Intereum is lucky in a way. It doesn’t face all of the competitive disadvantages that typical AV integration firms face—things like being consulted way too late in the project cycle and difficulty getting a chance to demonstrate solutions for customers.
Then again, Intereum is not a typical AV integration firm.
In Minnestota’s Twin Cities area Intereum is known as a premier provider of office furniture and a big Herman Miller dealer. It launched an AV division three years ago.
By incorporating technology displays into its destination furniture showroom, Intereum has started AV conversations with customers far earlier in the workplace transformation cycle than most integrators get to and way before customers have begun thinking about who to call for the AV aspects of their renovation or buildouts.
As Intereum’s third year in the AV business came to a close the AV division expected to finish at nearly $4 million in sales—”Not bad for a startup!” says Intereum principal Brett Abbott—and plans to come close to doubling that in 2016.
How a Furniture Dealer Got into AV
Four years ago Mark Lorenson was IT director for Intereum. At that time the furniture company was selling some pieces that have AV preconfigured into them and there always seemed to be something that didn’t quite work on those “integrated” pieces, recalls Abbott.
As the resident “tech guy” for the $60 million commercial furniture dealer Lorenson was often brought into sales and showroom conversations with customers. As he was helping to resolve tech issues, he noticed that customers who were there to buy chairs, for instance, would also ask for suggestions on where to buy AV.
Lorenson along with an AV industry veteran acquaintance, Jeremy Schneider, had an idea to launch an AV division within Intereum that he brought to Abbott. “It was kind of an ‘ah ha’ moment,” Abbott says.
Schneider came on board as a sales engineer, having run a Las Vegas area integration firm until the bubble burst and he relocated to Minnesota. “Jeremy had really good AV industry experience,” Abbott says.
“So combine a customer need that wasn’t being met with having two highly motivated people to move into this space—one from IT and one from AV—and we saw it as the right people at the right time with the right customer need,” Abbott says.
Lorenson moved out of his IT role and into what’s essentially an entrepreneurial position, audio video director, responsible for growing that division. An early decision was to align Intereum’s upscale reputation as a loyal Herman Miller dealer with an AV counterpart.
“We partner with Herman Miller on the furniture side and Crestron on the AV side,” Lorenson says. “Crestron is the only control system we sell because we believe it is the best product and most reliable, like Herman Miller on the furniture side.”
In addition to Schneider, Lorenson has since added three engineers and two project managers. It outsources most of its installation labor to a Rocket AV Inc., which he says is a reputable, Crestron-certified and non-competitive local installation company. Programming is also outsourced to “a local individual who’s one of the best in the industry,” although Intereum’s engineers are “well versed in Crestron and can do light programming as needed.”
In Intereum’s B2B showroom it sees a unique opportunity to tap into companies’ focuses on workspace transformation. “Collaboration areas are huge within offices,” Mark Lorenson says.
Unquantifiable Value of Getting in Early
While it required some investment to get the new team up to speed, Abbott says, Intereum’s AV division saw early success. Aligning Herman Miller and Crestron was effective positioning, he says. “We really rallied around one major product [Crestron DigitalMedia].”
Another factor was, as a furniture dealer, Intereum’s ability to bring AV into the conversation sooner in the process. “We started to see that we are in so early with these customers with furnishing that having that AV discussion so early really created a much more integrated solution for the client at the end of the project.”