Perhaps one of the most difficult things about being a subcontractor in the AV Industry is the way we are most commonly engaged. Let me paint a picture.
A salesman comes back to the installation department and says “Customer just got a budget for 3 more rooms, but they need to have them installed by next week; can we get them installed?”
After the installation manager looks at the calendar to see their installers are all busy he says, “Maybe, if we can get a sub to do the labor,” and then asks, “do we have all of the gear or can we get it?”
Here are the problems I see already. The integrator is going to take a quick turn project, hopefully be able to get all of the gear and will likely not do a proper scope/walkthrough, and then they will call us and ask for us to complete the job in a smooth timely manner.
So much of this is wrong, however, we do understand as a subcontractor that we can stand out from competitors by being responsive, capable, and efficient in turning projects like these. We believe we can help make this process better if the integrators will work with us subcontractors side-by-side.
With this in mind, here is what integrators need to ask and answer about their subcontractors in order to realize a new level of success in working together.
1. Understand What The Subcontractors Are Capable Of.
Perhaps the first thing you need to do before working with any subcontractor is have a discussion in order to better understand and agree upon what their installers are capable of. Specifically make sure you understand what their leads are able to do versus their helpers.
Furthermore, if the sub is going to be responsible for commissioning the job and interacting with the client make sure the sub knows the specific equipment they will be working with.
2. Know Your Role!
Another important step is to clearly define responsibilities prior to the work starting. The most successful jobs we do are the ones that are clearly laid out stating what the subcontractor is responsible for and what the integrator is responsible for. This cuts down on any finger pointing and naturally improves the communication.
Our most successful relationships entail integrators that think of their subcontractor as a partner or an extension of their company and not just in the installation department. This includes working hard to make them feel as if they are part of the team and giving them confidence that they won’t take the blame for anything that goes wrong.
In return, you can bet they will work tirelessly to represent your company positively in the field.
3. Get The Facts About The Subcontractor.
I often hear horror stories about subcontractors that really didn’t have the qualifications to work in this field and that is a shame. But if you make that type of hire, it may be as much your fault as it is theirs.
Do your homework on not just the subcontractor but also the company. Be sure to know if they employ their own staff that is trained and certified or are they going out and just finding people to put on site. What skills do they have and tools do they own?
4. Find Out If You Have Tech Support.
Does the company you are contracting have their own technical support staff to support their guys in the field or is that going to be your problem. What does that team provide? Do you have the staff to support the potential technical requests?
In short, many times the subcontractor sends a very capable field person, but they still need to be backed up. Who is responsible to give them that support. Some subs have that in house while others will need your resources. Are you prepared for that?
For integration companies, the ability to take on quick turn projects is a terrific way to grab profitable incremental revenue, however, knowing how hard it is to successfully complete projects on a standard timeline, is a great indicator of all that can go wrong when a project is asked to be completed on a short turn.
The beauty of a solid relationship with an AV subcontractor is that we can provide you resources quickly to not only help with short term projects, but also to provide resources for all of your projects and in many cases even technical resources like a programmer or engineer.
To foster this solid relationship, it comes down to strong communication, division of responsibility, and knowing the real capabilities of the subcontractors you hire.
With a little planning and a great partnership, more work can be done and more customers will be won over by your ability to quickly meet their needs.
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Chris Bianchet, president of Herman Integration Services, has over 17 years of experience in the audiovisual industry. The majority of his career was spent at Audio Visual Innovations (which became AVI-SPL in 2008), the nation’s largest AV system integrator.
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