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Questions for Installers

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Timber, Nov 1, 2002.

  1. Timber

    Timber Stunt Coordinator

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    I'd like some info from anyone on the Forum that's an installer - preferably self-employed. I've setup about a dozen systems the past few years; mostly relatives, friend's, etc. Anyway, the last one I did the guy ask me if I wanted money for setup and calibration. I guess I've been doing it more for the experience and joy of the hobby than for money. I told him "No thanks", but it made me think that there probably is a decent market down here for a low - medium priced Home Theater installer. There are only a couple of local specialty shops that do it, but they are a little higher end than J6P. So I was thinking of installing part time. Problem is I don't have the slightest idea of how to charge. Hourly..., by the job? No clue. Or how much. If anyone can give me some ideas, I'd be grateful. If you'd prefer to e-mail me, please do.
    I'm not certain what will be involved with getting started, but I do need to tell people "How much". If it seems like I can do good business, I'll go through the formalities of making it a small business. Thanks for your help.

    Tim
     
  2. Shawn Solar

    Shawn Solar Supporting Actor

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    Well I work for a small outfit that installs alarms and camera's etc. We have moved into HT, data and also install gates and such. We usually price our labour into parts and wire as so the customer doesn't try to drop are price as much.(weird but true) but are usual rate varies from 25-60 dollars an hour, depending on the job. If all you work is an hour charge $40-$50 to cover travel time and such. Longer jobs we do charge less. If the job is harder, like running through an attic or crawl space charge more. $35 an hour is average though. We also charge a little more if the ceilings and walls are finished.

    Cover your butt at all times and never quote a job to break even. If you ever have to come back to a job at least you won't have to charge the customer again(looks good) and if you happen to drill into an electrical wire or something you don't want to lose your shirt.
     
  3. Timber

    Timber Stunt Coordinator

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    Shawn,
    Thanks for the info. You give me more things to think about along with the rates. Obviously I need to do some more homework. It would be nice if I could find out how strong the market for this would be down here. I'll be asking a couple of the local places for info next week. I just don't want them to think I'm trying to steal their business.

    Tim
     
  4. Chris Tsutsui

    Chris Tsutsui Screenwriter

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  5. Dave Milne

    Dave Milne Supporting Actor

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    If you are not familiar with business cases, market research, etc., you might contact your local business college or university. The MBA students are always looking for projects. When I got my MBA at the Univ. of Arizona, we did several projects for local companies. The teams I was on typically included some very savvy "students" --actually experienced executives who were sponsored by their company to get an MBA.

    If you're really serious about forming a corporation, securing outside capital, etc., you might get one of the top-notch executive MBA schools like Wharton, Sloan, or Northwestern to take up your case as a project...
     
  6. Shawn Solar

    Shawn Solar Supporting Actor

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    Also, market to new construction. A lot of these builders are looking for cheap installers. If all you have is a few tools and a van you can really under price the competition. New constuction only needs a box of wire, drill bits and a staple gun. Low overhead. Make a few stops in as construction progresses too to make sure wires are not cut and are all pulled through the drywall.
     
  7. Timber

    Timber Stunt Coordinator

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    Dave,

    My wife has a degree in Business Management, so she can help with a lot on that end. However, I want to start small and only work part-time as my primary job is in the military. But, I realize that I'll still need a lot of that information to be successful; even on a small scale.


    Shawn,

    My father is a cabinet builder who does most of his work on new houses in the $500,000 and up range(This is in South Alabama, where that goes a long way). He's told me that the HT installers on these jobs are swamped with work. These are all sub-contracted jobs; so if I wanted to get into that kind of market, I'd need to be a small business and probably be doing it full-time. That's why I want to start small.

    Thanks for all the insight and ideas guys. I know it will help.

    Tim
     
  8. Mark Seaton

    Mark Seaton Supporting Actor

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    Hi Tim,
    I'm a little distraught at the lack of responses here, but I guess that is because this forum mostly gets the DIYers who couldn't fathom paying someone else to do what they enjoy doing so much. In fact, there are many people who would love to just press one button, pop in a DVD and hit play. They really could care less as to the how or why it all works... The users and abusers.
    In fact the custom home installation and integration market has been booming for quite a while now, while retail keeps regressing toward the lowest common denominators. I guess the area of the country will have an affect on the labor rates, but those quoted above are MUCH lower than the norm. In my experience and through CEDIA, I have generally seen most small businesses charge a very wide range covering $35/hr on up to over $125/hr depending on the type of work being done and the background of the person.
    CEDIA (www.cedia.org) is where you need to go. If you go into such a business, this is your advertiser to the public and the organization which pushes to have home integrators viewed as a serious occupation and service. For installers the annual CEDIA Expo has supplanted CES as "the show" to attend. The community offers quality training and addresses all levels of custom home integrators. A few good friends of mine have their own businesses and of course I work with some very large installers on occasion as well. What you really need to do is determine what your strengths are, and determine if that is enough to offer, or if you need to form an alliance with someone of complementary skills, or if you just need to get some more training, which many manufacturers and distributors provide freely or for reasonable fees.
    As for the fee, there are many variables, and a BIG factor is what you feel confident in asking for. As you are just getting going when you know you will make some mistakes or misquotes, starting at as little as $25/hr may not be bad if you have some personal relationship with the clients. I would suggest that $35/hr would be a minimum once you are reasonably confident in your capabilities. The norm I see for most general installation is $35-75. The problem is that this also is dependent on how you sell yourself. In my oppinion, the idea of combining installation with items is a backwards concept that comes from contracting practices from larger jobs, usually security and telcom. Even worse are the old "installation included" concepts from the boutique hi-fi shops. If you consider yourself to have any specialized or valued skills, this is not the way to operate.
    Understand this... ANY product you sell can be purchased elsewhere, probably cheaper than you could sell while maintaining any profit. The reason something is purchased from you is because the client values your judgement and the convienience. The real reason you are there has NOTHING to do with the product, but everything to do with knowing how to make it work. Selling products is your means to guarantee you can make it work as you are more familiar with the products and have manufacturer support of some form. The key here is that clients hire you for what you can do, not the products you sell. Don't fight this, and in fact, charge them accordingly. Be fair/reasonable on any items purchased, and let them know they are paying for YOU, not the box on the shelf. The ONLY case where I see packaged billing as a good option are in some remote control systems and automation systems, but in this case, it is really just an overestimate of time involved and a fixed fee based on this. This can work in those cases where you might not want to have the client foot the bill for any screw ups you have in the learning process, or for cases where there is a lot of front end work in programming, like interface design. On that note, one of the best things you can do is learn how to get a system running smoothly, from one remote. This means some programming and a remote like a Pronto or other macro capable remote. Check out www.remotecentral.com as a great resource.
    I hope this helps,
     
  9. Brian Bunge

    Brian Bunge Producer

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    Tim,

    I have been meaning to post as well. I am just getting started in the custom install business and attended CEDIA this year. The one thing I heard over and over was that the actual products don't matter. To the average consumer there are two companies in the retail world: Sony and Bose. They haven't heard of even a fraction of the other manufacturers out there. Therefore, you aren't selling any specific equipment but you are selling yourself.

    We were told to focus on total system prices and not to focus on line item pricing. In the custom world you don't want to get into a situation where a customer has the opportunity to haggle with you on individual items. The key is a complete package. You've already picked what you consider the best products and can install them and insure that they will work as advertised when you leave. And if the customer does try to haggle with you about price, you simply drop down to the next lowest package.

    I heard all of this more times that I can count in that short few days. If you do a good job and "promise little and then deliver more" you'll get more referrals than you'll know what to do with.
     
  10. Shawn Solar

    Shawn Solar Supporting Actor

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    The company I work for the most important feature we have is service. We are always availble and a lot of the time if we go back to show them how to use a DVD player or time lapse vcr we do it for free. That keeps them happy and in return accounts for about 15% of or (repeat)business. In fact word of mouth is our main advertiser.
    Our market in Canada, or where I am anyway is not the same as most places. We could never charge more than 60/hour. Unless of course we were the phone company[​IMG]
     
  11. Wayne A. Pflughaupt

    Moderator

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    Tim,

    I think many of the respondents here have “shot over your head” with their recommendations vs. what you’re trying to do – start out small with a part-time gig.

    The first thing you need to do if you’re serious is get the tools you’ll need. I can make some recommendations, if you’re interested.

    I’ve done both pro-audio and home-audio installations, and I assure you that the latter can be much more difficult. The main thing about being a professional, as opposed to a “weekend warrior,” is that you are able to accomplish the task, no matter how challenging or difficult – that is, get the wiring from point A to point B, terminate everything and make it look nice to boot. Part of this, or course, is having the right tools, but the other part is just knowing what to do – being able to analyze a home and determine what courses of actions are feasable – which is best, which to use as a “plan B” if the first doesn’t fly. Of course, this takes experience. You will have to be skilled at running wires through attics and dropping them into walls, running wires across rooms and doorways under carpet, etc. Not to mention knowing the appropriate wiring for either situation. If you’re handling more than just the wiring, you will have to be familiar with setting up, testing, and tuning the system, including subs, for the best in-room performance.

    It’s nice to be insured, but the truth is, if you’re a careful installer, the repair costs of most goofs you might make (i.e, a hole drilled in the wrong place) aren’t outrageous. So if you don’t have insurance you will have to be prepared to cover the bill yourself. But fortunately, you won’t totally loose your shirt

    As others have noted, I think $25-35 an hour is a reasonable rate for a talented beginner, depending on prevailing labor rates there in NO. And as Shawn recommended, you have to charge disproportionately for small jobs. For instance, you don’t want to have to drive 45 minutes across town for a one-hour job. That would blow three hours for a single hour’s pay. So be sure and have a minimum charge.

    You will also have to become skilled at estimating, that is, determining the time you will spend on a job. This can be difficult to learn without some experience under your belt (I still have trouble with it at times). You should do like professional companies and upcharge your best time estimate by 25-30%, to cover your butt in case something unforeseeable comes up. You could always bill less at the end, if it turns out you don’t need the cushion (a sure-fire way to get referrals!).

    Also, after you start getting some serious business, it would be good to factor in a cushion in the event that you have to make a return call under warranty. Time spent on warranty work is time that you are not making money elsewhere.

    Regards,
    Wayne A. Pflughaupt
     
  12. Shawn Solar

    Shawn Solar Supporting Actor

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    Just to let you know, Me and my boss just made our first Oops in about ten years(well I've been working for two) where we drilled a hole for a motion behind door trim and accidentally caught the burbor carpet with the edge of our bit.

    If your not familar with that specific carpet, it is weaved in a continuous thread across the length of the carpet. What happens if you catch a thread is it pulls the thread right out leaving a run in the carpet. It only pulled out about 8" but it still may have to replace the whole 20x15 carpet. Sometimes insurance is a good thing:b

    I know your part-time but another thing to think about is tools. A metal fish is great but fiberglass rods are better in alot of cases. a toner is a must for any wiring. 2' or 4' drill bits in 1/4", 3/8, and 1/2". I am not sure how much inernal wire you plan on running or if you just want to position and calibrate. Try to get in touch with some wire distibuters. You will save a lot of money buying from a distributer vs. retail. They can also help you price jobs if you tell them you will buy from them. And through there manufacturers can get free training on products

    You can also get into phone lines and cable and security down the line too. Like Wayne said we could be shooting over your head right now but its better to be prepared.
     
  13. Wayne A. Pflughaupt

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    Shawn,

    I’ve seen the fiberglass rods a couple of times and they look very cool. It’s about the only install gizmo I don’t have yet. Could you point me to a source?

    Regards,
    Wayne A. Pflughaupt
     
  14. Brian Bunge

    Brian Bunge Producer

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  15. Shawn Solar

    Shawn Solar Supporting Actor

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    Brian's right. Those are the ones. the Grab zit or the other ones when you click on products. They join together to make as long as you need. The little eggbeater thing at the end is great for going across ceiling tile. We also have a telescopic rod that collapse and extends to 18'. it is rather large but has saved me from a few attic and crawl spaces. I will have to ask where we bought it.
     
  16. Hank Frankenberg

    Hank Frankenberg Cinematographer

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    Notice the "Installers Corner" chat area in Brian's recommended web site. I just read a few posts and there are people out there who are willing to share their knowledge. Very helpful site/tools/chat room.
     
  17. Wayne A. Pflughaupt

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    Brian, Shawn, and Hank, thanks for the info!

    Shawn:

     
  18. Timber

    Timber Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm basking in the light of knowledge! Thanks for all the responses guys. First off, Shawn....I know exactly what you mean with the Berber carpet. I did the same thing at our house when we moved in. Brand new carpet no less. But it was only 2 or 3 inches and I was able to hide it. Glad my wife wasn't there to see it:b

    Mark,
    I checked out CEDIA and that seems like the direction I'd like to go....eventually. As for the fee, I think I'll shoot for $50 min./1st hour charge and then $25/hr after that. I'll adjust as the market dictates. And I agree about the products; I'm not looking to sell anyone on any particular component. Only the best for their money and that it's simple to use. Which brings me to the remotes. This is where I think I can do the most good for people. I doubt anyone enjoys using half a dozen remotes just to watch a movie. I got into this end of HT out of necessity. My wife was not at all happy when I first got into the hobby and had an array of remotes. So it was vitally important to get one remote that could simplify everything. So far, everyone that I've helped, I've been able to remove a couple of remotes with one of their existing ones. And if they've had one with the capability, I would program/teach and set up macros for them.
    Something I'm surprised by is that the majority of these systems haven't even been set up with Dolby Digital correctly. People think they're hearing DD or DTS and all that's coming out is 5 channel stereo or some hokey Studio effect.


    Wayne hit the nail on the head. I'm looking to improve folks existing systems, as well as installing new ones. And I absolutely don't have a lot of spare time to do it in. Hopefully, I'll work toward that and be involved on the project as a whole. For now I have to shoot low. But, that only means I can go up from there.

    Everyone else, thanks again for the help.

    Tim
     
  19. Shawn Solar

    Shawn Solar Supporting Actor

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    Wayne,
    The telescopic rod is all in one piece with a hook at the end. It is a tapered fiberglass tube that is about 2-2.5" in diametre at one end then only 1/2" or less at the tip. just like the retractable antenna's but bigger. I can extend the full 18' hold the end of the rod and move it about with my arm fully extended, so it is light weight. But you are right it won't go in to walls. Its just basically a long arm to reach with[​IMG] It is in 3' sections.
    Well Tim your pretty much setup. If you start buying products and researching products for customers be sure to haggle with the audioshop and charge the customer full price and a little extra for 'foot work' buying the product, going down yourself and deleivery. If they want the best price they can go to the shop themselves[​IMG]
     

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