We sat down with Chris Bianchet, general manager at Herman Integration Services to discuss pro AV industry changes, how Herman can help grow businesses beyond labor support and what the AV industry should be doing more of.
Commercial Integrator: How are you seeing integration services being used with industry changes currently post COVID?
CB: So interesting you said post COVID, I don’t know that we are 100% post COVID, but I would say things have picked up in the second half of the year. I would say even Q2 we saw a big upturn. A lot of this was tied to people coming back to offices to work again — I think that’s taking a lot longer than it would have normally taken had we been in a situation where COVID did not have this resurgence, I’d say we would be out of control trying to keep up with the demand. The biggest difference we’ve seen in our business is our flex plan, a day-to service support plan.
In normal times, pre-2020, we had 10 to 15 calls a week that we would respond to do service work. What we’re seeing today is between 30 and 40 calls a week. A lot of those calls are people trying to get us out there to make sure the rooms are working properly because they’re anticipating people coming back into the office.
The hybrid collaboration meetings that are happening now with more people being able to work from home are looking at having us to upgrade these things. There’s quite a huge backlog of work and upgrades because a lot didn’t happen in 2020. Everybody wants their work done as soon as possible. From our labor standpoint, we’re finding ourselves doing all we can to meet the needs of our customers right now, but it’s a good problem to have. We’re continuing to hire and find qualified people but as we know right now the labor market is compressed, so that adds to the challenge of all of it.
CI: How can Herman help grow an integration business beyond just labor support?
CB: We offer a lot of other services other than labor. We are most known for labor support or handling projects from A-to-Z especially for our customers if their projects are in geographic areas that maybe they don’t have the resources.
Since the beginning, we’ve always offered engineering services pre and post sales. We offer CAD services or when companies are overwhelmed with work maybe need help. We also offer a myriad of different programming services from Crestron, AMX, Biamp, etc. We’re always looking at ways how we can help our customers achieve more and what pain points customers are having and what can we add to help them out.
The flex plan is an area that customers are able to buy a block of hours from us and use those hours anywhere in the country for any customer that they may have service needs. In 2022, we’re going to be expanding that beyond just service and being able to do small jobs through this, as well as engineering programming and CAD work, so we’re constantly surveying our customers, finding out what their needs are and how we can help them continue to build their business. In turn, we’re able to offer more services and grow our business as well. Things have seemed to accelerate this year and we’re here and available and ready to help everyone.
CI: What are some of the things the AV industry needs to do more of?
CB: I think one of the things the AV industry is struggling with is really the awareness of what we do. It may sound funny to say — anywhere you go, you may see a video wall, a TV display, and there’s audio, it’s around us all the time but people aren’t questioning how do I get a job doing that type of work.
I happened to see a report that 46% of the workforce that is doing technical electrical work is over the age of 50. What will look like in 10 years, if the other half is not growing at the same proportion? I think we’ve got to find some better ways as an industry to make AV look sexy — hey here’s a great career that you could have, but we’re dealing with generational issues, competition from other businesses and other industries, so it’s just one of those things that’s always been a proponent for us to figure out.
It’s a great industry. I think it’s an exciting industry that’s always changing. For people who like change, it is a great place to be. It’s been exciting here at Herman over the last nine years of growth — joining with ADI global gave us the ability to continue growing our business.