After 30+ years in the industry, 2023 will be one to bookmark. In 2022, we saw a surge in business with so many projects backed up in the pipeline off the heels of a COVID lockdown. In 2023, we saw consumers spending less time and money on their home environment and more on travel and entertainment. Additionally, new construction housing starts took a dip and so did remodeling projects. Arguably, this had an impact on the number of residential projects that required new technology. In fact, I have heard from dealers and manufacturers around the world who have stated the number of projects being completed have dropped significantly in 2023, and the mid-size projects have virtually disappeared. I suspect this is due to interest rates and people have decided to stay put and wait for rates to drop before buying a new home or investing in a significant remodel. Larger projects are still strong with cash buyers.
Over the years in the industry countless articles, marketing campaigns, educational sessions and more have promoted “light commercial” project opportunities for residential integrators. So, I wonder is now the time to seriously consider this as a viable business opportunity. I would argue, yes! Let’s face it, there may be less residential projects now, but the restaurant and bar businesses are booming! People are spending more time out of their home and less time looking at the walls considering what changes they want to make in their home.
I must be honest; I am just as guilty as anyone else reading this article who has not been involved in commercial projects. Over the course of my 20 year career as an integrator, I only worked on a handful of commercial projects. So, let’s take a moment to explore this further and what it may entail to generate some level of success with light commercial project opportunities.
What is Light Commercial?
Stadiums, arenas, shopping malls, massive houses of worship are not likely to be considered light commercial by most professionals. However, bars, restaurants, barber shops, beauty salons, fitness studios, medical and dental offices certainly could be great candidates for light commercial AV projects.
The A/V and Control Systems for these projects can be relatively easy to design and deploy with products you already have in your portfolio. Further, it is possible the final experience may be so impressive that it can result in further referral business. If you think about how many visitors come to a commercial establishment compared to a home. If the visitors enjoy the experience, watching video tiling, great acoustics, etc.. they may ask who installed the system for the owner, or it may be possible to showcase your company name, business cards or brochures somewhere in the establishment?
Become educated in the Light Commercial Business
Many of the manufacturers you currently work with are currently involved in these types of projects. They will very often have sample case studies on their website, host training on how and what products can be used in specific project applications. I know many brands who offer these resources. Review projects/types on manufacturers websites and in industry publications. Explore potential project types and system designs or packages with your team.
How Can you earn some Light Commercial Business?
The first step in venturing into a new market vertical like Light Commercial, is establishing your business as a viable option for these prospective customers. This can be accomplished in many ways. Add messaging on your website, vehicles, business cards, etc.. to promote services for commercial customers. Contact the local newspaper and ask if you could contribute an article on the importance of quality entertainment in a commercial environment to create the best ambiance and experience for visitors.
Attracting customers in new markets can take a little work but can also deliver great benefits. The first step is to establish your company as a viable and trusted resource for potential customers. Some key steps in this process may be as follows: seek out a few small commercial projects to start with; creating a portfolio of work to showcase as references. Each of us has been to a restaurant, gym, medical office and other establishments with poor audio or video. Ask to speak with the owner and maybe offer a special promotional offer to help improve the entertainment in their establishment, with an agreement that you could create a case study to highlight the project on your website.
Given the current interest rates and several other factors, the mid-size residential market may experience a slow down in the months and potentially years ahead. It is good business sense to explore other markets and product categories; developing new opportunities for the business to flourish. Light commercial projects may be a good solution!
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