This year could be very different for Revelation as the Worcester, Mass.-based AV integrator plans to dive headfirst into integration after primarily operating in the event production space for 10 years.
With several projects under its belt to showcase to potential clients, the company plans to grow its integration business and gain market share on the East Coast.
So far, the company counts mostly churches as its integration clients, and that’s exactly how the company began moving into integration in the first place.
“Churches didn’t want to get rid of the LED walls we were installing for them for rentals,” said Executive Producer of Revelation, Anthony D’Elia. “They wanted to have a big impact for their Easter service, but didn’t want to go back to a projector after.”
That first client was about three years ago, and now the company is moving into the commercial side of things, including medical facilities, museums and country clubs.
Getting AV integration jobs
According to interviews with other audiovisual industry experts, companies from many other adjacent AV verticals move into integration, like office furniture companies, security integrators and IT firms.
Red Thread, an AV integrator born out of Boston-based office furniture manufacturer Steelcase did just that about 15 years ago, growing that side of the business by acquiring New England integration firms in 2004 and 2005.
However, smaller businesses like Revelation looking to move into integration will need to lean on the industry’s resources.
John Riley, senior vice president of channel sales at Almo Professional A/V, said his company can help smaller companies navigate these waters with training, design help and labor augmenting.
According to Riley, companies that look to start an integration business are faced with a multitude of challenges in an already difficult industry.
Cash flow is already an issue in AV, but that can be compounded for new AV integrators that have not yet established that part of the business.
“Some of these projects are very expensive,” Riley said.
A massive investment
According to D’Elia, the hardest thing about breaking into integration was building a portfolio to show potential clients.
“We knew we could do the work because of all the production’s we’ve done, but we didn’t have the examples to show,” he said.
Next was building relationships with suppliers and becoming dealers, but that became easier over time, D’Elia said.
“When we first started, we were only a dealer for a few things,” he said. “Now, we’re one of EAW’s largest dealers. We did a lot with NEC, but now we’re moving into other brands.”
To get those first projects, integrators need to hire the right people and pay them well, said Chuck Wilson, executive director of NSCA.
Businesses also must nail down a billing and payroll process to maintain a solid cashflow, but even then, new AV integrators should be prepared to weather the storm through a year or two of losses.
The large up-front investment needed to enter the industry is often overlooked, Wilson said.
“If they aren’t able to withstand a year or two of losses from a financial position, I typically recommend they not enter our space,” Wilson said.
Companies moving into integration must come into it with a solid financial foundation and can’t approach it with a shoestring budget.
hat gets complicated with the already tight margins in integration primarily due to labor costs, Wilson said.
“Investments are higher because the barrier to entry has risen and the cost of people it requires has gone up dramatically,” he said.
According to Wilson, one of the biggest mistakes he sees is the belief that technologists from other disciplines can make a seamless transition to integration.
“They feel like they were good at they were doing before and would be able to transition nicely into what we do,” he said. “It’s apples and oranges.”
Is AV integration too crowded & not lucrative?
According to Riley, a common misconception of integration is that it’s too crowded and not very lucrative.
However, AV industry group AVIXA would disagree. At the group’s AV Executive Conference in October, economics experts said that despite a flurry of mergers and acquisitions for the last few years, the integration market remains relatively wide open.
Riley agreed, saying there’s a reason that the U.S. unemployment rate is staying below 4%: the economy is doing well and businesses are finding more dollars to spend on technologies like AV.
“I think there’s a lot of work out there for a lot of people,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity out there if you’re willing to go out and develop the business.”