Build your AV business for the future.
Gone, but not forgotten, is an expression often used to describe the absence of something or someone important in our lives. For loved ones, this expression is timeless and relevant. In business however, when a company disappears, with exception to rare brands like Kodak and Blockbuster, the mourning tends to be much shorter. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that the discussion of attrition in our industry isn’t important.
Although every industry suffers a certain amount of business turnover each year, I find this to be a key topic for an industry like ours that is still in the growing stage. According to a recent survey by NSCA, 42 companies in the audiovisual space effectively disappeared in 2016. Many of those were members of NSCA, but I would be willing to bet there were others that never made the radar screen. Although the research isn’t concrete, I have heard varying numbers of how many AV integrators are out there. The figures vary slightly with each source, but the range I’ve seen is 2500 to 5000 depending on whether you count residential or non-traditional AV integrators, who seem to be a growing number these days.
With more aggressive companies seeking market share, companies that sit back are going to find themselves as “The Hunted.”
Regardless of the actual amount of companies, the fact that 42 disappeared seems to be a small number. I’d expect it to be a larger number with the activity we have seen in mergers and acquisitions, along with companies that simply aren’t willing to change how they do business and/or owners who are just looking for an exit plan.
In today’s environment, companies have to make a decision if they want to grow or leave all together. I know it may be seen as an aggressive statement, but I don’t think there is a middle ground. Another old saying, “If you aren’t growing, you’re dying,” comes to mind here. And yes, before you say anything, I know that some companies have been very happy growing to a certain size and then just focusing on maintaining that level of business to maintain their lifestyle. For those CEOs, this is a great approach (or should I say was a great approach), but I don’t see that style of management working in the coming years.
With more aggressive companies seeking market share, companies that sit back are going to find themselves as “The Hunted.” These bigger organizations are going to be relentlessly seeking new business in order to satisfy their growth projections. This pressure from the big boys who are putting their foot to the pedal is going to make the whole “Just Maintain” business strategy obsolete, especially because many of these companies are relying on just a few key accounts; should one or two of them disappear, so will the AV company. I’ve seen it before, and I am confident this will become more of a trend in the future.
The reasons for stagnation have stayed the same. Countless times, I’ve heard from company owners that the reason they don’t grow their company is that growth puts a strain on cash flow (duh), but that mindset can be the start of the death spiral for a company if that’s what you believe. The companies that I see growing are shifting how their money is spent on overhead and resources to maintain cash flow or minimally impact it by focusing on what makes their company stand out while contracting the day-to-day work. They’re also doing a better job of tying their integration practice to the modern technology trends, such as big data, mobility, the cloud and other key tech that are being invested in by enterprises and other organizations.
Ways to focus growth without adding overhead include:
- training your engineers to be cutting edge, or hiring cutting-edge engineers who can take you to the next level
- bringing on new product lines that will give you a competitive advantage
- consolidating product lines to maximize rebates or volume incentive rebate (VIR)
- contracting your labor and programming can free up money from the burden of unutilized labor that can greatly affect bottom line and cash flow while increasing your ability to handle more and larger projects.
I’ve seen a meme on LinkedIn come and go hundreds of times over the past few years, with the caption, “The Seven Most Dangerous Words in Business: Because We’ve Always Done It That Way.” These words are dangerous because businesses must stop focusing on what has worked, and start focusing on what will work going forward!