Tuesday, 04 November 2014 16:53

Selecting an AVL firm - Can you have it all?

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

After looking at a couple new buildings for office space this morning, I had lunch with an architect who does lots of design and project planning for churches.  As we talked, I realized that what his firm does and what we do are very similar; we mix up materials, ideas, products, concepts and out comes a plan, a system, or a solution of some type.  That's the value we offer. 

Many pro audio, video, and lighting (AVL) dealers in the country offer approximately the same products.  None of us sell everything, but we probably all share some subset of at least similar products within the AVL universe.  And with the Internet as close as your phone or computer, your sources for equipment are just about endless. 

As we talked over lunch, I shared that as much as we need to sell equipment at a price, the more compelling conversations start with a statement or a question from the client that says, "We're trying to get this type of end result and we need some ideas on how to get there."  Everyday, we're challenged to build a better AVL mousetrap.  This is what we do. 

On our site, we publish stories about what we've done for others, so that you might discover an idea that will work for you, too.  In person or on the phone, we hope to talk about how you do what you do and to develop a custom solution.  To us, it's way more important that you get the right equipment for the long run than simply selling something today. 

Dan asked me today, "So who do you work with and where do you work?"  The business that we seek out intentionally is houses of worship or churches.  We do an occasional restaurant or corporate meeting space, but we're lots more passionate about churches.  Our reach is national with respect to solution design and regional for installations, so we don't always get to build our designs.  Sometimes, we provide the ideas, but more often, we provide the ideas, the instructions and the equipment to make it happen.  And we've been very successful at serving churches all over the country for over 20 years with great solutions and service - most of them at arm's length. 

As you approach the selection of an AVL firm, realize that there are three factors that are common to all of us, and that you can pick any two that you want.  As hard as we try, we can't be all three in every situation.

1.  Expert, responsive service.

2.  Lowest prices.

3.  All products always in stock. 

If you've shopped around, I think that you'll agree that the places with the lowest prices (below what the industry calls MAP - Minimum Advertised Price) often can't answer your questions, let alone recommend an integrated solution.  And you can mix the other factors around in your head to understand my point. 

Of course, we think that responsive, expert service trumps all, but when you consider how to select an AVL firm, you probably can't have it all, at least by these three factors.  And if you think that you have all three, you're probably at the right place for you. We hope to be that place.

 

Published in Dave's Blog
Saturday, 19 July 2014 11:41

The low cost of higher prices.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Well, it happened.  I got an email Friday at 12:03AM (just after Midnight) from an out-of-state customer who had been at church updating his new Midas Pro1 mixing console with firmware.  The update was chugging along until the stagebox threw an error message that said that the update couldn't be completed.  No big deal, right?!  Try it again, and again.  Then maybe you get mad at yourself for updating the firmware right before a big event, and you start sweating it.  Then you send the email - at Midnight, when your wife is wondering where in the world you are.  Can you sleep until morning?  I don't know.  I didn't ask. 

Next morning.  I pick up the email, sweat a little myself, ask what he has done, assure the customer that we'll get it taken care of, call the sales rep and I tell him what happened.  He calmly said that he'd have someone from Midas tech support call the client directly, as soon as Midas opens its west coast doors a couple hours later. 

The short story is that the Midas tech support rep called right on cue, walked through a couple tests that hadn't already been tried, determined that the stagebox was indeed about as good as a brick and would have to come in for service.  For the next couple hours, Midas was trying to locate a replacement stagebox to send.  We both knew that the client needed something, and we had a smaller stagebox in stock here. A "bird in the hand", right?! 

We placed the Next Day Air Saturday Delivery labels on it and got it ready.  Just as we were about to drive it to UPS, the Midas tech support rep called to assure me that he had a larger stagebox with updated firmware being tested, placed into a box, and that it would be there for the client on Saturday morning. 

About an hour ago, I received a text message from the customer to say that the replacement stage box was in-hand and that he was on the way to church to put it in.  About 30 minutes after that, I got the "success" meesage that it was installed, and fully tested, two hours before Saturday tech rehearsal.  Whew!

Tour-grade, professional equipment costs more, but companies that are used to supporting large tours have the ability and willingness to do things that others can't and/or won't.  When stuff breaks, even if it's not their fault, they come up big when it counts. 

A big thanks to Midas Consoles!  We all appreciate it. 

 

Published in Dave's Blog
Tuesday, 20 May 2014 12:16

So which is the better deal?

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

I get a lot of email.  We send email, too, and to some extent, I understand the power of the subject line.  Using words like "Free!" and "Save!" are the way companies get you to open the message.  "Free" is powerful; that's just the way it is. 

The message today came from another vendor offering a sub-$500 special on wireless microphones.  Coincidentally, we offered a $500 wireless microphone, too. 

If you're like me, you got both messages in your inbox.  The other dealer is offering a 4-unit receiver with transmitters for less than $500.  On the surface, that seems like a great deal because the single systems we featured today start at about $500 each. 

About the same price more for three more wireless microphones?  Wow!  Better take a look.  I'm a sucker for a good story, too. 

I can say with 100% certainty that what we're offering is better.  It'll sound better, it'll be more reliable with respect to radio performance, and it'll last longer.  Again, I say that with 100% certainty, having never heard the other system.  Actually, I've not only not heard it, but I've not heard of it.  And I've been in this business for over 22 years. 

We presume that the other dealer understands the power of headlines, because we've had people call us to ask what we think about similar offers.  When they do, we just ask them to think about it.  Would you buy a wireless system priced below $125 each?  Some would.  Would you expect it to work as well as a $500 wireless system.  Some would, but they'd be incorrect.  Would you expect it to last as long? 

In fairness, if you need a $125 wireless microphone and you need four of them, there are not many good choices.  And what they're offering might sound okay, depending on your standards for quality, where you live in the country and how much other RF traffic is present during your worship services.  But to me, there's nothing worse than a wireless microphone that doesn't work, so I try to encourage our clients to stay away from the cheap stuff. 

There's no such thing as something for nothing.  Overseas manufacturing affords us all the opportunity to spend fewer dollars than we used to for the same types of products.  Even so, outside the rare case of a closeout or a liquidation sale, people just don't sell things for less than they're worth.  Our $500 each wireless is worth every penny more than the other dealer's $125 wireless. 

When you need new equipment, call us.  We'll be glad to help you discover what you need, based on what you already have, what you're trying to do, and on your budget.  We have inexpensive wireless microphones, too, from companies you've heard of, and that will still be in business for as long as you have the equipment. 

When I choose the cheap way out, I'm almost always disappointed with myself. 

Price, quality, service - choose any two. 

Published in Dave's Blog
Tuesday, 20 November 2012 16:12

Fix it right!

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Our recurring autumn blog theme seems to be helping you understand the cost of making wrong decisions.  I understand that it's tough to know what to do with all of the information that's out there.  My eyes glaze over when I think about how to invest my 401k money.  Just like they didn't teach about technology in seminary, they didn't teach much about investing in business school.

Fixing things correctly and helping you make "right" decisions is our goal.  A few weeks ago, we received a call from a church here in the Columbus area to see what could be done with their sound system.  The team there had brand new speakers, installed by another dealer, and things just didn't sound right.  No one could figure it out. 

These are difficult situations because we rarely get the benefit of understanding the circumstances surrounding the purchase and installation.  We only get to see and hear the end result. 

In the end, we installed a new amplifier and a system processor, reinstalled one of their power amplifiers that had been repaired, un-did some "unconventional" wiring, and tuned up the system with SMAART. 

The system sounds fantastic, but the church didn't need new speakers.  What we found is that their 20-year-old Crown Microtech series power amplifiers were heavily corroded on the inside and were just worn out.  Had the other dealer replaced the power amplifiers (a $2000 option) instead of installing new speakers with the old amplifiers (a $5000-6000 option plus the cost for the work we just completed), the church could have saved several thousand dollars. 

Published in Dave's Blog
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Saturday night, I woke up in the middle of the night with a revelation.  We'll call it an especially "small-R" revelation. 

Several weeks ago, our church purchased a new electronic drum kit.  And a new kit deserves new cables and new direct boxes, right?!  Ever since, the kick drum has sounded truly anemic, everywhere except the headphones.  It's been awful for me.  I recommended the kit, I bought the direct boxes. 

One weekend, one of our vocalists even asked me, "Dave, what happened to the kick drum sound?"  I told her that I didn't know for sure, and that I thought that maybe the kick sound for that particular electronic kit was not so good, but that I'd figure it out. 

Trust me, I've blamed everything from the drum beater to the trigger to the kit.  Finally on Sunday at 4:00AM, it dawned on me.  It was that direct box.  We've used the Rapco DB-100 direct box for years with pretty good results.  With the new drum kit, I threw in a couple new direct boxes, and those were the newer DB-1.  A-ha! 

In a moment of audio snobbery, I had had enough.  "No more cheap gear!" I promised myself.  In the middle of my 4:00AM fog, I thought, "New version, made in China, undoubtedly cheapened to make Rapco more money, a 'conspiracy.'"  I even considered what I'd say to the folks at Rapco and was planning how to do our own recall of the DB-1's from those of you who had purchased one. 

So Sunday morning, as we wrapped up sound check, I was again discouraged, and looked down to the channel strip where I had added +10dB of 100Hz, trying to make anything good out of the kick drum and just shook my head.  "Could that direct box really sound that bad?", I thought to myself. 

The first Sunday of each month, the choir sings.  I noticed that a few of the choir members were on their way in, so I checked those channels to see what adjustments I might need to make.  As you can expect, I use a high-pass filter (bass roll-off) on the choir mics to prevent feedback.  Just for kicks, I began to look at each channel just to see how those filters were set, and then it hit me. 

I quickly selected the kick drum channel, and what do you think that I saw?  The high-pass filter was set at 130Hz, for the kick drum. 

Unknowingly, and sadly unchecked, I was rolling off virtually all of the low frequencies that make a bass drum a bass drum.  I can hear my thoughts, "It's an electronic kit, it's plugged into the same channels on the console, nothing ever changes, why bother to check the channel settings?"

I wouldn't get to hear the worship band again until the first note of the worship set, and a rush of thoughts kept me distracted with myself.  "How could you have missed that?  Could it really have been so easy?  It took you how many weeks to figure that out?  How could you think the worst of one of your main suppliers?" and on and on. 

On about the fifth measure of the first worship song, I backed down my +10dB boost at 100Hz, as I rolled the high-pass filter down from 130Hz to 0Hz.  The sound came together quickly, and as it turned out, I added back +2dB at 100Hz.  The kick sound was perfectly solid and deep, just like it should have been all along.  

When something isn't right, take the time to figure it out, especially when what you're hearing doesn't make sense.  At about $35, the Rapco DB-1 is a great, inexpensive direct box.  No, it doesn't compare to a $199 Radial JDI, and if it did, there's be something wrong - maybe another conspiracy to make excessive profits by one of our suppliers.  Not a chance on the conspiracy part. 

With equipment, you get what you pay for.  The DB-1 works really well for electronic kick drum, as long as the sound technician has his head on straight. 

And we don't need a new sound system, after all. 

Published in Dave's Blog
Tuesday, 03 July 2012 13:41

Don't put up with bad audio!

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Some days, I hang my head.  Some days, I beat it on the desk.  Not really, of course, but a couple weeks ago, I received a phone call about a local church and the issues they were having with their audio system.  The call didn't come from the church itself, but it came from someone who knew someone, who knew one of the guys our installation team. 

Let me preface this by writing that the church is new and is full of excitement, planted from another local church, and almost everything was going right -- except the audio system.  For the first few weeks, the problems were almost expected, I guess, but with each attempted correction things got worse, much worse.  After a couple more weeks of "fixes", the sound was so bad that one of the regional denominational staff called the mother church and said that something had to be done (or else), and then we got a phone call. 

Unfortunately for us, we hadn't sold the sound system to begin with.  To the other dealer's credit, they had put together a nice group of components, except that the people at the church could not successfully operate it (and didn't know how to set it up), so it wasn't much of a system. 

Once we arrived on site, we assessed the situation, moved the speakers to their proper location (and explained why), and made some adjustments to the system itself and to individual channels.  Within about an hour and a half, we had completed the changes and had walked through a basic system familiarization with the primary sound tech, and the system was behaving perfectly. 

Getting great results doesn't have to be difficult, but part of getting those results is having equipment that compliments the abilities of your tech team and that they're able to operate.  With just a short time of reviewing the basics of microphone and speaker placement, gain structure, and our special touches on the system equalizer, the church's sound tech was comfortable enough that he knew that the next Sunday's service would go well.  And it did. 

Whether it's an intermittent wireless microphone, feedback issues with the pastor's primary microphone, or just bad sound everywhere, don't wait until it's too late.  If the sound system is a distraction for your worship experience, reach out to someone who can help. 

Published in Dave's Blog
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

If there's anything predictable about the audio, video, and lighting business in 2012, it's that most churches aren't spending what the way they'd like to on technology for worship.  Big projects routinely turn into medium-sized projects, annual budgets get zeroed out, and people who used to spend $500 at their own discretion have to get board approval to spend anything at all.  It's not uncommon for a project plan that used to take 2-3 months from design to build to now take a year or more.  I can think of one project that's still technically on the books, but that has been delayed for almost three years, with the hope for "next budget year."   

That's just the way it is.  If you feel like that, know that you're not alone.  People stream out the door at Chipotle for $8 burritos, but the right technical "food" has become more than a luxury for many of us. 

What's my point?  Despite the times, you still need technology to empower the worship setting, and if you have needs and money's tight, you better get it right the first time.  Money no object, you should still get it right the first time. 

So what's "right"?  Three factors make up our equation -- what meets the need, what fits the budget, and what the tech team can use effectively based on skill levels.  "Right" almost never means the same as "cheapest."  It simply means right.  We've been known to recommend both more and less expensive equipment than what a client thinks he or she can spend. 

No matter what, our goal is always the same -- to get you the right equipment. 

Published in Dave's Blog
Wednesday, 24 August 2011 16:06

What is value?

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Maybe I'm old, but it seems that a recurring theme in my life is finding value - value in what I buy, do and recommend to others.  The question remains, "What is value - at least in the realm of equipment?"  I don't think that question will be answered completely today, but let me share a couple examples of value and what it is and isn't. 

Just this week, I've had two conversations about value, and I've been both on the receiving and on the giving end. 

After almost 20 years of doing what I do, I've learned that when equipment companies like ours present their value that you can pick any two of these three factors -- lowest price, expert personal service, and quick product delivery.  In this business, you can choose generally only two of those.  I like to think that we offer a pretty good balance of the three, or at least the better of the two that I feel are more important. 

What you value, you have to choose for yourself.

This week, I started a new nutrition regimen.  It's one that a friend of mine has been following and he's enjoying the results.  He has more energy, is losing weight, and thinks that he's found somewhat of a renewed life.  That's important for those of us who are on the other side of 40. 

He's a bodybuilder type and is a fanatic about whatever he does, so he talked me into it.  Of course he did.  I love a sales pitch. 

The program costs a lot, compared to others, and I said, "But can't I take the the protein powder that I've been taking?  Up until 8 weeks ago, you took the same stuff that I take now." 

Here's where the advise came in.  He said, "This is a program.  It was designed to give certain results.  You paid a lot of money for this program, and don't you want to be able to know whether the the program works, or not?"   

That's a fair point.

We do the same thing as the nutrition company. We design systems, but it's up to our client to stick with the "program" to assure that they get the results they expect. Sometimes, when we call to check the progress of the decision making of a potential client, we find that they've taken our design and bought a piece here and a piece there, and substituted this for that -- and that they're either not getting the results that they expected and/or are in over their head and need support. 

What the person doesn't know at this point is whether our design was good or not, or whether they compromised it by picking and choosing.  Had we sold it as a system (our "program"), it would be fair to ask us for help. 

Since the equipment was bought a piece here and another there, there's no single source to "blame."  Any of the other dealers would be perfectly just to say to that person, "You ordered it, and yes, you bought it from me, but I didn't tell you that it would work." 

I think that getting products that integrate well into great systems should be part of your value-driven decision making process.  Only real world experience can provide that to you. 

What we value at Truth Seeker, and through our website Geartechs.com, is providing responsive, knowledge-based service, and giving you the best product that we know of to get the job done.  That's it. 

We feel no reason to sell you something that's not going to work, and frankly, we'd prefer not to.

Getting the right product into your hands the first time is our part of your stewardship equation. 

Published in Dave's Blog
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

The short answer is now. 

Over the past three weeks or so, we've all watched the value of our 401k accounts drop and the US dollar drop (in terms of gold), too.  That's a bad equation, because if you're cashing out of stocks, the cash from your stock investments when liquidated now buys less gold (one of the very few assets that has been rising while the stock market is falling). 

The dollar of 2011 and beyond is guaranteed to lose purchasing power since Uncle Sam is the world's largest borrower.  It's almost a lock that any future policy of the Federal Reserve will be beneficial to borrowers.   And what is most beneficial to anyone who needs to pay back a debt or loan?  A cheaper currency. 

If you don't know what I mean, think about the stories that your parents told about their $150 a month mortgage payment, and how easy it became to pay the loan over time.  We and our parents make higher wages (as measured in dollars), but real wages over the past 40 years are pretty much the same; it's just that it takes more of a cheaper currency to buy the same things -- and that is going to continue into the future. 

I have no way to guarantee the future, but since most of the equipment we sell is manufactured overseas, a long-term falling dollar will lead to higher equipment prices (as priced in dollars), and we're starting to see that today since it takes more dollars to buy the same amount of metals like copper and steel, and labor.  

To get the economy "going" again, it's also in the best interest of the Federal Reserve to allow inflation, forcing you to spend your dollars sooner than later since the longer you hold your dollars, the less they'll buy. 

Bottom line:  Don't be wasteful, but don't hold out for lower prices.  I think that they're quickly becoming a thing of the past. 

Published in Dave's Blog
Tuesday, 07 June 2011 17:07

You bought a fake what?

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Today, I shared part of my afternoon with the regional Line 6 sales rep.  He was in Columbus and stopped by to check in.  Since we both have a background in the music business, we had a fun conversation about instruments, bands, people we know in common, and life -- and then we talked about Line 6.  That's part of what makes this business fun. 

Somehow, our conversation came around to counterfeit equipment.  With today's technology and with many manufacturers operating overseas, it has become more and more difficult to be sure that you're getting what you're paying for.  Companies like Shure, Gibson, Fender, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Martin, Schecter, Monster Cable, D'Addario, Crown, JBL, DBX and many more wage a constant battle to protect their brand, and in turn to protect you.  For years, you've heard of fake Gucci watches, Dooney and Bourke bags and luggage, and counterfeit Calvin Klein clothing.  It's almost a joke that you go to New York City only to buy fake goods.  Some of the fakes are "good enough" but they're nothing like the real thing. 

Well, now you need to worry about fake pro audio, video and music gear. 

A word to the wise, if the price seems too good to be true, there's very likely a problem.  Online auction and classified ad sites are loaded with opportunities to buy.  And it's getting harder to tell the good guys from the bad guys. 

Not long ago, the owner of a Columbus pawn shop was arrested for selling stolen tools at a large auction site.  The shop had a perfect online selling reputation, but was selling semi trailers full of goods destined for Home Depot.  Did the auction customers like those $349 power tool sets for $99?  Sure they did, and the owner was all too happy to ship them quickly.

In the technology business, as much or more of a problem are fake goods -- goods that might say Shure or Audio-Technica or Sennheiser, and are packaged as such, but that are not actual name brand products, and that don't carry any warranty.  What's to stop the company that prints boxes for Audio Technica in Asia from selling a batch of the same boxes to another company who has stolen the A-T designs for itself?  Sadly, not much. 

The Line 6 sales rep shared a story that he had bought some ultra cheap batteries on eBay and it turned out that they weren't really Duracells after all.  We got a laugh out of that, but can you imagine?  Someone took the time to copy a 50 cent battery to sell it for 15 cents.  That's madness. 

So what's my point?  You work hard for what you make, so spend it carefully.  We've been in business for about 20 years.  We know where everything we sell comes from.  We don't import gear directly, we don't buy from companies we don't know, and every new piece we sell has a full manufacturer's warranty.  Our prices are competitive with other dealers.  There's generally not a price that we can't match, but occasionally (when we know the deal is too good to be true), we turn someone away and suggest that they buy all that they can from someone else. 

Without truly losing money, we can't sell Duracell Procell AA batteries for 15 cents, we can't sell Shure SM58 microphones for $49, we can't sell Sony HD broadcast cameras for $999, or Paul Reed Smith Guitars for $299.  We don't buy them anywhere close to those prices and neither does anyone else - unless they're fake or stolen.  

I'd like to buy a Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone.  It's one of the most copied instruments in history.  Several years ago, you could buy one for $2500, and I didn't want to pay that much.  Today, they're $4500-6000, and I really don't want to pay that much.  Good ones are actually considered an investment, kind of like old Martin guitars.  Or to satisfy my whim to play saxophone again, I can buy a Chinese knockoff of a Selmer Mark VI for $500-1000.  It looks like a Selmer, it plays something like an intermediate quality horn, and it might even say Selmer.  But is that right and is it wise to do?   

I have to admit that I like the crazy good deal, too, but the last thing you want to do is to waste the money you've worked hard to make.  Shop carefully. 

Published in Dave's Blog