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Member Spotlight: AV Imagined

Written by Rob Stott

August 10, 2023

It takes a certain amount of gumption and guts to step out on your own, bet on yourself and build a business from the ground up. As the voice of a network of thousands of independent businesses, we certainly appreciate the fact that we’re likely preaching to the choir. You get it. In fact, you’ve done it.

Still, every origin story is impressive to us because they’re all so unique. No two approaches to starting — or maintaining — an independent business are ever the same. And that’s certainly true when it comes to the team at AV Imagined, a still-young custom integrator in the Detroit metro area.

Founded in 2021, AV Imagined has really exploded onto the custom integration scene in its market, and it’s growing rapidly. The thing is, it’s not like Detroit is an underserved market from the residential and commercial integration standpoint. So, the growth that the group has experienced is a testament to the plan they built prior to launching and the work they’ve done since.

“What’s interesting is that all of the partners that make up AV Imagined, none of us would’ve jumped and started our own business on our own,” says Lawrence Walters, cofounder and CEO of AV Imagined. “But our combined experience made for this perfect storm almost that allowed us to go out on our own and do what we’re doing today.”

The founding team, which includes Walters, Andrea Rokicsak, Corey Chall and Andy Todd, brings together over 70 years of industry knowledge.

“We’ve all had different stopping points and spent time in different parts of the industry, seeing it from different perspectives,” Walters explains. “I have the sales and marketing background. Andrea brings a great foundation of business and process development. Corey spent over two decades as a technician, so he’s been integral in training new staff and bringing up the next generation of technicians. And Andy, as our chief technology officer, makes sure we’re picking the right products and not just jumping into new categories or projects without a solid plan in place.”

Together, they set out to not only create a custom integration firm that can succeed in their market, but a business model that was aggressively growth oriented.

“In the first year we really had to set up the organization,” says Walters. “We Had to get our processes in place, build out our infrastructure, build out our showroom, build out our warehouse, have the operation in a good place to then start to grow.”

Of course, there would be hurdles along the way, and pretty standard ones at that. Walters says that cashflow at the outset was difficult to come by, and then building out a pipeline of potential customers. Solving one of those challenges could help address the other, it was just a matter of identifying which to attack first. It turns out, even in a crowded market in Detroit, the group was able to identify an underserved piece of business that allowed them to fill their lack of a project pipeline and, along with it, their coffers.

“A big thing for me is that this business is all about relationships and providing the best experience,” says Walters. “What we found is that there are a lot of clients in our area who, over the last couple years, they’ve built a new home or they’ve invested in these systems, but now they’re being ignored with those ongoing upgrades or next-up projects. So, we decided to focus on delivering a really great experience to those clients.”

The benefits were twofold: First and foremost, they were able to complete those quick-turn projects, allowing them to make money fast and keep the business going. Second, and perhaps more importantly, their top-notch service and quick work resulted in a tremendous amount of referral business coming their way.

“I’ve found in going out and doing business development and networking in this industry, there aren’t a lot of people who understand what it is that we do as integrators, which just results in you spending a lot of time and energy explaining your company and how you can offer them this great experience,” says Walters. “But by focusing on those clients who were already familiar with the business and have worked with an integrator before, we’re able to avoid that challenge and provide them with a better experience than they previously had. And now, they’re telling their friends and family about the awesome work that AV Imagined did for them — they’re the ones out selling our services now.”

PREACHING PROCESS

For many established businesses — retail or otherwise — implementing new processes into the workplace is often met with resistance, a lack of buy in, major learning curves, or some combination of all of the above. Sometimes the process itself is the problem. But, more often, it’s the fact that “things have been done a certain way” for so long and it’s hard to unlearn those bad habits.

In order to avoid those challenges down the road, the AV Imagined team was determined to hit the ground running as efficiently as possible.

Before ever plugging a single CAT-6 cable into a network switch, the co-owners knew they needed to get their business plan solidified if they were ever going to be successful. Walters credits their current rate of growth to the attention the team paid to establishing a solid foundation for the business where they allow each individual to stay focused on what they’re great at.

“Every business has talented people and it’s all about trying to free those talented people up to do the thing that they’re really talented at,” he says. “That’s what’s going to accelerate growth and it’s going to accelerate your business. It’s also going to create better culture because you don’t have people that feel like they’re being underutilized.”

By finding ways to make the business run efficiently, Walters and team have been able to put all of their effort towards growing. And that’s exactly what they’ve done in Year Two. With their operations, showroom and warehouse all in order, the original team of four founders looked to expand. Today AV Imagined has 10 employees, including four new technicians hired in just the past few months.

“We’ve been growing quickly, but at the same time we’ve been able to hire to our culture,” Walters says. “We’ve been hiring new young technicians that have either very little or no experience in our industry. But, our whole hiring process is based around our core values and our culture. It’s been really fun watching this next generation of technicians come in and grow as people and professionals in such a short period of time.”

While they’ll look to continue to expand their capabilities on the technical side of the business, Walters notes that the next big step for AV Imagined is to begin bringing in additional support on the sales side of the house.

“Within AV Imagined right now we’re at the point where we’re trying to accelerate our growth by hiring sales,” he says. “We built out the infrastructure, now we’re filling those seats and starting to expand the sales teams while also filling out the tech side so we can keep up with new and ongoing client projects. And we’ll look to grow very quickly that way.”

All signs that those early speedbumps of limited cashflow and a dry project pipeline are well in the rearview mirror for the team.

LOOKING AHEAD

Earlier this year, Lawrence and Andrea attended the first-ever Oasys Summit in Nashville, which was also their first-ever in-person networking and education event as a team. The opportunity to come together and talk directly with a number of their key product partners along with fellow integrators, he says, was an invaluable experience.

“We joined the group a year ago this August, and so this was the first chance for us to experience an event like this as a team, and it was second to none,” he says. “It reaffirmed for us why we joined the group and just how important the opportunities are that an event like that provides — from the one-on-one meetings with our manufacturer partners to the networking with other integrators.”

The Summit also gave AV Imagined the chance to explore some new categories that they may look to expand into in the near future, including lighting.

“We had a really great meeting with Kaleidolight during the Summit,” says Walters. “We definitely see lighting as a category that has a lot of potential for growth for our industry, but also for our individual business. We’re trying to figure out where we fit in the spectrum of lighting. It was great to be able to talk with them to try to answer things like, where does our business fit and where are the opportunities for us in this category?”

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