The Integrator's Voice

How one integrator transitioned from the residential to the commercial market—in a big way

With the housing boom slowing down, many residential integrators need to find new opportunities to maintain business. Some companies will turn to the retrofit market, whereas others will expand into commercial. The migration from one market to another might appear seamless, however, there is much work to be done before taking action. Home Entertainment Lifestyle of San Diego expanded its integration into the commercial market with a very high-profile project—Hotel Del Coronado, a historic hotel that is considered one of the world’s most famous beach resorts. We sat down with James Love, president of Home Entertainment Lifestyle, to see how he did it.

Q.How and when did Home Entertainment Lifestyle first get started in the industry?

A.Unsatisfied with the career I had working in movie production, I left the film industry, where I worked as a grip—a lighting and rigging technician. I still wanted to work in the entertainment field. My first love is music and home theater, so I decided to open a custom A/V integration company; I called it American- AudioVideo. I started from a small office in 1995 with one employee. I continued with a concept of making A/V systems easier to use while building strong business relationships. After 11 years of working in the custom home market, in 2006, American-AudioVideo teamed up with Bolt Electric. We opened a showroom— Home Entertainment Lifestyle.

Q.Why did you decide to expand into commercial?

A.I have always kept an eye on market trends and opportunities. To run a successful long-term company, you have to pay attention to where the market opportunities are. During the housing boom, it was easy to get work. The housing market had to slow down, and I knew this. So in 2005, before the housing slowdown, I looked into the commercial market for opportunities.

Q.How did you go about breaking into this market?

A.A San Diego icon, the Hotel Del Coronado, was working out plans for a large remodel. Listing my company in the Contractors Blue Book gave me a heads up about the remodel—I took the opportunity to bid on this job. The plan was for a new fitness area, spa area and beach condos. I contacted the hotel’s construction coordinator and asked for a meeting to go over the remodel specs. I went away from this meeting understanding the hotel wanted upscale audio distribution and surround systems in the remodeled rooms. This was bigger than what we were used to but right up our alley—just on a much larger scale than a typical home. I presented a bid with this message: “This is what we do with an emphasis on quality and ease of use for each customer.” The hotel said when it awarded us the job that it wanted someone that would give them the same consideration you’d get in your home.

Spotlight on: James Love
Company name: Home Entertainment Lifestyle
Headquarters: 8920 Kenamar Dr., Ste 210, San Diego
Telephone: (858) 672-1133
Web: www.homeentertainmentlifestyle.com
E-mail: james@American-audiovideo.com

Q.What challenges did you face when going from residential to commercial, and how did you overcome them?

A.One challenge was the scale. A typical home has a home theater and four to eight zones of audio. The hotel plans were for 36 surround sound systems (35 condos and one members’ lounge), 24 zones of audio in the spa area, an independent retail shop, an aerobics room, a weightlifting gym, a fitness workout area, two pools, an outdoor bar and eight cabanas.

To engineer a system of this size, we had to think about wiring infrastructure, system capability and making multiple user interfaces that are easy to use. The surround sound systems were a challenge because hotels use a service called Lodgenet to provide pay-per-view movies to the rooms. This challenge arose when we decided to use the Bose Lifestyle 28 system and an LG hospitality plasma. The Bose LS28 has a built-in DVD player, which Lodgenet was not very keen on hotel guests having access to. Lodgenet didn’t want to lose revenue from pay-perview sales due to DVD use. We used the LG hospitality HD plasmas, essential for HD programming in hotels, and Lodgenet expressed interest in upgrading the hotel to their HD service. After six weeks of convincing, Lodgenet graciously conceded to the use of the Bose systems.

Q.How does profitability compare between residential and commercial markets?

A.The profitability in both depends on efficiency. The thing about large commercial jobs is that small inefficiencies are compounded by the size of the job. Timing is everything. The key is managing time and material so you don’t have people standing around, delaying the construction process. The best way to do this is know-how and communication. Q.What activities will you employ to build your presence in the commercial market? A.The same we employ in the residential market: quality work and good communication to build great relationships between our company and builders. We also list our company in the Contractors Blue Book, are a member of the local BIA and are involved in local events. The point is, the more people that know you, the more opportunities you get.

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