The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly taken its toll on a number of integration firms throughout the industry in the past year.
As entire industries were forced to shut down, reduce capacity or send employees to work from home, the well of available capital to implement new technology began to dry.
This sudden halt in technology projects forced many organizations to take advantage of new opportunities they might not otherwise have thought of. The resimercial trend of commercial integrators bidding on residential projects saw an uptick in popularity.
Communications and collaboration technology vaulted to the forefront of many portfolios.
For AVH Technology Partners (formerly AV Helpdesk), the lack of business throughout the pandemic served as an opportunity to dig into their own processes, rebrand and enter the new year more resolute in who they were as an integration consultancy firm.
Facing a Pandemic
The firm, who graced the cover of Commercial Integrator magazine in November 2012, suffered through much of the same hardships many businesses did in early 2020.
“The impact on us financially started right when projects would go on hold,” says Steve Grace, president and senior consultant, as well as a founding partner of AVH. “We saw expansion projects immediately go on hold. We saw consolidation projects go on temporary hold.
“The problem was that the work dried up almost completely. We had a ton of time on our hands,” says Collin Hogan, VP and senior consultant and also a founding partner of AVH.
“We feared that the foundation of our business model was threatened at its core.
“We feared that companies were going to steer away from building conference rooms in the future due to social distancing standards. That was the initial thinking in March, April, and June,” he says.
Considered large for an AV-specific consulting firm, AVH Technology Partners has seven employees across seven states. The founders boast of an incredibly low turnover rate. Keeping employees on board and with the company is a personal point of pride.
“We didn’t want to lose anybody,” says Grace. “That was the priority. That drove all the decisions we made.”
The company took advantage of the government-assistance PPP loans in order to bridge the gap while projects dried up. They made a strategic decision to furlough five employees for five weeks.
While navigating the process was difficult, that down period allowed them to consider new ways to spend their time if projects were not going to be available.
“Historically we are word of mouth only,” says Grace. “We didn’t market or advertise. We didn’t reach out. We did our own website and didn’t touch it very often. Ninety percent of our work comes from a handful of Fortune 500 companies we’ve been working with forever.
“We’re in a pretty good spot that way, and it’s great to have a company this long that is referral based only. But the pandemic was a pinch point. It stressed everything financially and in the future we weren’t sure what to do,” he says.
AVH decided to pick out seven key clients that spanned architects, Fortune 500, and project management firms.
They came up with a twenty-question primer and had an independent third-party interview each of these clients based on the questions AVH wanted answers to.
In addition, they sent a survey to anyone they had ever done business with asking how they could be better.
They received 150 responses. After taking all of the information they refined their model based on that feedback.
“One of the key takeaways was that the Helpdesk nomenclature was a problem,” says Grace.
“When people would refer us to clients, they’d ask why they need a help desk. They’re in the initial phases of building the space so they don’t need a help desk at that point. It was confusing.
“We felt our relationships with our clients was more of a partnership long–term, so we changed our name to AVH Technology Partners,” he says.
Another important result coming out of the survey was the company’s lack of touchpoints with long term clients. When a project was finished, AVH wasn’t reaching out to clients throughout the year to learn what other pain points they might have. Clients wanted to hear from them.
“That came from several of the interviews and a number of the surveys. It was enlightening,” says Grace. “You have to be proactive. You have to have a customer relationship management database.
“You have to search for new clients, and you have to massage your old clients. That was a big learning point for us,” he says.
The silver lining for AVH during the pandemic was that time to be introspective, and their clients’ time to answer their inquiries. “It was an opportunity to refine our message, refresh our website, rebrand, and do all of that when we normally don’t have the time.”
Weathering the Storm
Come July, AVH began to see projects free up. “They wanted the designs done by the end of the year, which is the bulk of our work,” says Grace. “At that time there was some reprieve.”
What AVH found was that smaller clients believed that they might move to a majority work from home model. Larger clients that had been around for decades considered the pandemic a short-term problem that wouldn’t vastly alter the way they operated.
Work began to free up with those larger clients, and that work often included an additional investment with in-office conferencing and collaboration equipment.
“The bigger companies seemed to make much more defined decisions,” says Grace. “Smaller companies have been all over the place. It was interesting to watch that.”
In addition, those bigger companies had a vested interest in helping AVH stay afloat, as they had a long working relationship. When AVH came calling to inquire about how they could improve as partners, those legacy clients found ways to help where they could.
“They found money and found projects to give to us to help us along,” says Grace. “Toward the end of the year whole new building projects were coming up for us, where the clients were going all out.
“We’re building huge conference rooms and amphitheaters when we were worried if that would even be in people’s planning. They’ve made the decision: they will be back to normal at some point,” he says.
Read Next: Pro AV Business Opportunities in 2021
“There is a value to having people collaborating in person, together,” says Grace. “It was interesting to see that the plans included big, divisible meeting spaces, auditoriums, boardrooms and the traditional spaces we’ve always done.”
November ended up being AVH Technology Partner’s largest closing month ever. Thanks to a combination of government assistance and introspection, they were able to weather the storm of the pandemic.
With a newly developed website, a rebranded name, and, most importantly, new understanding of what their clients need from them, AVH looks ahead with cautious optimism to 2021.
AVH Technology Partners serve as a great example of what can be accomplished – and what can be overcome – when integration firms look inwardly to improve their processes and refine their business.
The pandemic gave this company the time to do so, but certainly other firms would benefit from carving out the time to look at their own organizations.