“Since we’re in at the beginning we have a unique opportunity to tell a story about how we can manage the entire space, where the furniture will be and where the AV will go,” Lorenson says. It improves on the traditional model where “the AV guy comes in after the fact and says, ‘That table won’t work. ‘We’re going to drill into it.’ That’s where we can come in and be a turnkey solution for the customer.”
Meanwhile, many local AV competitors don’t even know that Intereum sells AV because the furniture dealer has locked up the AV project before traditional AV firms have had a chance to bid on it, Lorenson says.
“We see competitors’ customers walking into our door to buy office furniture. We have probably the best showroom for furniture and AV in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area.”
That’s another thing. Few traditional AV integration firms have a showroom.
“In the furniture world customers schedule showroom visits,” Lorenson says. Intereum doesn’t push AV on their clients’ purchasing professionals who are visiting the showroom to consider furniture. However, Lorenson says it will do quick AV presentations and ask for a follow-up meeting with whomever the IT director or whoever the appropriate contact would be to discuss technology.
“One of our 25 furniture reps will have a client come in and we’ll spend 15 minutes talking about our AV capabilities,” he says. “We try to lightly discuss what we can do and that we’re not just a furniture company and ask for a showroom tour and set up a meeting to discuss their wants and needs for their space.”
Intereum tries to “lightly discuss” AV during tours of its destination B2B furniture showroom.
Risk vs. Total Solution Reward
While the opportunity to sell AV to Intereum’s roster of high profile customers including Fortune 500 companies is great, so were the risks. Intereum is a $60 million furniture dealer with longstanding customer relationships.
“There was a leap of faith from some of our longer term customers that we could do this,” Abbott says. “It was paramount for [co-principal Matt Sveen] and that any engagement that had the Intereum name on it would have to come out flawless. These guys knew the stakes were high.”
However, Lorenson sees Intereum’s unique opportunity to tap into companies’ focuses on workspace transformation as an opportunity to enhance those relationships. “It’s very appealing right now,” he says. “Collaboration areas are huge within offices. We do a lot of soundmasking with Cambridge Sound Management as well. Being able to tie in the technology in these spaces is huge.”
The B2B furniture market, meanwhile, is also tapping into companies’ focus on rethinking the workspace. Herman Miller touts its “Living Office,” described as a “high-performing workplace that delivers an elevated experience of work for people, and helps organizations achieve their strategic goals.”
AV integration is a big part of the living office, Abbott says, and Intereum is uniquely positioned to pick up on the conversation that Herman Miller has started with its furniture customers. “It’s the perfect storm for us.”
So far, Intereum’s AV division only has plans to grow in sync with its furniture customers’ needs. “We don’t have any outside seller,” Lorenson says. “Just myself and [Schneider] work internally with our customer base. We’re not trying to grow to be too big here.”
Lorenson says he’d be comfortable with Intereum’s AV division growing to be a $10 million to $15 million operation with the right people in place. “We just want to provide great solutions to our existing customers.”
The AV division is aggressive when it comes to selling against traditional AV firms’ service contracts, Lorenson says. “We charge more on the front end and back up with an all-inclusive one-year deal.” He adds that some firms’ inability to deliver on promises related to service contracts have led to black eyes for those firms and opened up opportunities for Intereum to present service differently.
The gamble is paying off for principals Abbott and Sveen. “The real proof to me was about three years ago,” Abbott recalls. “We lost a $1.5 million project for furniture but won $1.5 million [with that customer] with AV. It has broadened our scope.”
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