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Custom Integrators Navigate Uncharted Waters with COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Hank Alexander

July 20, 2020

At the outset of 2020, we all thought our everyday lexicon would revolve around acronyms like OLED, QLED, 4K, 8K, 5G, WiFi-6 and more. But since mid-February all we’ve been hearing and talking about is COVID-19. When I was asked to write this article back in early 2020, it was going to be all about the 3rd annual HTSN Summit in Dallas, TX, scheduled for early May. (That didn’t happen, of course, but more on that later.) I quickly turned to focusing on how the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the custom installation (CI) industry.

I talk to HTSN members and vendors all the time, but we’ve been more frequently in touch during the COVID-19 outbreak. What I’ve come to learn through those conversations is, depending on where your business is located or what channel you’re in, your response to COVID-19 could range from completely shut down to business as usual. For now, I don’t want to rewind and try to Monday Morning Quarterback anything, Instead, I’d like to take a look at how things might look like in the CI channel moving forward.

First and foremost, one of your top priorities moving forward will be making sure you, your install/delivery staff and your clients are safe when you go into their home. To that end, Nationwide Marketing Group recently partnered with one of our national distributor partners O’Rourke Sales Company to help get PPE gear into the hands of our members — things like face masks or neck gaiters, gloves and LOTS and LOTS of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and disinfectant spays.

It’s also important to communicate with your clients to let them know what to expect upon your arrival and what precautions you’re taking. For many of the dealers I’ve been talking to this is already their new norm while others are still reviewing and adopting safety measures.

Communicate, communicate and communicate more with past clients, current clients, clients you’re just starting to work with and even future clients. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of marketing your business and letting the people in your community know that you’re still around, the precautions you’ve taken and continue to take and what you’re doing to ensure everyone’s safety. Also, let them know that during things like COVID-19 (or whatever is next) you’ll continue operations, phones and emails are being forwarded and appointments are being kept or made as needed.

While none of us can be sure what the future will hold for everyone you should plan for what’s next. Start with making the changes above, but also start having conversations about how technology can help during what might be next on several levels. Obviously talk about strong networks, WiFi and security, but also things that many clients know nothing about like remote services. There are myriad remote network services in the industry (most HTSN dealers are partnered with one). Remote network monitoring can help when a client has issues with either their network or items connected to it.

Talk about home entertainment moving forward. Reviving a term form the late 90’s, “cocooning” will make a BIG comeback. With many traditional entertainment sources including theaters and amusement parks slow to open it will be important to discuss home theaters, media rooms and entertainment for family of all ages moving forward. We continue to look at new and immerging opportunities for home and media rooms. We recently partnered with a new vendor that’s bringing full-size classic arcade games to the home. Just think, being sheltered at home and having arcade games from the past in your media room! Also, discuss outdoor entertainment, to get people outside the home and think about how to expand their options for entertainment moving forward. Talk with past clients about the ever-popular “upgrade” procedures you have to get older products replaced and get them ready to entertain at home moving forward.

Last but not least, think about how you are positioning your business for success in the future. Now is the time to start looking at how you can insulate your business to protect it from future crises like what we’re currently facing. Start by looking at remote services so your team might not have to do house calls. Look at branching out into resimercial (residential-commercial) projects.

Now, for that aforementioned 3rd annual HTSN summit that was postponed. Because of COVID-19, we made the decision to postpone to November 2-4 at the Gaylord Texan in Dallas. Since CEDIA in Denver has been canceled and is now a virtual show, we’re looking forward to getting our CI members together with our vendors for educational opportunities and one-on-one time, as long as it’s done safely and we’re all ready. Hopefully the next time I’m writing this article, it’s all about a successful Summit that includes lots of pictures of dealers and vendors networking — in person!

This article was first published in the July 2020 issue of Retail Observer.

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