Best Practices Report
At the 2009, CE Pro 100 Integrators Summit, held Nov. 2 – 4 in Los Angeles,
Calif., the highest revenue generating custom electronics integrators came
together to share the business tips and best practices that have helped them
become the industry’s elite companies.
These integrators offered 30 submissions for the second annual Best Practice
Awards, with five chosen as the leading practices across a range of categories.
We’ve rounded up the winning submissions, all 30 entries and additional best
practices shared at roundtable discussions. These tips cover marketing,
employee management, finding and keeping customers, using social networking,
and much more.
The Winners of the 2009 Best Practice Awards
Five winners were chosen out of the entries submitted for the Best Practice
Awards, with one tip selected from each of the following categories:
• Financial Management
• Human Capital Management
• Legal Administration
• Production Management
• Sales & Marketing Management
The winning Best Practice in Financial Management went to Novato, Calif.-based
SoundVision, for its use of QuickBooks to manage the company’s finances.
At SoundVision, we take a very involved approach when it comes to
managing the financial side of our operations. Forming the backbone of
our financial management initiatives is the QuickBooks computer platform,
which gives our staff the ability to manage billing and other financial
activities in an intuitive, dashboard-driven environment. Using QuickBooks
has enabled us to bill more frequently and keep our accounts receivable
down to a manageable figure.
The high level of monitoring and staying on top of finances also extends
to the job site, where we have implemented several worksheets giving our
project managers a quick at-a-glance view of where a particular projects
budget currently stands. Tracking begins in the early phases of all projects
with a Project/Time Estimator worksheet, which allows our project
managers to accurately estimate the amount of labor hours. During the
project, our project managers and technicians keep track of their time and
how it affects budget by completing Project Time Tracker and Project-
Time Budget forms.
The winning Best Practice in Human Capital Management went to Medina, Ohio-
based Audio Video Interiors, for its effective hiring and employee management
In an effort to build a better team, we developed a hiring process
designed to improve our hiring results. An ad is written and posted in the
most effective place for the type of position available. Once resumes are
collected and reviewed, the most qualified candidates are then called to
schedule a telephone pre-screen. Telephone pre-screens are conducted in
order to eliminate any obvious corporate culture mismatching.
If a candidate completes the pre-screen favorably, an interview is
scheduled with the management team. Upon arrival for their interview,
the candidate is required to complete a standard employment application
and then meets with management. The team uses an interview rating
form to score applicants, using the average number of interviewers as its
Once the scores are tallied, those that are chosen for a second interview
are scheduled for an on-line profile assessment provided by Profiles on
the Web. This assessment is designed to match candidates to our pre-
rated benchmark for a prototype employee for the open position. When
the assessments are completed and reviewed, a determination, based on
the assessment score, is made as to which candidates, if any, will return
and continue the interview process.
If a candidate successfully completes a second, and sometimes third,
interview, an employment offer is made. The official hire is contingent
upon the outcome of their background check and pre-employment drug
screen, both of which are agreed upon when the candidate signs consent
forms. Candidates that were not chosen for the position, that were either
pre-screened or interviewed face to face, receive a rejection letter.
Once the new hire is on board, they receive a 30-, 60- and 90-day review
in order for both parties to determine if the right choice was made. They
are also asked to complete an on-boarding survey that is used internally
to determine whether our current practices are sufficient or need altering.
Our termination process consists of conducting exit interviews, which give
the employee the opportunity to confidentially communicate to Human
Resources their specific levels of satisfaction with company practices. This
feedback is used to improve processes, programs and policies that affect
all employees. The employee is required to return all company property,
which are documented on a checklist and signed by both the exiting party
and their supervisor. The individual is required to read, mark the
statement that pertains to their departure, and sign the separation
statement. Once all paperwork is signed, HR explains the COBRA plan and
the Unemployment Compensation plan, as deemed appropriate for the
Over the past few years, our hiring process has proven itself effective.
This year, our company of 28 employees had six 10-year anniversaries.
Just as important as a good hiring process is a culture where the
employee is encouraged and enabled to advance their education,
rewarded for work well done, and involved in exciting projects that keep
The winning Best Practice in Legal Administration also went to Novato, Calif.-
based SoundVision, for its “Rules of Engagement” contract establishing company
standards for employees.
In order to better establish the standards by which SoundVision conducts
its business, we developed the "Rules of Engagement" contract that every
SoundVision employee is required to review and sign during the annual
performance review process. The Rules of Engagement apply to our
employees who work primarily in the office and those who spend most of
their time working in clients' homes. The Rules go a long way to both
increasing the operational efficiencies of the company and increasing our
customers' level of satisfaction with the service SoundVision provides.
The winning Best Practice in Production Management was awarded to West Palm
Beach, Fla.-based ETC Inc., for its just-in-time equipment purchasing process.
Since most design/installation companies stock little of the equipment
they install, a reliable purchase order process is essential. The later in the
project implementation cycle you order, the better. Not only is your
inventory kept to a minimum, but you are more likely to be ordering the
final equipment -- not items that have to be swapped out as a result of
those inevitable last minute change orders.
While Just-in-Time purchasing has many benefits, it must be implemented
with a dependable process. To start with, we update each job’s equipment
list the moment change order approvals are received. Items on these lists
know which phase they belong to, enabling us to release to Purchasing
only the necessary information when it comes time to order each phase.
We use an internally hosted web application called Microsoft SharePoint,
which we have customized for our needs. We have created order
instructions designed to fully inform Purchasing of our requirements.
Providing them parameters, such as Date Required, Date Preferred and
Express Shipping Approved, gives them everything they need without
having to ask for more information.
Purchasing’s role is to act on all new records that appear in their Not
Ordered view. Checking the “Done” box removes this record from that
view, but retains a history of the transaction. Requesters (or
Management) can check the status of requests at any time; no phone
calls, no emails, but automatic records of when the work was completed.
Using a software platform such as SharePoint cuts down on back and
forth phone calls and emails, allowing more work to be done with better
clarity and less mistakes. Since it is web-based, your data is accessible
from any computer with a browser and user permissions. The platform
does not require programming to customize.
With the complex nature of this industry, this flexibility is key to having a
reliable system that works the way we want it to today and tomorrow.
Finally, the winning Best Practice in Sales & Marketing Management also went to
Medina, Ohio-based Audio Video Interiors, for its decision to improve its branding
and upgrade its vehicle fleet during the Cash for Clunkers program.
Faced with declining sales and an aging fleet of vehicles, we decided to
use new vehicles to help increase our brand awareness. As the owner of
two technology integration companies, Audio Video Interiors and Safety
Technologies, I have had different vehicles for each of my companies.
Safety Technologies is a security and life safety system integration firm
specializing in commercial security, fire, access control, CCTV and personal
duress systems, while Audio Video Interiors provides integrated
Audio/Video solutions for homes and business.
The goal was to turn the costly necessity of purchasing 6 new vehicles
into an advertising and branding success story. We chose Chevrolet HHRs
because they were distinctive, have good gas mileage, and GM was
offering major discounts and trade-in values. The Cash for Clunkers
program added further financial incentives to trade out our older, more
To maximize our advertising investment, we decided to use a graphic
wrap design that advertised Audio Video Interiors on one side of our
vehicles and Safety Technologies on the other. We used the rear to
leverage our Commercial A/V message. Our rationale is that people can
only see one side of any vehicle at any given time. This gives the
appearance of having twice as many vehicles on the road as we drive
around town (i.e. people on one side of the street think it is a Safety
Technologies vehicle while people on the other side think it is Audio Video
For additional credibility, we included logos for our association
memberships, awards and prime manufacturers. The solution increases
our advertizing impact in Cleveland, branding both companies, and has
effectively lowered our vehicle expenses despite buying new vehicles. Our
overall vehicle expense was reduced by the combination of the low
interest rates, good trade-in values and discounted sales prices, new
vehicle warranty, and the reduced gas expenses. And, we jumpstarted our
branding by introducing 6, 12 or 18 new vehicle billboards into our market
-- depending on how you look at it!
The Entire List of Best Practice Award Submissions
We’ve rounded up every entry submitted for the Best Practice Awards, and
organized them according to category. Entries have been edited for space and
1. Hire a CFO – Westbury, N.Y.-based Audio Command Systems, Inc.
(ACS) hired a seasoned CFO with experience in the industry to
improve business performance, inventory control and overall internal
controls to improve profitability and safequard assets. They then
implemented a daily cash management system to better track and
budget cash flow, which is the most critical task a company should
endeavor to complete.
2. Use Subcontractor Labor – Home Entertainment Inc. of The
Woodlands, Texas switched their entire labor force to an all
subcontractor system, paying installers only when they actually work
and removing fixed overhead. This has helped them make 39% gross
profits on total labor sales with no associated overhead.
Human Capital Management
1. Serve the Community – Gainsville, Fla.-based Crime Prevention and
Custom Home Entertainment is active in a number of charitable
organizations in their community, including asking customers to donate
$1 for a plaque for their March of Dimes March for Babies each year.
2. Communication and Project Manager Duties – Employees at
Miami-based Showtime Audio & Video are empowered to make
decisions based on open communication and shared knowledge.
Additionally, the first technician to the jobsite becomes the project
manager, since they are typically the best brief and know more details
of the project.
3. Open Weekly Staff Meetings – Novato, Calif.-based SoundVision
holds weekly staff meetings every Friday, where the entire company
comes together to discuss current projects, look at the week ahead,
give an update on the current state of the organization and address
any issues that may have arisen during the week. Every member of
the team is given the opportunity to address the meeting, whether it’s
to share an installation tip, recently released equipment or a new
4. Employee of the Month – Each month, an employee at Gainesville,
Fla.-based Crime Prevention Security Systems & Custom Home
Entertainment is named Employee of the Month. He/she is recognized
by the company president at a monthly meeting and given a $50 gift
5. New Hire Referral Bonus -- Crime Prevention Security Systems &
Custom Home Entertainment offers its employees a $500 bonus for
referring a successful new hire. This incentive has not only increased
the number of referrals they receive, but it has also improved the
quality of applicants.
1. Detailed Drawings for Sales Presentations – At Centennial, Colo.-
based Logic Integration, Inc., they use detailed drawings in a nice
binder to close sales of medium to large projects. All rooms are laid
out so the customer can sign off on the sources in each room and how
it looks. This is then handed off to the programmer and project
2. AutoCAD, Visio and D-Tools for Design – All of the plans and
schematics at Novato, Calif.-based SoundVision are built with the latest
versions of AutoCAD and Microsoft Visio software, allowing their
technicians to work faster and more efficiently. They also saw a
dramatic increase in productivity, accuracy and effectiveness when the
implemented D-Tools into the process.
3. Have an Inspector Position – Calgary-based Showcase A/V
implemented an “Inspector” position, whose responsibility it is to
inspect every job after rough-in and fix any issues. This has
strengthened relationships with builders and forced installers to
4. Implement Singletouch Contractor Software – This software is
changing the business processes of Phoenix-based One Way Electric
from a paper and Excel-based system to a single point of data entry
that always originates in the field. They expect to improve their bottom
line profit by 2%, which will pay for the software in less than 24
5. Automated Operations Management System – Irvine, Calif.-
based JWE Corp. has developed its own operations management
system that automates the flow of information from sales to
production and reduces the amount of data entry required for every
Sales & Marketing Management
1. Use Google Adwords – Centennial, Colo.-based Logic Integration,
Inc. uses Google Adwords and campaigns to link to certain sections of
their website. For example, if someone wants a conference room,
Google takes them right to a section of the site for conference rooms.
They get about 50-100 hits per month with new visitors and 2-4 fresh
leads per week.
2. Vehicle Wraps Bring in Leads – Liberty Bell Alarm & Home Theater
in Sacramento, Calif. has six unique vehicle wraps that have developed
significant attention, bringing in at least two leads per week. Their
Lamborghini vans have also created significant branding for the
3. Build a New Website – SoundVision of Novato, Calif. built a new
website, under the responsibility of a new marketing associate, which
will tightly integrate social media such as blogging, Facebook and Yelp.
The new website is built for search engine optimization, and increasing
their Google page ranking will be an ongoing project.
4. Measure Customer Satisfaction – Nashville, Tenn.-based Allied
Home Technologies has developed a new standard set of practices to
ensure that every customer is delighted with their company and to
quickly respond if there is any kind of issue that is preventing the
customer from being totally happy. These practices give them a
chance to develop quantifiable metrics to measure customer
5. Social Media Marketing -- Crime Prevention and Custom Home
Entertainment has a Facebook Fan Page, a Twitter account and a
YouTube Channel that they continually update to keep their fans
updated on promotions, events, and pertinent news stories in their
community and industry.
6. AIA Seminars for Education – Boca Theater & Automation of Boca
Raton, Fla. holds a quarterly AIA seminar series, allowing architects to
collect free continuing education credits. They partner with vendors
that offer AIA-approved classes and host 30 architects in their design
center’s main room.
7. Offer Multiple Trades – Phoenix-based One Way Electric saw
substantial success in providing electrical contracting to the luxury
residential market for over a decade, but continued to see unclaimed
revenue to other trades within each project. They decided to provide
other disciplines within the residential space and capture more market
share on a per job basis.
8. Digital Signage in Car Washes – Logic Integration of Centennial,
Colo. hangs digital signage at car washes, providing the equipment at
no charge and splitting sold advertising 50/50 between the company
and the car wash. Available slides promote the company and bring in
about $5,000-$10,000 in per year.
9. Service Contracts – Logic Integration sold about $30,000 in service
contracts in 2008, showing up 3 to 4 times per year, testing, cleaning
and updating the customer’s system. All customers who sign one get
10% off all future purchases, and most customers renew each year.
10. Thanking the Customer – SoundVision of Novato, Calif. sends a
simple thank you note and token of their appreciation to its customers
after the project’s final invoice is mailed. The customer also receives a
SoundVision t-shirt and family-friendly Blu-ray movie.
11. Preparing the Seasonal Home – Hauppauge, N.Y.-based IVCi
Home has clients with weekend and summer homes, so they create a
proactive service plan. The customer buys a block of hours through the
summer and winter, give a 72-hour notice before they visit the home
and IVCi sends a team to quality assure the entire home for proper
functionality so that everything is working.
12. Showroom Management -- Crime Prevention and Custom Home
Entertainment in Gainesville, Fla. operates a showroom Monday to
Friday during normal business hours and by appointment after hours
and on weekends. The 2,000 square foot showroom incorporates all of
the technology they design, sell and install. Every client who has taken
a tour of the showroom is entered into a drawing for a Sony HDTV.
13. Charging for Design – Audio Video Interiors, Inc. of Medina, Ohio
provides one free consultation meeting to new prospects, setting the
stage for sale of their Design Service Agreement. By charging for
design, their most talented technical people only work for clients,
reducing the overhead costs associated with doing free designs, the
inefficiencies of poorly designed projects, and established their
Best Practices from Dealer Roundtable Discussions
At the CE Pro 100 Integrators Summit, dealer attendees joined together for
Roundtable Discussions, sponsored by TruAudio, where they were challenged to
come up with even more Best Practices to share with the community.
Use this list as a checklist to see if you’re implementing the best practices
recommended by the CE Pro 100.
Products and Services Customers
• service contracts • finding clients
o blocks of hours o identify client that will pay
o extended warranty for what you can deliver
o operations backend: email o wine tasting and audio
notifications, customer listening
satisfaction surveys, email • qualification tools
visit summary and invoice, o packages (silver, bronze,
charge credit card etc.)
o seasonal based on opening • Sharepoint
and closing of second home o run sales
• alarm monitoring o prospect
• digital signage o inventory management
o create content and educate • gifts
the client to add more o jacket w/embroidered logo
o find billboard companies - o gift baskets
billboards going digital o blu-ray
• recurring revenue o hat
• service lifecycle o candy
o sales involved from start to o dvds
finish o chocolate with personalized
o certificate of completion message
o coordination between project o baby caps when the client
manager, tech, client, sales has a baby
• preventative maintenance visits • specials
o provides upgrade o cash for tv clunkers trade in
• design fees • current clients
• proposals o focus on selling more to
o show with materials and current clients
labor and tax
o don't itemize!
o use software and IT
specialists to do proposals
• new positions • internship program
o salesmen as project o find at local college - trade
managers specific (design/tech)
o business asset/strategic o inexpensive
manager o educated and skilled
o part time CFO (retired o young and on cutting edge
business executive, mentor) o become permanent hire
o after sales person meets with o enables in-house job
client to tell new technology placement of quality,
since original sale was made qualified employee
o graphic designer for digital • responsibilities
signage (bill at $149/hr) o used project manager as
o a "slow" general contractor - inside sales to contact
in control of basement existing clients
finishes and full o allow installers to upsell and
constructability and make the same commission
design/custom cabinets o treat everyone on the entire
o use subcontractors for labor team like a sales person
• incentives • company info
o at-cost price of products o provide everyone with a list
o commission for installers split of total company expenses -
with salesperson company got active in
o health/medical - increased reducing costs and saved
coverage yearly 40%
o garage sales of everything in • retention
warehouse with payroll o only work regular hours
reduction o stringent annual reviews on
o 401k - safe harbor plan the day of hire, 1 year later
o surprise 1/2 day off o progression of raise
o gift certificate for employees schedules by category: tech
who gets good review 1, tech 2, etc.
• training and development program • misc
• education o wear different types of
o have a fund for employees to clothes based on level of skill
advance their education - o pre-employment physicals -
$2500/year for audio books, check for bad backs "claims
college credits, etc. down 300%"
• personal standpoint/PEO o safety/worker's comp: cash
o administer to staff to reduce back for every safe week -
exposure to liability (lawsuits drawings for $10, $20, $50
such as harassment, over- o outsource HR
work, health insurance, legal o employee screening
services, counseling, payroll)
Marketing and Social Networking Manufacturers and Partnerships
• email newsletters • benefits to explore
o for customers and builders o upgrades
o use reporting tools to track o direct marketing
through sales process o special deals for promotions
• video o co-op programs
o 2-minute video on • use scanner to get info from
thumbdrive mailed with an product barcode
incentive (gift card) to • partner with
contact them o furniture store
• mobile gaming rental truck o offer lighting design to
• economic housing rebound summit architects and then have a
• AIA/ASID training foot in the door for sound
• postcards to 2% top neighborhoods and video systems
• Google Adwords o Realtors
• Multiple domain names o BMW/Jaguar showroom –
• Google Local display BMW speakers
• Radio o Joined bar/tavern association
• Facebook and offer ideas for AV
o give incentives to become a improvements
fan o cable companies, maintain
o update and add content the account from a service
• Twitter standpoint as value-added
• YouTube videos • referral program
• Make sure your clients know you o plumbers, electricians, etc.
use these services have cards and receive
bonus/gifts for new business
Financial Management and Branding
• investments in company • vehicles have GPS installed
o identify key people gifting in o monitoring
company as part of partner o saves money and gas
program o after hours use monitored
• profits o any accident reported
o drop less profitable business • always have on-call tech
o profit sharing - 10% of net • use Simply Reliable Software for
profit shared sales
• payments • focus
o 5 vendor payment cycles per o don’t be everything to
• property o partners will get you into
o consolidated warehouse with more jobs
showroom office • identify your company
o tighter security on products o what are you best at?
o less loss time and increased
o negotiated lower rent on
property prior to due date on
end of lease
• monthly sales meeting
• open transparency
• create a daily cash flow
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