I believe one of the reasons that commercial AV technology journalism is thriving is because most properties lean into a particular coverage angle. When I was with Sound & Communications, we focused on long-form, independently reported installation features. Here at Commercial Integrator, our niche is helping integrators run their businesses better by reinforcing best practices and providing strategic guidance. I have immense respect for our audience, and I know that the modern integrator’s technical competence is far beyond that of her forebears; at the same time, I’m also cognizant of the fact that many integrators are so busy working in their business that they scarcely have time to work on their business. If Commercial Integrator can play a salutary role in keeping integrators’ cashflow in line, their workforce populated and their portfolio diversified, then we’ve done something special…something singular.
Commercial Integrator and NSCA as Strategic Advisors
Central to Commercial Integrator’s capability to be a strategic advisor is our longtime partnership with NSCA, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based trade association that exists to deliver integrators a constellation of toolkits and playbooks for success. That was never clearer than during a joint Commercial Integrator and NSCA webcast, entitled “Risk-Mitigation Strategies for the Supply Chain,” which we presented on November 15. For an hour, our panel of experts — Mike Abernathy, director of business resources, NSCA; Tina Peters, executive vice president at SVT; and Dale Bottcher, executive vice president, global sales and marketing, AVI-SPL — discussed ways that integrators can minimize the risks they face from the challenges of our time.
With lingering snarls in logistics, component shortages and overheated demand levels, straight through to bloated project backlogs and unabating price increases, the last couple of years have been a challenging time to be an integrator. Even amid those challenges, though, business owners needn’t feel swept up in a roiling tide. Abernathy, Peters and Bottcher reminded us that, although there’s no snap-your-fingers solution, we needn’t feel adrift, either. Mitigating risk, they said, starts with setting client expectations, which entails not only communicating forthrightly — even “overcommunicating” — but also ensuring message alignment from sales straight through to operations. Part of that ongoing discussion with clients might include trying to negotiate milestone-based billings. This approach can protect integrators from cashflow problems amid extended project timelines.
Force Majeure Language, Wavier of Remedies
The word “protect” is especially salient in the context of contract terms and conditions. NSCA’s CEO, Chuck Wilson, has long advised association members to ensure contracts include force majeure language to offer protection from exogeneous events over which integrators have no control. Relatedly, waiver of remedies clauses can help relieve integrators from liquidated damages and other penalties. And, on the proposal side, the panelists recommended during the webinar that integrators consider substantially shortening proposal-validity windows — perhaps to 30 or even 15 days. In an age of unpredictable price increases, they said, integrators must be mindful that project pricing that’s profitable in January might be unprofitable in March. Simply put, integration businesses can’t waste time and resources on upside-down projects.
Abernathy, Peters and Bottcher touched on a host of other topics, including the importance of monitoring true project costs; the imperative to break the “muscle memory” of working with the same vendor partners and develop a cross product/solution reference guide; and how to identify high-risk/low-margin projects that can cannibalize revenue. They even broached the subject of accounting strategies and keeping your team “right-sized.”
I hope you watch information-packed, one-hour webinar from Commercial Integrator and NSCA. It might make the difference between a profitable 2023 and a tiring, obstacle-laden uphill slog. You can watch for free on the Commercial Integrator website.