RE: Will you Design or Build?

Response to this article published on Residential Systems.

What the author is suggesting has existed for some time in the commercial sector of the AV industry. The "designers" are the consultants and the "builders" are the sound contractors or system integrators if you prefer that name. Yet the generalists who design and build have not been stamped out.

On the contrary, the trade press reports that the ratio of consultant-designed projects to design-build projects is decreasing. The reason "the buyer is confused, agitated and annoyed as they pay dearly for design and product" is not because of the profit flow that the author suggests. The real reason is that buyers are being lied to by sellers of snake oil products who charge exorbitant prices for pretty cables, power conditioning devices, video calibration and other questionable products and services which bring little or no benefit to residential systems. The buyer is frustrated because he senses that but can't prove it because no one is talking.

My prediction made 20 years ago that our industry would suffer by promoting snake oil has come to fruition. We are suffering. Separating "thinkers" from "resellers" won't solve this continuing problem. Another reason for the buyer's confusion, agitation and annoyance is that systems designed by consultants, as opposed to design-build generalists, are often over-designed. Over-designed systems yield extra profits so contractors don't object, and when they do they are delisted from the consultant's bidder list. So we stop objecting and follow the consultant's design, as wild as it may be. The customer pays but is not happy.

The reason that design-build works better than separating the designer from the builder is that good design requires field experience on the part of the designer, and few designers have drilled through walls or serviced systems in the middle of the night. Lacking practical experience, they design using theoretical knowledge. Designers seem to be better educated and more computer literate than builders and they definitely write better. Since systems and products are sold with words, the designers are in a better position than builders to sell their expertise to the customer. That's why consultants are still around.

Sensing the customers' problem, manufacturers of residential AV products have devised their own solution: Turn AV systems into commodities that consumers can buy everywhere, including from manufacturers themselves via the internet. Like refrigerators and stoves. Eliminating the middle men is a more effective solution than separating the thinkers from the resellers.

Eventually manufacturers of residential AV systems will put us all out of business because architects will be able to design AV systems without help from designers, and electricians will install these systems without help from builders. Should the consumer want an AV system after he moves into a home without one, he'll just go to Costco or the nearest drug store and buy it. His 10-year old daughter will plug it in. The superrich will still need some help though, keeping a few generalists alive.


Alex Rosner Rosner Custom Sound, Inc. Long Island City, NY

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