Admit One Home Systems
Connected Design: Your business is just over 16 years old, as I understand it. On your website, you say you’re a self-described ‘tech nerd.’ What did you do before you got into custom integration?
Lance Anderson: I started a degree in mechanical engineering and then fell in love with computers and went that route. During that process, like a lot of people in this industry, I got a job at Best Buy while in school and got hooked on audio and video – and had a knack for selling. I was in the Geek Squad, as we know it today, and was moved out to the showroom floor because of selling ability. From there, I realized there was a whole world beyond Best Buy – and I was very passionate about learning as much as I could about audio and video. And then I fell in love with Home Theater - the Admit One name was derived from movie tickets.
That’s how we started, with a focus on movie theaters, because we were a new company. We specialized, and I don’t think anyone in Minneapolis was doing home theaters as well as I could. We carved our niche, and it’s evolved from there into all the other spaces that entail home technology today.
Around the time of the housing crisis was when we evolved beyond home theater. We got lucky – or were smart, depending on how you want to look at it. Because of our youth in the industry, we weren’t getting a lot of traction with builders. So we spent a lot of money marketing direct to consumers, trying to get our name known. Then the market dried up. A lot of our competitors were relying on that builder business [and suffered]. But we maintained a strong business through that time, just because we had such good relationships with our clients. It was in the course of that when all these builders were being neglected because other integrators were going out of business in our market. So we started catering to select, preferred builder groups and acquired a lot of business that way.
We’re service service service and got to the forefront by over-servicing our clients.
Not even knowing we were doing anything different, it was only in the last few years that we finally put a name to our VIP service guarantee.
Anyone who does business with us, we give complimentary service to, for the life of the system. I’m finding that that’s a unique thing in the industry, but it was natural for me, so I don’t know why it’s so unusual.
It didn’t feel right when a client spent $100,000 with me and then a year later; you’d turn around and send him a bill for $95, just for going to their house and tuning something up. I just never did it. It wasn’t till I hired a salesperson from a competing company that I was told, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is ridiculously unusual. Every time I go to a house I have to send a trip charge and an hour bill to our clients, and they would just get so upset.’
We’d never do that. We want to partner with the people we cater to. This isn’t the last home that they’re going to build, and they know other people who build nice houses, too, and we look at it as a form of marketing. We’ve never relied on service as a revenue stream, as some of our peers do. And so it was easy to just shape our model that way, and I think everyone else looks at me, gasping when I say I give away service. It’s a big profit center for these guys, and they don’t know how to shape their business around not having that revenue.
CD: Why haven’t more integrators gone that route?
Anderson: We figure that we give up our opportunity loss every year somewhere in the neighborhood of several hundred thousand dollars. We give up that per year to cater to our clients, instead of fattening our wallets. I think that’s hard for someone to stomach that who’s been relying on [service for income] over the course of their whole business.
The way we see it is, we want to be the client’s technology partner for life. And this is the way that we do it. They call us, and we never send them a bill unless there’s a hardware failure in the system outside of warranty – and even if it’s a warranty issue, we’ll still service it for free.
We do send them a bill, actually – but we call it a “zero dollar invoice.” We bill them for what it costs – say; we’re out there for two hours fixing something. We put $195 down, but the invoice would have a deduction on it that says that our service guarantee brings it down to zero. That’s so we can attribute value to what we’re doing. And it reminds them of who we are, and why they should do business with us next time.
CD: You’ve interacted and worked in harmony with the architect, builder and designer communities since before it became more of a natural outreach for custom integrators. What did it take for you to learn to navigate those relationships so well in your outreach to these disciplines?
Anderson: We want them to be better because it makes all of us better. So we add value in any form – for example, the truly custom things that we’ve done – that makes the builder, or architect, or designer look good. That has been successful for us, because it feels so much more like a team effort.
If my guys have an idea, instead of presenting it to the client, we’d always present it to one of the specifiers first. It immediately gets them on board with the idea, if anything, and they’re not surprised by something. And they can collaborate on it – and we don’t mind if they take credit for the thought. Some of our ideas are a little out of the norm for an A/V guy – like when we start talking about hiding technology in these fabulous homes. If we have ideas around that, we’re OK with bringing them to the interior designer or architect or builder and having them present it. It builds that we’re-all-together team idea.
There’s nothing more offensive than walking into a multimillion-dollar home and looking at it and saying, ‘Wow. That A/V guy just did what he does every single time, and didn’t apply any thought to what else was happening in the house.’
And that’s kind of why our industry, in general, has the red-headed stepchild feel to it – like, we’re the last guys in [on a build] and are just throwing our stuff wherever. I think that’s part of why we want to get in more on the front end of things with these specifiers. If we can, it means a greater success for the whole project – and frankly, it’s more advantageous for us.
CD: Talk about your physical presentation – your showroom or design center, and how that has evolved to keep up with technology and with clients’ requirements in the age of connected homes and their proper harmonization with design and aesthetic principles.
Anderson: The showroom is a constantly evolving test bed for us. We use it to demonstrate to our clients what we do, but also we bring in many new products or products from new vendors, and we test those products before they get to our clients’ homes.
We also host a lot of events there; it’s set up for socializing. We try to do larger events every quarter, although it’s been getting more difficult because of the business. We also host smaller relationship-building events and CEU (continuing education units) events.
When I say our showroom overhaul is continuous, it literally is. There’s always some project in the showroom. For the install team, every Friday, our whole staff uses it as a springboard for our internal meetings. After the meetings, they work in the showroom for several hours, or we do training. It’s either a to-do list for the showroom or putting some new touch screen or speakers in. Fridays, we call Workshop Day.
CD: Some integrators express the feeling that the technology integrator does not receive the respect due from the other disciplines involved in a job. They argue that that’s a bit ironic since what the tech integrator provides will ultimately have more interaction with the end user than any other in the project, once it is completed. What are your thoughts?
Anderson: Absolutely agree. Short of the doorknob on these people’s homes, they touch our stuff more than anything in the home. I don’t know why more builders don’t appreciate their integrators more. If you were to ask a builder, ‘My buddy’s a concrete guy. Do you want me to use him on this project?’ And let’s say he doesn’t work with that guy. The response would be, ‘Absolutely not. I’m sorry. It impacts my house’s integrity. I trust my concrete guy.’ But if asked the same question about an integrator, it’s ‘Absolutely. Use whoever you want for integration.’ That’s the red-headed stepchild thing; we’re the orphans.
It is improving, though, the further we get deeper into the home with technologies. I see it change. In my business, I’ve seen us get a lot more respect, because of some of the unique things we can bring to the table to make everyone look good, on the truly custom things we do. Just cutting holes and throwing speakers into a ceiling isn’t custom integration – the term ‘custom’ gets abused in our industry, and there are very few examples of what integrators do that are truly custom. So when we have those opportunities, we aren’t scared to promote them.
We’ve won the CEDIA Best Innovative Solution recognition two years running with a couple of projects, so any opportunity we have to showcase how custom we truly are, we grasp onto.