While I was listening to the Small Town Big Church podcast yesterday (April 16 episode), the show's guest shared with host Jon Sanders that one of his primary life truths as a pastor is that you can't lead a person to someplace you haven't been.
The more I thought about that, the more obvious that statement became. Is there anyplace in life that it's not true?
Once we've been somewhere, we're able to bring someone else along and to share our story, and until we've been there, our voice can't be an authority.
Lots of the product information provided in our business is sales copy. Product manufacturers provide us with talking points or sales pitches designed for 30-second or 60-second selling windows. Those bullet points can be helpful, but we think that there's more value having thrown the pitches than only talking about that the pitches can be thrown.
After looking at a couple new buildings for office space this morning, I had lunch with an architect who does lots of design and project planning for churches. As we talked, I realized that what his firm does and what we do are very similar; we mix up materials, ideas, products, concepts and out comes a plan, a system, or a solution of some type. That's the value we offer.
Many pro audio, video, and lighting (AVL) dealers in the country offer approximately the same products. None of us sell everything, but we probably all share some subset of at least similar products within the AVL universe. And with the Internet as close as your phone or computer, your sources for equipment are just about endless.
As we talked over lunch, I shared that as much as we need to sell equipment at a price, the more compelling conversations start with a statement or a question from the client that says, "We're trying to get this type of end result and we need some ideas on how to get there." Everyday, we're challenged to build a better AVL mousetrap. This is what we do.
On our site, we publish stories about what we've done for others, so that you might discover an idea that will work for you, too. In person or on the phone, we hope to talk about how you do what you do and to develop a custom solution. To us, it's way more important that you get the right equipment for the long run than simply selling something today.
Dan asked me today, "So who do you work with and where do you work?" The business that we seek out intentionally is houses of worship or churches. We do an occasional restaurant or corporate meeting space, but we're lots more passionate about churches. Our reach is national with respect to solution design and regional for installations, so we don't always get to build our designs. Sometimes, we provide the ideas, but more often, we provide the ideas, the instructions and the equipment to make it happen. And we've been very successful at serving churches all over the country for over 20 years with great solutions and service - most of them at arm's length.
As you approach the selection of an AVL firm, realize that there are three factors that are common to all of us, and that you can pick any two that you want. As hard as we try, we can't be all three in every situation.
1. Expert, responsive service.
2. Lowest prices.
3. All products always in stock.
If you've shopped around, I think that you'll agree that the places with the lowest prices (below what the industry calls MAP - Minimum Advertised Price) often can't answer your questions, let alone recommend an integrated solution. And you can mix the other factors around in your head to understand my point.
Of course, we think that responsive, expert service trumps all, but when you consider how to select an AVL firm, you probably can't have it all, at least by these three factors. And if you think that you have all three, you're probably at the right place for you. We hope to be that place.
Well, it happened. I got an email Friday at 12:03AM (just after Midnight) from an out-of-state customer who had been at church updating his new Midas Pro1 mixing console with firmware. The update was chugging along until the stagebox threw an error message that said that the update couldn't be completed. No big deal, right?! Try it again, and again. Then maybe you get mad at yourself for updating the firmware right before a big event, and you start sweating it. Then you send the email - at Midnight, when your wife is wondering where in the world you are. Can you sleep until morning? I don't know. I didn't ask.
Next morning. I pick up the email, sweat a little myself, ask what he has done, assure the customer that we'll get it taken care of, call the sales rep and I tell him what happened. He calmly said that he'd have someone from Midas tech support call the client directly, as soon as Midas opens its west coast doors a couple hours later.
The short story is that the Midas tech support rep called right on cue, walked through a couple tests that hadn't already been tried, determined that the stagebox was indeed about as good as a brick and would have to come in for service. For the next couple hours, Midas was trying to locate a replacement stagebox to send. We both knew that the client needed something, and we had a smaller stagebox in stock here. A "bird in the hand", right?!
We placed the Next Day Air Saturday Delivery labels on it and got it ready. Just as we were about to drive it to UPS, the Midas tech support rep called to assure me that he had a larger stagebox with updated firmware being tested, placed into a box, and that it would be there for the client on Saturday morning.
About an hour ago, I received a text message from the customer to say that the replacement stage box was in-hand and that he was on the way to church to put it in. About 30 minutes after that, I got the "success" meesage that it was installed, and fully tested, two hours before Saturday tech rehearsal. Whew!
Tour-grade, professional equipment costs more, but companies that are used to supporting large tours have the ability and willingness to do things that others can't and/or won't. When stuff breaks, even if it's not their fault, they come up big when it counts.
A big thanks to Midas Consoles! We all appreciate it.
When we "met" on the phone, I think that Mike Sessler and I hit it off because we both like to Think Different. See his recent blog post about that topic here.
Part of being successful is exactly that - a willingness to consider new ideas and new products - to think differently, if you will.
For us, discovering and starting conversations about tech gear is something that we enjoy. Who had ever used the Heil PR30 as a choir microphone before an idea from one of our clients sparked our test? Not even Bob Heil himself. That test was sparked by a conversation with one of our clients, and a willingness on both parts to try something new.
And today, the PR30 is considered a top choice among the technology for worship community, and we've sold only a fraction of all that have ever been sold. When I first asked Bob about how he thought it would work, he said something like, "You know Dave, I've never considered the PR30 as a choir microphone, but there's no reason it shouldn't work."
Being open to new ideas is a mindset is a necessity. If we can't help you find better ways to do things, we're just like every other dealer - selling the same products as the rest of them at a price, instead of helping you discover new solutions.
That willingness to be creative, and to think in new ways, is one of our primary goals. We can't be successful unless you are.
I get a lot of email. We send email, too, and to some extent, I understand the power of the subject line. Using words like "Free!" and "Save!" are the way companies get you to open the message. "Free" is powerful; that's just the way it is.
The message today came from another vendor offering a sub-$500 special on wireless microphones. Coincidentally, we offered a $500 wireless microphone, too.
If you're like me, you got both messages in your inbox. The other dealer is offering a 4-unit receiver with transmitters for less than $500. On the surface, that seems like a great deal because the single systems we featured today start at about $500 each.
About the same price more for three more wireless microphones? Wow! Better take a look. I'm a sucker for a good story, too.
I can say with 100% certainty that what we're offering is better. It'll sound better, it'll be more reliable with respect to radio performance, and it'll last longer. Again, I say that with 100% certainty, having never heard the other system. Actually, I've not only not heard it, but I've not heard of it. And I've been in this business for over 22 years.
We presume that the other dealer understands the power of headlines, because we've had people call us to ask what we think about similar offers. When they do, we just ask them to think about it. Would you buy a wireless system priced below $125 each? Some would. Would you expect it to work as well as a $500 wireless system. Some would, but they'd be incorrect. Would you expect it to last as long?
In fairness, if you need a $125 wireless microphone and you need four of them, there are not many good choices. And what they're offering might sound okay, depending on your standards for quality, where you live in the country and how much other RF traffic is present during your worship services. But to me, there's nothing worse than a wireless microphone that doesn't work, so I try to encourage our clients to stay away from the cheap stuff.
There's no such thing as something for nothing. Overseas manufacturing affords us all the opportunity to spend fewer dollars than we used to for the same types of products. Even so, outside the rare case of a closeout or a liquidation sale, people just don't sell things for less than they're worth. Our $500 each wireless is worth every penny more than the other dealer's $125 wireless.
When you need new equipment, call us. We'll be glad to help you discover what you need, based on what you already have, what you're trying to do, and on your budget. We have inexpensive wireless microphones, too, from companies you've heard of, and that will still be in business for as long as you have the equipment.
When I choose the cheap way out, I'm almost always disappointed with myself.
Price, quality, service - choose any two.
Most days, the first thing that I think about in the morning is that I'm thankful for lots of things. This week, we're reminded quite often about thankfulness, as we celebrate American Thanksgiving.
Yesterday, our pastor shared the story of a woman who had challenged herself to find 1000 things for which she was thankful. I considered her task for a few minutes.
Let's see; family, friends, God's grace, a purposeful business, a warm house, a car that starts every time, freedom, plenty, OSU football. OK, that's 9.
Nine, and you might consider at least one of those to be pretty shallow. I could certainly go on, but could I make it to 1000 without being silly about it? Apparently, she had.
I haven't tried to make a list, so I can't tell you yet, but I can say Thank You! to you for making what we do possible.
Let's take her challenge and choose to focus on our blessings rather than on the things that make us frustrated and that divide us one from another. Life is a lot more rewarding when you look for the good stuff.
I was trying to talk on the phone today and one of our guys was laughing, almost uncontrollably, to the point that I had a hard time hearing the person to whom I was speaking. Apparently, he could barely contain himself, so he called someone else over and they chuckled some more.
And I was still in the phone trying to pay attention to the caller. Have you ever talked with a distracted caller? Let's just say that it's not ideal.
By the time I finished the call, I wanted to know what was going on, so I asked what was so funny, and he said, "Come here, you have to see this."
He handed me a Shure handheld wireless microphone transmitter with the battery cup unscrewed (just the battery stuck on the terminals of the transmitter) and said that the client had asked us to repair it. I shrugged my shoulders, as if to say, "I don't get it."
"Pull the battery off the terminals and look at it." I looked again.
The microphone transmitter was working only intermittently, despite the fresh battery. Can you guess why?
We sent the mic back; no charge.
Sometimes, we take ourselves too seriously, and it's refreshing to laugh a little.
Today, a client sent me this note, along with these pictures from Blizzard Lighting which will you give you some insight into who Blizzard is as a company. Here's what he wrote:
"Dave, the Blizzard DMX cables arrived. They are nice, black, flexible cables with black metal connectors. All three pins are wired correctly. (I’ve seen some cheap cables that use unbalanced cable with jumper wires.) I tested them with our lights, and they work great.
"They are inexpensive, look nice, and do the job. They’re exactly what I needed at a great price."
· The Blizzard folks have a sense of humor. The front of the package says “Made with real natural DMX ingredients.”
· According to the back of the package, a portion of the profits goes to cancer research.
· Lifetime warranty.
Make sure to check out all of the Blizzard products we offer. We have just a handful of their lighting fixtures up on the site, but we have several more fixtures (and now cables) to add, so that you can get a kick out of a company that made my day just a little more fun and meaningful than it had been already.
Editor's note: This is the third time I've re-written this post. The first time, it didn't have the right feel, and last time, I thought that I was knocking it out of the park and with a mis-click of the mouse, I erased all of the new edits. I hadn't saved. So hopefully, with version #3, I'll find a way to say what I'd like to, in a style that works, and I'll save it.
On the heels of Mike Sessler's article, "Why hire an integrator", I'd like to follow up.
Some tech projects are fairly easy, if you have the right tools, the right experience, and have a good sense of where you're going.
At the church I attend, our tech budget is pretty limited and within the next month or so, I will have to decide whether to lead a volunteer crew or to hire our crew to do the work. In my volunteer role, I know exactly what I need to do, I know how to do it, I know the list of materials, and I have willing volunteers. A consideration is that it'll take our group of volunteers about a month's worth of Monday nights or every evening for almost a week. For the same project, one of our two-man crews would get that work done in about a day and a half.
So I have to ask myself what the best use of our money and our volunteer time is.
Here are the reasons for not hiring professionals to do the work. "We can't afford to pay someone to do that." Or "we have plenty of volunteers who will do that and it won't cost us anything." And "it's important for our people to serve the church, so our 'guys' will do that."
Without debating the merit of those reasons, the projects that work out best (and that get finished more quickly so that the congregation has the benefit of the changes) are the ones that we pay for. Volunteers may cost nothing, in terms of price, but their availability is finite and valuable. Just ask your kids what your time is worth.
We all want to find a place where we can contribute in a tangible way and serving is an important part of our spiritual growth, but nothing comes without a cost.
As I decide how to manage these projects, I hope to consider the value of those who serve with me. So I ask myself these questions. Are the time expectations reasonable? Do the volunteers have good tools and adequate training or skills? Is my own commitment to lead as strong as what I ask of my team? Do they have better things that they could be doing - at church and at home?
And then I decide whether I'm spending other people's time wisely.
After two days of mad catch-up and long drives to and from Chicago, I have to say that it was worth it. I came back from the Gurus of Tech conference encouraged, equipped, connected, and ready to kick things up a notch. For two days this week, Willow Creek Community Church (known simply as Willow to its members) in South Barrington, IL hosted 1800 people with a passion for technology for worship.
We were welcomed, fed, and given a chance to learn from the presenters and from each other. I'd like to offer a huge Thank You to the volunteers and staff at Willow for their gift of time, energy, and expertise to the Gurus crew.
Prior to the last worship service for the Gurus, we toured the main auditorium. It's quite a place, arguably the best-equipped large worship space anywhere. 7200 seats. Get an idea of what's in there by clicking here. Even guys like me who eat and breathe gear on a daily basis still take pause when they enter the room. A pair of 14x24' Mitsubishi LED displays that can move up and down, and be joined as one large display at the center of the platform will do that to a man. And for seven-figures plus, you could have that, too.
What many people don't see at Willow is what I appreciated the most. Maybe a better way to say that is that I took heart in the fact that, in some places, I saw old projectors, mismatched screens, beaten up monitors, and tired projector lamps. That's not to be critical, but to let you know that the crew at Willow continues to pursue excellence (and they execute really, really well), to offer others the chance to worship and to be taught, and they do it with less than perfect equipment -- just like the rest of us, in some cases.
We'd all like new equipment, but having the latest gear isn't necessary. And it's perfectly normal to have to plan your purchases, and to "use up" what you have before replacement.
John Weygandt, the scenic and lighting director at Willow Creek, told the story of a man from the Dominican Republic who made lighting fixtures from food cans, and who was making a difference with his passionate pursuit of technology, despite the obvious limitations.
For two solid days, the Gurus crowd was encouraged to exercise (and in some cases to find again) our passion for technology for worship. I came back encouraged, uplifted, full of ideas, and ready! How about you?
What others say
WOW!!! I installed the projector last night and can't believe how bad the old one was! I can't wait to see the congregation's faces on Sunday morning during the missions video! This baby is bright and clear. Very nice!
Showed the projector to the pastor last night and he said "Hmm..now you'll have people complaining it's too bright!" He marveled at the color correctness and contrast and his wheels started turning as to new ways we can minister with it.
Eric Shaver, Crossville, TN