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RISING FROM THE ASHES

Former Circuit City Firedog employees forge ahead as Crown Audio Videoin Dallas with solid SEO tactics to attract Millennials and a new showroom to reach $4 million.

RISING FROM THE ASHES

From the worst of circumstances can sometimes arise the best of situations. That might be a good way to describe the formation and ascendance of Crown Audio Video in Dallas. The company was created by a group of former employees from Circuit City Firedog, the now-bankrupt former retailer’s custom installation service. Eight years later, Crown AV is the “king” so to speak of using effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics and a trendy, designladen new 7,700-square-foot showroom to attract the huge Millennials crowd based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The company’s website innovations, along with the showroom replete with equipment from companies like Phase Technology, Control4, Crestron, Screen Innovations, Beale Street Audio and others, has led it to $4 million in revenues and growing. The firm works in multiple markets, earning about 60 percent of its revenues from the residential sector and 40 percent commercial. About 10 percent of the resi business comes from homebuilders, a market the team learned how to tap from its Firedog days.

“A lot of our crew were regional and district managers for the Firedog team. We were all either ex-Best Buy, Magnolia Hi-Fi or Circuit City. So we came from the big-box store backgrounds,” recalls Buddy Hughes, president. “We dealt with the Circuit City builder program on the East Coast working with Centex Homes on 7,500-square-foot homes. We were popping in central vacs, audio systems, TVs, brackets and literally rolling them into the mortgages.

“Based on all that experience and when we saw Circuit City going under, which we foresaw coming, we decided we were going to do our own thing. Four or five of us all got together and we already had some clientele. We started by building a website based on photos of projects we had done. Then, we started growing the business from there,” adds Hughes.

According to Hughes, Circuit City was very aggressive and successful forging relationships with builders, even small builders, using sales designers in the field. But it was after the sale where the Firedog service failed.

“They didn’t really know what they were doing,” he comments. Crown AV was based initially on “fixing everything Circuit City messed up” with those builder clients. The company has some lucrative programs set up for builders using Control4 and Crestron Pyng. The problem right now, according the Hughes, is the home construction market in Texas is so hot that builders are falling back into their pre-housing-bubble habit of cutting back their spending on amenities because the house is going to sell no matter what.

“It’s not that the builders don’t want quality, but their quality is focused in other areas,” he says.

SEO OPTIMIZATION: WHY YOU DON’T NEED 27 WEBSITES

Today, Crown AV credits much of its success to its online marketing. “SEO is getting us where we are today,” says Hughes, who learned some valuable lessons along the way. Initially, Crown AV received advice to launch 27 different websites under names like HomeTheaterDallasTexas.com, MediaRoomsDallasTexas.com, AudioVideoDallasTexas.com, and so on. “It’s not something we wanted to do but we had no knowledge of SEO, so we hired a consultant. We happened to select the wrong guy with the wrong information [to develop our web strategy],” he admits. “It was a bad decision and it was focused on the wrong SEO. We thought we needed to have 27 websites each with their own unique URL.”

Today, those 27 different websites are gone and the company has a new website built by integration industry-targeted design and creative services provider OneFirefly. “In the past eight months, the quality of our customers has changed. It’s not all quantity like we had before with 27 websites — and trust me, the quantity that came in from the 27 websites you don’t want,” Hughes notes. “Someone that argues over a $50 antenna install is not what you want.”

The new website has a “vibe,” according to Hughes, that conveys “if you call us you are going to pay for exactly what you are asking for.” “That’s the vibe we wanted from the website. We know what we’re doing. If you’re going to call, it’s going to cost money. It’s definitely made the quality of customers jump up,” says Hughes.

The new website has ramped up content that changes every few weeks using some of the key terms that consumers use to find the company. Keywords like “motorized drapes, blinds, shades” have been added, Hughes says, because many customers don’t know what they’re looking so Crown AV makes sure it covers all the options.

“There are hundreds of keywords that have been added since the build of the website that are new. Some of the most frequent keywords customers use to find us are ‘custom audio video’ or ‘audio video store.’ In my mind, I would think customers are going to type ‘home theater’ when they want home theater. So why are they typing in ‘audio video’? Those are industry-based terms,” he says. “But the younger generation sees us as audio/video technicians, not home theater guys. They’re typing in ‘audio video,’ so a lot of audio/video related terms like ‘audio video technician,’ ‘audio video installation’ or ‘audio video programming’ have worked.”

Crown AV does zero cold calling, does not use outside sales, and does no print Buddy Hughes says a lot of Crown AV’s team came from a big-box background, including Best Buy, Magnolia Hi-Fi and Circuit City, where they gained experience as regional and district managers and forged relationships with homebuilders. About 10 percent of Crown AV’s residential business is with builders. It has grown from $150,000 in its first year to $4 million in 2015.

NEW SHOWROOM, CUSTOM WOODWORK

Besides SEO tactics, another piece of the company’s success is its new 7,770-squarefoot showroom, which includes multiple vignettes and a full custom woodworking shop.

The showroom atmosphere is also aimed at Millennials. It’s an open-ceiling warehouse environment with an ornate conference room and theater. Hughes says the open-concept office is what Millennial entrepreneurs want. He says new restaurants and small offices are opening up every day in the area.

The showroom also includes a demo wall for speakers using Beale Street Audio and MSE Audio’s Phase Technology. “We absolutely love those brands. Phase Technology has been around forever. They are the inventor of the soft dome tweeter. We’re using the Phase Tech dARTs (digital Audio Reference Theater System) in our media room. Also, MSE Audio opens up a whole other avenue of commercial opportunities for us via its SoundTube brand,” he says. The showroom also includes a 120-inch Screen Innovations Slate screen, Marantz processor, and Epson LS10000 4K enhancement laser projector.

“Our focus is ‘less is more,” says Hughes. “If I give customers too many options, they think too much, especially some of the new clientele. If I let him hear seven different speakers it’s too confusing. But if I say, ‘Here are best, better, good options’ and limit him to what we have, we always close a deal.”

Hughes says the company does not have a structured demo technique, but one thing the team likes to show off is its custom woodwork. In the shop area adjoining the show room, there is a full woodworking toolshop for building cabinetry and even special signs for above a client’s media room door. Hughes says that extra touch is important.

“It blows them away,” he says. Plus, on some projects Crown AV is able to add $2,000 to $3,000 dollars in cabinetry or signage. “You’d be surprised when you give customers the option to see what you really can do in the room. Can you take those towers [speakers] and build them into the wall and make the frame and grille cloth in the front? It goes a long way in our book. We try to separate ourselves as we are the true custom A/V guy. We do not just come into the home and cut square and round holes in the walls.”

The showroom itself is on an appointment-only type of schedule, but Hughes says they would never tell somebody to leave if they just walked in. Indeed, the website invites visitors to call and schedule a time to stop by. Once the prospective client is in the showroom, Crown AV staff immediately tries to establish a rapport with a sit-down discussion and showing them brochures.

“It is all about relationships,” says Hughes. “We ask questions like, ‘What do you do? What are you looking to do? What type of music do you listen to?’’’

UNDERSTANDING MILLENNIAL CUSTOMERS

Another reason Crown AV continues to grow revenues is by tapping into a demographic can elude many integrators. Before Crown AV, Hughes spent time as a college and career pastor at his church. He believes that experience enables him to understand Millennials better than other integrators might.

“I dealt with a lot of college kids and I really got a vibe of how they think. A lot of things I didn’t like. It wasn’t the way I was brought up. But when I had to talk to these kids when they had problems, I knew how they were thinking. They all want to own their own businesses and do these huge things, but it’s almost like they don’t want to go through the struggles it takes everybody else to get where they were, and learn the trades, and do the things you want to do,” he says.

That insight helps him not only with employees but with clients. “I know what they want to hear. There are different personality types,” he notes. In general, Hughes says he has found that Millennials are less technical than older customers, but they have certainly been ingrained by the comforts of ubiquitous touchscreens and apps. “It almost seems like some of the new crowd has more trust in us to allow us to do our job, which is kind of weird. The older clients want to design it themselves,” he says, adding that Baby Boomer customers often want to specify the locations of touchscreens and various automated scenes.

“The newer crowd asks us, ‘What would you suggest?’” He says Millennials desire “loud audio and automation. If you can’t do it from a touchscreen, they don’t want it, which is neat, because our automation products are basically an app manager.”

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