By Richard Frank, March 11, 2010
While custom-built home entertainment products have been around for decades, the custom installation industry helped sprout the build-to-order (BTO) business model for certain manufacturers.
For integrators, the ability to spec one-off products offers:
- Extreme flexibility when designing a system
- Greater customer satisfaction by giving them exactly what they want
- Additional margin versus standard products
- Lower inventory costs
The BTO model is common to several custom product categories, including projection screens, speakers, flat-screen enhancements, theater chairs and even entire theater builds.
Leon Speakers is one manufacturer that actively solicits one-offs, often turning around a BTO order in just four to six days once the specs are set.
According to president Noah Kaplan, the No. 1 lesson for success with BTO sales is to “actively engage the customer to discover their passion for the sale. It may be the sound, or it may be the opportunity to have the speaker fit perfectly into their space and match their décor spot-on. Careful listening to what excites the customer (or his wife) can easily double or triple a $1,000 sale and create a customer who sings your praises to their friends, family and associates.”
“Our dealers have found BTO products to be a lifesaver in this market,” adds Kaplan. “The added profitability has been a godsend, and the fact that these sales come with a zero-dollar inventory is beautiful.”
Joaquin Rivera, director of sales for residential products for Stewart Filmscreen, says BTO products send a client’s pride-of-ownership “through the roof. They know you’ve given them the best solution for the application … customized for the product to perform its best within the environment it has been designed for.”
Carey Schafer, vice president of engineering at Cinema Design Group Inc. (CDGi), says BTO products represent “a whole new ballgame for the customer. Often the entire family is involved – and the designer, decorator and architect. The project takes on a high level of impact for the family because it is uniquely theirs.”
Selling BTO Products
The ability to provide BTO products can be a great way to save a sale, says Brent Howard, president and founder of TruAudio. The company began building to order to help avoid losing a big sale that required very specific speakers. Howard says he wants his clients to apply the same philosophy.
“When they realize the client wants something we don’t offer, we want them to explain that TruAudio custom-builds,” he says. “Our dealers have loved that.”
Integrators who sell custom-designed products need to be more attentive, according to Rivera. “Ask good questions, listen well and have a well-prepared demonstration. Get creative and get the customer involved,” he says. “Once you engage them in conversation, BTO customers tend to have strong opinions about style and design. Find out what their tastes are.”
Howard agrees BTO manufacturers need as much information about the installation as possible. “We’re looking for specifics. What other speakers will be in the room? What kind of power is going in there? Does it need to go under a bed or somewhere? Does it need to match a TV? How will it be used?”
Since the exterior finish of a product is often the specialized aspect of a BTO speaker, Kaplan says dealers must engage the entire household (and especially the wife or interior designer) to get a wish list and find out their favorite materials, finishes and décor styles. Then help them zero in on their choices.
Schafer adds that selling build-to-order products usually has little to do with a technology … it’s a lifestyle solution. “BTO customers will want to talk about the style of their home,” he says. “If style is important enough for someone to discuss, it’s important enough to purchase.”
Rivera says the most important thing for integrators to remember is not to wait until the last minute to order a specially made product. “Our policy is to ask the client what the deadline is – and then we bend over backwards to deliver by that date.”
Kaplan says it is important to “clarify and confirm” – be sure everyone (customer, designer, decorator, architect, builder, installer) in the communication path agrees with the details. Schafer adds that signed-off orders are required.
“When building custom theater products, it’s not likely they could ever be sold to anyone else if they are wrong,” he says.