survival of the fittest.
CI: The industry has been focused on things like becoming more network-centric and relying less on project-based revenue for years, but do you think the economic recovery may have pushed those priorities to the side a little bit?
Taylor: I agree with you 100 percent.
Investing in Future is Win-Win
CI: It seems like when Almo Pro A/V has launched services it has aimed to keep push those priorities. Were you driven to do that because of what you’ve seen over the last 30 years?
Taylor: Yes, I saw it as an opportunity for Almo to add more tangible value for our customers. Integrators needed to be more focused on services and recurring revenue. We added content creation for digital signage as our first service. We had the ability to do content for them, which they could then resell and make extra margin on plus create a new recurring revenue stream.
We’ve also added bandwidth, installation and programming services which can provide recurring revenue as well.
For me that’s a true win-win.
CI: It’s a win for Almo Pro A/V if its dealers stay in business.
Taylor: Exactly. One of the reasons we launched the [E4 AV Tour] was we wanted to have a free educational platform for integrators so they would stay abreast of the newest technology and trends. That was one of the real focuses when we launched Almo [Pro A/V].
[The attendees] are the people we want to be partners with. They are going to be here 10 years from now because they invested the time to educate themselves on current technologies and future trends. The guy that was too busy because he’s working on a project and misses the opportunity to get CTS renewal units and network with peers – that’s the guy who’s not going to be in business.
As long as we focus on what helps our integrators out, that’s what’s going to make us successful in the long term, which is why we launched our service offerings. We knew that there were areas where we could add value, revenue and margin for our partners.
CI: How has distribution changed in 30 years?
Taylor: When I started 30 years ago distribution was a dirty word. Every dealer wanted to be direct. The only time they would use distribution was if they needed a particular brand that they didn’t carry. We were the last resort for a dealer.
Over the years the pendulum has swung the other way where we are becoming the first choice for the hardware, the services behind the hardware, and staging rollouts for our resellers for their projects – that’s something a single manufacturer can’t do.
I think we are at an inflection point where the resellers who get it are really getting it. The integrators who aren’t, it’s going to be difficult for them. -Sam Taylor, Almo Pro A/V
Distribution has come a long way in 30 years — from a place to buy hardware to fill in the gaps to now where we are a trusted partner for our integrators.
CI: The guys running dealer companies in 1987 are baby boomers and now poised for retirement. This industry hasn’t done a good job of recruiting young people to kind of be there replacements and run those companies. Are you nervous for the industry?
Taylor: No, I’m not. There are younger people working at these integrator firms that are really dynamic and will keep the industry going.
I think there will always be bright people coming into this industry. Even within our own company we have a lot of 20- and 30-year-old intelligent, upcoming people that will carry the flag when we’re gone. I see that in the dealer base as well.