by Scott Theleman, CCPD (UltraMedia CEDIA-Certified Professional Designer)
3/6 The referral.
A high-quality builder that we have worked with successfully on jobs before has a major remodel/addition project. I am told that the client has met with a least two other custom installation companies. The builder has recommended UltraMedia because of his previous experience with us. I have also been told that the client was not impressed with the first couple of companies that he talked to because they may have been a little too high and mighty.
3/14 Initial client meeting.
On the advice of the builder, I am going to do my best to talk slowly and plainly, ask him plenty of questions and look for his input instead of just telling him what he should do. I do have to remind myself to slow down and listen. Because I do this so much, it is easy to start talking fast and using industry jargon. It’s like a surgeon who has to remind himself that the patient is nervous and doesn’t understand the procedure that he has performed hundreds of times. In the end the meeting goes very well, it is a big house and it will get a big system that has to work for parents, children and guests.
3/26 System design presentation.
A lot of design and engineering goes into a system, far more than anyone outside the industry realizes. To put numbers to all of the things you have discussed with the client requires that the entire system be specified. A completed proposal represents days of design and engineering time. For the presentation I took copies of the complete proposal and also a simple, one page pricing summary. I used the line item proposal to go over all the details with the client, then I put it back in my folder and proceeded to go over all the pricing on the summary sheet. Of course, the client expects to get a copy of the full, line item proposal and pricing. However, that proposal represents all the time and research that I invested and I won’t give it away. At this point I must explain just that. The proposal represents a complete system design, all products specified, every detail accounted and we charge $100/hour for design and engineering. This is sometimes difficult for a client to accept, but it helps if they understand that I am a certified designer who is constantly training and updating my product knowledge and that I am very good at what I do. You wouldn’t expect your architect to work closely with you, design a home to your specifications and budget, maintain the highest design integrity and then give you the blueprints for free, would you?
4/10 Too much.
The client is concerned about the systems cost. They always are. I have never had a client not choke. People know what they want; they just don’t know what it costs. It is a big number and anyone would be foolish not to try and reduce it. The conversation now turns to real money and real budget considerations. The system must be reduced to fit the budget. Now it is back to the drawing board with a new set of parameters.
4/12 Chop it up.
There is only so much that you can take out of a proposal easily. You can lose a plasma here or there, maybe the CCTV cameras, but you quickly get to a point that reducing the costs any further will require a major revision to the system engineering. I decided to do the best I could without a complete re-do. I took out the security cameras, the DVD server, CD server and some of the plasma TVs and touchscreen controllers. In all, the proposal was reduced by 20% or so.
4/23 Put it all back.
The client has reviewed the revised proposal and wants to discuss how the changes will affect the system. In the end we decide that all of the facets of the original design that were removed to get to a price point need to be put back in. When faced with the list of things that he was not going to get, the client examined each one and decided that he did not want to lose the lifestyle features and functions that were on the cutting block.
5/21 Contract signed and deposit payment.
It took some doing but it’s done. Dealing with a client who has the money to do what he really wants is so much better and easier than dealing with the client who wants greatness but won’t, or can’t, pay for it. There is just no way to do a $100,000, “envy-of-your-neighbors” system for $50,000 or $60,000.
5/23 Time to get serious.
With the contract signed and the deposit in we can get to work full time on the house. All of the system and control wire got roughed in during construction. In this case, because we got in late on the job, I treated the system prewire as a separate contract and got that done so that construction could move forward. At this point paint is complete and we are ready to trim everything out. All the phone, video and network jacks in the house get plated, the central distribution panels get all the connections completed and the in-ceiling speakers can go in. In the equipment closet, where all the audio and video wire is pulled, we will install termination and connection panels and make everything look neat and professional. In the clients mind, the only thing more important than how it looks is how easy it is to operate. In the end, I find that the actual equipment used in the installation is of no consequence to the homeowner as long as it looks good, sounds good and does what it is told.
6/18 Come together.
I had made the decision to do work at the house before the contract was signed. I felt good about this client moving forward so I did a lot of things along the way to facilitate the final installation. A large part of what I do is project management, working with other trades such as the electrician, trim carpenter, landscaper, etc. By sending techs to the jobsite when other trades are working in areas that will affect us, I was able to alleviate potentially difficult situations and prep for a smooth final installation. It is true on any jobsite: other trades don’t care about your stuff. Their only concern is their aspect of the build. If your work gets damaged, moved or covered, they don’t care. And unless your builder is Superman, he is never going to catch all the little things. I treasure the subcontractors that I work with that care, because they are few and far between.
7/2 Final installation.
The installation and programming of the system is greatly improved by the fact that the house is finished and the homeowners went on vacation for a month! That never happens. Usually the homeowners are completely beaten down by the construction process and want nothing more than to move into their house and get all the workers out. Unfortunately, we cannot begin our final installation until all the other subs are out and the house is secure. In this case, we had an empty house to ourselves for a month; unbelievably nice for us.
7/5 Final installation, continued.
For the next few weeks we bring in the components, get them racked and wired up. Plasma TVs are mounted, touchscreen system controls are installed, everything gets in the house. First, we all get together and discuss what is expected of the system and how it will be controlled. The design and engineering that took place six months ago may or may not have survived the changes and additions to the product list that we went through. In this project we quickly decide that adding a second processor and doubling the number of system zones is required. The original design completely filled the first processor and left no room for expansion. It is a substantial addition, but it had to be done. Proceeding without the second processor could have worked, but it would have painted us into a corner.
7/16 System programming.
The installation has gone very well with only a few of the inevitable “on the fly” design and engineering modifications. The programming phase is the point at which any installation will succeed or fail. The client only cares about ease of use; that’s all, nothing else. It is often difficult for us in the industry to remember that we are not executing a system for ourselves. The client views the system in an entirely different way than we do and we must constantly remind ourselves that less is more and simple is the key.
8/1 The Valerie Test
Once we have a system working and have spent some time working on the user interfaces, we like to bring in the secret weapon; Valerie Johnson, UltraMedia secretary-treasurer. Valerie is our “ease of use” tester; if she is comfortable using a system then we are on the right track. In this case, I also used Val to help me work out my presentation to the homeowners. When you are demonstrating a big, new automation and entertainment system for the clients it can be overwhelming. Of course, once I turn them loose on the system, I have to be available to answer questions and address problems as they come up.
8/16 Welcome Home
The family is home, the initial presentation of the system is done and we have turned them loose to experiment and explore the system and all it can do. I made it clear that there is a huge amount of programming involved with the system and that glitches and tweaks are inevitable. Over the course of the next couple of weeks we will deal with buttons or functions that don’t do what they are supposed to do, add or remove functions at the client’s discretion and work out the bugs.
The client initials every page and signs our installation contract and payment agreement before we begin any project. One of the most important aspects of this agreement is at what point the project is complete and final payment is due. The system is substantially complete when everything on the contracted “scope of work” is working and the client has been trained on the system. Of course, substantial completion doesn’t mean we stop working, but it is the point at which final payment is due. We warranty our installations for one year and remain at our client’s service whenever they have a question or problem.
3/15 Thank you.
We received this unsolicited feedback about the lead installer on the project: “We wanted to thank you for the incredible service we received from Pat Murray on our newly renovated home. Pat is truly an asset to your company, a “one of a kind,” extremely hard working, diligent man! He knows his stuff! What makes Pat so very special is his caring and warm personality. Our family always looked forward to Pat coming to our home, and were very sad when the project was finished. Pat should be commended for his loyalty to his company and his clients. Pat would phone from home to check on our system, and worked on many of his days off. Not only was Pat a great technician, he was a trustworthy person that I would open my home to any time. Pat takes pride in his work, and I would highly recommend him to any of my friends. Thank you very much!"