Discovering the value of the Power Showroom

posted on Friday, 14th March 2014 by David Slater

home cinema  Habitech  Showrooms 


At Inside CI we love to find out what is happening at the coalface. So with cameras and Apple Mac in hand, we hit the road again for a whistle stop tour of installers in Leeds and Preston with Winston Williams, Northern Sales Manager at distributor Habitech. We were to learn to having a power showroom is key to growing business.

First stop was Finite solutions of Leeds where we met with Simon Mathieson, who was keen to show us around his newly refurbished demo facilities. Finite Solutions were one of the first outfits in the country to take demo rooms to another level. The team purchased a house (pictured above) and kitted it out with everything digital! This concept allows their clients to see every solution in a real world scenario before buying, and has proved a great success.

"We want potential customers to experience the options available to them in an environment they can easily relate to their own home. Because all equipment is not made alike, demonstration is the only way to reassure clients that you really do get what you pay for, that a £5,000 cinema system doesn't sound as good as a £ 50,000 system. Demonstration also allows clients to interact with control systems and get a feel for what suits them best, and is a far more fun and easy way to understand the differences between systems than talking tech at them."

Demonstration is vital to ensure customers' expectations are managed, says Mathieson. Crestron, AMX and Control4 systems can do pretty much anything, but it's important to show specifically what any system will do for a given quoted price. 'Demonstration also allows us to show our standard of work and how systems should be installed, which elevates us above the potentially cheaper but less capable companies we sometimes tender against."

Mathieson adds: "We have also revised the layout of our facility specifically so that our AV Rack building room is next to the main entrance, so we can show it to all our clients to give them an understanding of what goes in to building and testing a system properly. This helps them appreciate the necessity for the amount of engineering time quoted for in their project and is a benchmark to check against other installers".

The Finite Solutions demo facility has everything on offer, from a multi-seat cinema in the basement to beautifully designed bathrooms. I particularly like the idea of building the racks and testing them in the facility before shipping them to site.

As an example of recent work, Mathieson cites a Smart house refurbishment. "Not only did the client really love good quality music and cinema, he also wanted to automate everything possible in his house. It was our first full Linn active dedicated cinema room, all custom designed and built by us. It sounds amazing with a Linn multi room system incorporating the brand's top of the range klimax speakers.'

Mathieson adds that a Crestron control system was chosen to operate the alarm system, blinds, windows, door locks, lighting, heating and AC and whole house AV system. "It was a pleasure to work with a client so enthusiastic about music quality and the system works beautifully".

From hi-fi to AV with Audiovation
Next stop on the Inside CI spring road trip was Audiovation in Huddersfield. Here we met up with managing director Richard Chadwick. Richard has a different setup from the norm, as he started working in the industry in his father's hi-fi shop. Huddersfield Hi-fi began trading in 1987, and after being in audio retail progressed to Custom Install. The company went through a rebranding several years ago and Audiovation was born back in 2008.

Richard and his team have two sides to the business now with specialist audio still being a big part, however they have grown into a brilliant force in CI arena turning out some spectacular installs around the country. The key to success in CI is having a good demo room, says Chadwick. "Clients have often never experienced quality home cinema so don't know what's possible. We did a demo last month to a client who was decorating their lounge and looking to step up from the basic LG home cinema-in-a-box system they currently had. After a short demo in our cinema room, which has an Epson EH-TW9200 projector, Kaleidescape movie server and Artcoustic speakers, they were blown a way with the performance to the point where we are now about to start work on a basement cinema conversion with a more mid-level system to go into the lounge. Without the demo room we simply wouldn't have got that business."

We asked what tech Richard he was most looking forward to this year:  "4K Ultra HD - I think it's superb and demonstrably better than 1080p. I'm really hoping there is some ground made this year regarding material to show it on though. Also HD audio; I'm a huge fan of streamed audio but as a music fan it's always been a shame how the market has opted for convenience over quality. Hopefully with sites like HD Tracks officially launching in UK and Qobuz promoting CD quality, 2014 will see a push towards quality."

Reaching Nirvana AV
On day two of our road trip we visited Nirvana AV in Preston. MD Chris Shaw has just opened a new demo suite and it's stunning. His showrooms are full of the latest tech, with a nearly constructed cinema being the jewel in the crown. We were treat to a great viewing of movies firing through the new JVC DLA-X500 projector with speaker setup from Robson Acoustics, including three Chonos speakers, two Stella and the specially commissioned Sub Nirvana. The full first floor of the building has a games room featuring a driving seat and Sonos surround sound setup, as well as a kit room where Chris and his team can explain all things custom install to clients. Tucked away behind this is a lounge setup with bespoke sofa and designer wallpapers donning the walls, is a discrete mirror TV.

It's important to invest in showrooms, explains Shaw. "In the CI industry it's quite difficult to convey to people what is actually possible these days, and it's quite apparent that people don't know the full extent of these possibilities. Having a showroom allows people to physically see what is possible and experience the touch and feel of what can be achieved". Chris's favourite project over the past six months transpires to be a job done on the Fylde coast. "Our client has a disabled daughter and initially came to our showroom to look at some sensory lighting for the pool area, the AMBX system supplied by Sunlight Solutions. They were so blown away with demos here that along with the sensory lighting for the pool they also installed a high end cinema room, along with audio for the pool and Control4 automation throughout". 

In all, our spring road trip reveals the custom install business to be in good health. All three companies visited exhibit enormous passion for design and technology, and all three have found ways of making money by expanding their services. It's also clear that a real investment in a good demo facility should reap its own rewards. And that should be inspirational news for everyone.

Visit our featured installers online at:
Finite solutions
Nirvarna Audio Video

David Slater

David Slater started his writing career with SVI writing a popular column, he has also guested on publications like Home Cinema Choice and
Living North

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