It's All About Service
URC's Jeff Wagner entertains the crowd at InfoComm 2011.

Sales without service is like being handed a cold beer on a hot day—but there's no bottle opener anywhere to be found. Not only is it an unpleasant, unfulfilling experience, it's downright frustrating.

Here at URC, we define "service" this way: action we take to assure our customers (you) and your customers enjoy the best possible experience with our products.

This month's issue of Control the Universe is dedicated to service. We hope you find the contents useful. If you do (and especially if you don't), please let us know.

At InfoComm last month, we introduced URC Asset Management System, a software application that's guaranteed to warm the heart of every commercial integrator. Read all about it in our News section below.

Is there a topic you'd like us to explore in future issues? Is there something you'd like to say yourself? Please send your feedback and suggestions to editor@universalremote.com. And be sure to tell your coworkers to sign up to receive their own copies of Control the Universe. Just direct them to www.universalremote.com/newsletter.

- Your friends at URC
URC Commercial Introduces A/V Asset Management System, Powered by Spinoza Technology
URC AMS, our new software-as-a-service (SaaS) control solution, combines with URC touchscreens and base stations to offer unprecedented value to commercial integrators.

Powered by Spinoza Technology, URC AMS is a cost-effective solution that enables users to remotely access, manage and control audio-visual equipment and other IP-enabled devices at anytime, from anywhere.

The new URC AMS solution delivers several benefits to AV, IT and systems integration professionals:

A/V Device Networking. URC AMS tracks performance, end-user behavior and usage of all networked A/V devices. This data can be used to create a customized or predictive response to end-users of a device, such as software updates and e-mail alerts. URC AMS records and stores customer activity to a database, providing IT staffs with a complete view of all events and activities.

Remote Diagnostics. URC AMS provides monitoring, troubleshooting and maintenance of networked devices from a remote location. Technicians can cover more ground in less time, eliminating wasteful diagnostic site visits. Cost-cutting is also possible by helping technicians locate and resolve device problems in real time, thereby reducing equipment downtime.

Dynamic Asset Management. URC AMS captures and reports on the operation, performance and usage of a variety of devices. An administrator can remotely monitor device status (e.g., temperature, projector lamp life, source selection, etc.) for its readiness, network connections, current usage and many other critical variables. Status changes can be displayed visually and viewed from anywhere.

Control and Automation. URC AMS manages remote operations of a device directly (such as activating or deactivating devices from any location), and can coordinate several devices into a sequenced, controlled pattern of behavior. In the process, it supports centralized, remote technical support for a device, or responds to certain environmental circumstances when necessary.

Cost Savings. IT managers now can leverage commodity PC hardware and existing IT infrastructure by providing familiar tools that run on familiar platforms. URC AMS runs either as a local application or as a web client from the cloud. It communicates via standard TCP/IP.

More than 600 A/V device drivers are built into URC AMS, which means it works immediately. It's also designed for non-IT professionals to use with ease.

"Deploying URC AMS eliminates the need for custom software development, installation and maintenance, as well as the need for complicated, time-consuming and lengthy configuration tasks and custom programming," says Jamie Finnegan, North American sales manager for URC Commercial. "Now corporations, educational institutions, government centers and entertainment facilities that deploy multiple AV devices such as projectors, flat panels and in-wall touchscreens can centralize management conveniently and efficiently."

A URC KP-4000C two-way, IP, in-wall color touchscreen, installed with a URC MRX-1 network base station plus URC AMS, provides a comprehensive, end-to-end software and hardware solution that enables devices to interoperate in accordance with the standards of today's enterprise applications. Because it tracks device usage remotely and proactively monitors devices, the KP-4000C/MRX-1/AMS combination increases uptime. When necessary, the system can provide instant end-user help.

With AMS, one person can confirm that all projectors, lights, etc., are off at the end of the day, without going from room to room. Since AMS is built around a browser, an IT manager can control things from a PC or any other device that can access the internet.

"We offer the strongest value proposition in the industry," says Finnegan, adding that the KP-4000C plus MRX-1 combination has a suggested retail price under $1,000. "URC Commercial systems cost just a fraction of existing commercial solutions. And now URC's Asset Management System, with its annual license renewal program, will provide an ongoing revenue stream for our dealers."

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Have a Service Strategy
Everyone knows how important it is to offer good service. Whether you're a small business owner or work for a large conglomerate, you'd be foolish to believe that good service doesn't matter.

Of course, you probably believe that you do offer good service. But are you sure?

You are not offering good service unless you have a service strategy. Taking care of someone's problem when they bring it to you is not a strategy, it's a reaction. It may keep you from losing (many) customers, but it won't do much to help you win more.

Creating a service strategy consists of four steps: Plan, Do, Check, Action, or PDCA for short. The person we can thank for PDCA is Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the man who is often acknowledged as the father of modern quality control.

Plan how to handle various situations. Describe every transaction as a process. Deming said, "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing." Create policies and procedures that bolster the service angle; for example, make it routine to call clients a few days after an install to confirm that they are enjoying their new systems. Send them some flowers. Plan to send them flowers again on the first anniversary of the install. Deming also said: "Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service and that bring friends with them."

The Do step is self-explanatory. Once you've adopted a strategy, live it. Train employees what to do, based on your plan. Don't overlook the details; even things as small as answering the phone with "Hello, this is Jon, how can I help you today?" keep the momentum moving in the service direction.

I'm sure you've guessed that Check means measuring how you're doing by asking customers directly. A straightforward approach often works best: "I'd like to ask you about your experience with our company, and if there's anything we can improve."

Once you've collected enough feedback from customers, the Action step dictates that you fix the problems and reinforce the success stories. Thank the complainers! You'll learn 100 percent more from one customer who complains than from 100 who say nothing. Write down the details of both good and bad encounters for future reference.

PDCA can be applied to other aspects of your business—in fact, it can be applied to nearly every aspect. The application of Deming's PDCA cycle is what enabled Japan to become one of the most powerful manufacturing and exporting nations in the world. Use it to create a solid service strategy and watch your business grow.

- Jon Sienkiewicz

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Installer Spotlight: 39 Cent Stamp
Mac Burks is an installer for Vidacom. But many in the CEDIA community know him better as commenter 39 Cent Stamp on industry forums and websites. Few installers contribute so much to furthering discussion in our industry. We reached out to Mac to find out more about what makes him tick.

Tell us about working for Vidacom. How long have you been with the company? What's your title?

I have been working for Vidacom for 13-plus years. We are based in Chicago and work all over the country. My business card says "Project Manager," but I wear many hats. I am an installer and handle light programming, or "configuring" as I like to call it. The majority of our projects are fully integrated high-end residential systems.

You run two web sites: wiremunky.com and guijaboard.com. Tell us more about them!
I have been following the industry forums for years, but I didn't have the time or inclination to participate until a few years ago when I started traveling more frequently for work. Extended periods of time away from home left me with a lot of free time.

My first post under the handle 39 Cent Stamp was at remotecentral.com. I had a book of 39-cent stamps on my desk and needed to pick up 2-cent supplemental stamps from the post office because the rate had just increased to 41 cents. Since I was about to offer up my 2 cents to a forum thread, I thought 39 Cent Stamp would be the perfect name.

I began spending more and more time at remotecentral.com and decided to start a hobby website. I chose guijaboard as the name—a play on words for ouija board and GUI (graphical user interface). Initially the site showcased free touchpanel graphics that I created, and installation tips/stories. At some point I decided to turn it into a blog, and then I split up the GUI and Installation content by creating wiremunky.com.

Wiremunky is the voice of the installer. Installation tips, project photos, tools and parts I like to use, and of course a lot of my personal opinion about anything and everything. I have a "onesies for babies" program that I fund with guijaboard proceeds. I use CafePress to send wiremunky-branded onesies to anyone in the industry who has a baby: http://www.cafepress.com/wiremunky.386021429.

Guijaboard is a user interface graphics blog and store. Initially Guijaboard was a combination of freebies that I had created, news stories about the other GUI websites and their products, and links to GUI-related content. Guijaboard left novice status and turned pro in the fall of 2009 when someone helped me transform my hobby into a store. I built an iPhone-style GUI for someone. When they asked "how much," I said "nothing." I stated, "If you feel like you have to pay for it, please donate to komen.org." The guy followed up with an offer to help put together an online store for me. (That's what he did for a living). I spent the next three months redesigning guijaboard.com and creating my first for-sale GUI. My first sale was November 2009.

My latest website is 39websites.com. I have been approached for years about helping with logos and websites, and one day last year I decided to put up a site. So far it has been a big hit. The proceeds from Guijaboard and 39websites have allowed me to do something that I have always wanted to do but haven't been able to until now: I am able to participate at Kiva and donate to causes like Komen for the Cure or Red Cross.

As an integrator, what's the biggest challenge you face these days?
The #1 challenge for me as an integrator today is being able to spec product for a job. In the old days, the issue was that we didn't have enough in the way of options. That problem doesn't exist today. Today we have to stay lean to survive, and one of the ways we do that is by becoming efficient. Efficiency starts with the products selected for the job. Being able to KNOW that a specific device is going to do what the manual says it will is key. I can't afford to spend more time at a project dealing with troubleshooting headaches.

Where does URC fit into your product mix?
We have used URC products as far back as I can remember. We use URC one-way remotes with another control system because we feel they are superior compared to that company's one-way handheld remote offerings. We also use URC in single-zone Audio/Video systems. We use URC because we know the product is solid and the programming environment is geared towards installers.

You posted this spring on Wiremunky about our MX-980/MRF-260 combination. Specifically, you wrote: "I chose the URC MX-980 and MRF-260 for an install where i had 4 rooms with TV's that needed to be controlled reliably 100% of the time. I avoided 2way control because it wasn't neccesary. Each zone got an MRF-260 and an MX-980. Each room controls a TV and a cable box. 1 Room has an additional Blu-ray player to control. All TV's were same model. All Cable boxes were same model. Wiring was not ideal... No sluggish control. No cross talk. Every room worked perfectly. I wouldn't hesitate to use this combination again." We love to hear that, of course. Anything you can add about this installation? And have you used the combo again?
The client sold his apartment and is looking for another one to buy. In the meantime, he rented a place downtown. He wanted TVs in four rooms, he wanted the cable boxes hidden and we had to use existing cabling. I had two Cat5 and two RG6 in both the kitchen and library. In the master bath, I had to share the four wires between a TV in the master bedroom and one in the bath. This created a sticky situation in terms of what signals I could route and how I could control things. I decided to skip a matrix switch and dedicate a cable box to each TV. In the library, I included a Blu-ray player because it was the only room that had a suitable cabinet for components.

I chose the MX-980/MRF-260 combo after getting feedback from a Remote Central post in the URC forum. I was able to use the included (IN CCP) graphics to generate the MX-980 user interfaces, and programming was very straightforward since all of the TVs were the same brand and all of the cable boxes were the same brand. I scheduled four hours for testing but I was done in 30 minutes. Everything just worked and I was able to move on to something else. We use this combination all the time.

What do you think of URC's new Total Control line?
It looks very exciting. The networked media player and the user interface options put it ahead of the competition.

As commenter 39 Cent Stamp, you've contributed to and furthered so many great conversations about the industry. What motivates you to be such an active commenter, and what's your advice to other integrators when it comes to putting yourself, and your opinions, out there for public consumption?
Our industry is interesting and exciting. I still get tingly when hearing the subwoofers hit in a newly completed theater. I love what I do, and I am lucky enough to work for a great company in an exciting industry. My advice to other integrators is to get out there and say what's on your mind. Everyone benefits from community participation. Public forums like Remote Central or industry-only forums like esiorg.com, article threads at CEPro or Electronic House, and industry blogs like wiremunky.com are great places to share knowledge and grow. Don't be afraid of what people will think about your opinions, and don't be surprised when someone's comment causes you to change your mind about yours. At the end of the day, we are all being paid to play with toys that we love.

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Know Your Industry Journalist
Dennis Burger of HomeTechTell.com, Residential Systems, E-Gear and BigPictureBigSound.com talks about Alabama, science, the challenges facing CE journalists and the custom installation industry, and the joy of not wearing pants.

You're an Alabaman (or is it Alabamian?). Tell us something about Alabama that most people don't know.
I think the official demonym is "Hillbilly."

In all seriousness, I must confess that I totally cheated on this one and asked my best friend, who works with the Alabama Department of Archives and History. As it turns out, Alabama has no natural lakes. Not a one. All of our lakes (and we have plenty of them) are manmade—mostly dammed rivers. (The bulk of our electricity is hydroelectric, hence our low power bills.)

How'd you get involved in CE journalism?
It started as a hobby, really, writing for a now-defunct website called DVDAngle.com. I made the leap to professional journalism at the urging of Brent Butterworth, who gave me my first break in the business and taught me everything I know about actual writing. (Although, in his defense, my ridiculous use of metaphors is not his fault.)

Tell us about your current gigs.
My two main sources of income at the moment are with Residential Systems and HomeTechTell/E-Gear, although I do write for BigPictureBigSound when I have time, and I manage to pick up the odd freelance job here and there.

What categories of products really fuel your passion for this industry?
Oy, this is going to sound like such a contrived answer, but honestly, control systems are probably the things that keep me most interested. There's also nothing better than a really amazing surround sound preamp/processor, is there? I would say those two categories are really my niche.

Describe your average workday.
I work part time at the local Shakespeare theatre just to get out of the house and socialize myself occasionally. [But my] schedule is unpredictable, so my days are anything but average. On those days when I'm working from home all day, I really try to make it as much like a normal job as possible. I wake up, I make sure I'm at my desk by 8, and even when the words aren't flowing, I try to be productive (which can mean anything from looking for new story ideas for my writers at HomeTechTell to checking out the latest blogs and online posts to see what's new and exciting in the CE world).

What do you like most about your job?
Not having to wear pants to work.

You think I'm kidding.

My second favorite thing is interacting with the people I've met in the industry. Not surprisingly, Alabama can be a rather insular place, so I enjoy being exposed to the different worldviews of the friends I've made in the industry. Also, seeing some of my best friends only two or three times a year means I appreciate the time I get to spend with them (usually at trade shows) all the more.

What challenges do you face as a CE writer?
Ever-shrinking budgets, to be perfectly blunt. The golden age of CE journalism has undeniably passed, so stressing out over where next month's mortgage payment is coming from can be draining.

Also, as much as I love interacting with CE enthusiasts, it can be a bit of a challenge at times, especially when dealing with those readers who confuse one review of one receiver for expertise on every model by every manufacturer in every class. I can't tell you how many emails I've received to the effect of, "Hey, I read your review of the AVR-3311CI... Should I buy that or the Pioneer? Or what do you think about the new Onkyo?"

Granted, I feel for the consumer who has to pick from all the cookie-cutter products on store shelves, and I understand that they turn to us for advice, but no one journalist can be an expert on every SKU in production. We try our best to give a thorough examination of each product in question and give it a well-informed thumbs up or down, but sometimes that doesn't seem to be enough.

Where can our readers follow you on social media services? And what role does social media play in your job?
I tweet at @HomeTechTell and @DennisBurger, although the latter is more of a personal than professional outlet, with only the occasional CE-related observation. HomeTechTell is also on Facebook. (My personal page is pretty much a friends-only affair.)

Honestly, as far as output goes, I only really use the social media sites to post links to my work on the web. But Twitter and Facebook are a huge source of incoming information. Social media outreach is something I really need to work on.

What's the biggest challenge the custom installation industry faces? And what do you think the solution is?
I think the biggest challenge is twofold. First, it's easier than ever these days for a consumer to set themselves up with a whole home's worth of entertainment. Wireless content distribution is actually viable these days. Control solutions like Harmony and URC's My Favorite Remote have made semi-sophisticated control options affordable to just about anyone. And the iPad has introduced a whole new demographic of consumers to the concept of a touchscreen (for a fraction of the cost of dedicated touchscreen remotes that don't do nearly as much).

Also, I find it curious that I see ads for things like soda all the time (I mean, really, who doesn't know about Coke at this point? When's the last time you saw a commercial for Mountain Dew and thought, Oh, yeah! I forgot that I was thirsty!). But I cannot remember ever seeing an advert for any of my local custom installation businesses. Heck, I stumbled across one the other day while out driving around that I didn't even know existed!

So it's not hard to understand why customers aren't beating down the door of a company they don't even know exists, offering a service they think they don't need.

The solution? Advertising and education. Consumers need to know that there's a different level of service with a good custom integrator; that a custom-programmed control system offers a wholly different level of personalization and sophistication (not to mention things like energy-saving options and true automation); that the iPad is great, but it won't operate your lights and entertainment system without a lot of professional programming on the back end. They need to be informed that there's such a thing as custom installation to begin with.

What music are you listening to lately?
A lot of Andrew Bird, Thomas Dybdahl, Mates of State, Abigail Washburn, Bon Iver, Sarah Jarosz, and of course my two goddesses: Joanna Newsom and Ingrid Michaelson.

What non-CE passions and hobbies do you have? Like our previous interviewee Grant Clauser, I know you're a craft beer guy.
Ah, yes. Is there anything finer than a good Belgian brew, whether it be a tummy-warming quadruple on a winter night or a crisp, refreshing saison in the toasty summer months? But since Grant already stole my answer, I'd have to say my number one passion is for science. I devour physics and biology texts the way teenage girls squee over the latest sparkly vampire novel. I read Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot and Richard Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale at least once a year.

As for hobbies, my biggest time sink at the moment is an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) called Rift. It's exactly as dorky as it sounds, but hey, where else am I going to get the opportunity to dress up in chainmail and thwack goblins with a big stick?

You attended our May Total Control press event, and wrote a terrific article about it. What would like to see next from URC?
I'm not sure how hard it would be to pull off, but I think the next logical move is an upgradeable entry-level control system. Something that falls in between My Favorite Remote and Total Control and serves as a gateway drug for the casual shopper/DIYer. I'm imagining a remote with an impulse-purchase price point that could be programmed on the fly by just about anyone for a small home entertainment system, but that could be later be supplemented by an add-on processor and upgraded to an MX-5000-lite level of custom operation.

Just don't ask me to design it, okay?

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URC Product of the Month: DMS-100 Single-Zone Amplifier
One of the great features of URC's Total Control system is robust whole-house audio with zero added compression. The DMS-1200 Multi-Zone Network Amplifier can deliver up to eight zones of audio, expandable to up to 32 zones. But what if you just want to add an extra room? That's where the DMS-100 Single-Zone Amplifier shines.

Say your customer has added an addition to the home but never planned to outfit it with audio. With the DMS-100, you can provide a single-zone system without ever touching the existing structure of the home. You can install DMS-100s as additional zones with a DMS-1200 system, or install multiple DMS-100s to create a customized multi-zone system.

The DMS-100 delivers 50 watts per channel and features a single audio input that allows you to plug in any music source, such as the SNP-1 Streaming Network Player for access to Sirius/XM radio, Rhapsody, Pandora, internet radio or even the customer's network-stored music library. Or the PSX-2 Personal Music Server to accommodate portable music devices. Or analog sources like a CD player.


With multiple DMS amps in the home, you can share audio sources across zones, up to 32 sources in total, all playing independently at the same time.

What if there's already a non-networkable AV receiver in the room? Via its pre-amp output, the DMS-100 can send SNP-1 or PSX-2 content to the legacy AVR.

To deliver the premium benefits of Total Control to that extra room, supplement the DMS-100 with an MRX-10 Advanced Network System Controller and a TRC-780 Remote Control to provide two-way music browsing capabilities. And when the MRX-10 is part of the equation, you can program the DMS-100 off-premises via the internet.

The DMS-100 is easily rack-mountable via the optional RMK-1 rack mount kit.

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URC Team Member of the Month: Joe Spinelli
Joe Spinelli, URC Product Manager
Times have changed quite a bit since Joe Spinelli joined URC in May 2003 as a technical support representative.

How much so? "Our most sophisticated release at the time was the MX-700 with the MX-200 SideKick," he recalls. "The most common phone call would be an end-user calling about their SL-7000 not working with their C-band satellite dish."

Like the times, Joe’s career at URC has also advanced. At first, he split his tech support duties with work on our IR database; two years later, he moved out of tech support and became URC’s sole IR database gatherer, eventually becoming team leader of our IR database. Then, as our remotes became more sophisticated, Joe moved into product testing, where, he says, "I really found my calling." As a product tester, Joe reported his findings and recommended changes. "This is what started me on my path as a product manager with a focus on product development," he says. "I enjoyed working on product testing, but always wanted to work on development."

Joe’s next challenge came in 2008, with the introduction of our MX-6000; he wrote his first specification, for how the PSX-2 two-way module would work on the MX-6000. From then on, including the very beginnings of development for our new Total Control system, Joe has been a key member of our product development team, working closely with Eric Johnson, Ed Thomas, Dale Crawford and James Novak. "We developed some industry-leading projects like the MX-880, MX-5000, MRX-1 and KP-4000, to name a few," he says. "Working with URC Head Designer Dale Crawford on UI development was extremely exciting, I created the specifications for all of the two-way module behavior for the MX-5000, MX-6000 and KP-4000."

Today, Joe is the key developer of our new Total Control system, responsible for all hardware definitions, feature sets and Remote UI layouts, as well as creating and maintaining specs. Joe and Peter Pittner also serve as our first wave of pre-alpha testing, when the first engineering samples come off the line. "I work extremely closely with our talented design team, our talented engineering team and, of course, our other product managers," he says. "And I’m able to perform research and play with all these different technologies and gizmos!"

Joe also continues dealing with our installers, dealers and sales reps. "I constantly ask questions to learn what our customers need, and how to make their lives easier," he says.

When asked about his proudest accomplishment at URC, Joe doesn’t hesitate. "It’s the Total Control system, and future products that only a special few of us know about. I’m extremely excited about what’s around the corner. The URC development team is really pushing the boundaries of home control, and what we have coming down the pike is truly amazing, although I might be biased since I have my fingerprints all over it. Just one example: The alarm clock module is really cool. It allows you to use your system as an alarm clock in an individual room that can be snoozed. The alarm clock setting for my bedroom will turn the TV on to the Weather Channel at 5:00 am, then start playing the SNP-1 internet radio out of the DMS-1200, and then turn on the light in the room slowly. More often than not, I press the snooze button and it all turns off and then turns back on 10 minutes later.

Joe’s typical day "starts off fast and ends even faster," he says. "One minute we’ll be working on a new User Interface layout and the next I’ll be trying to figure out how the SNP-1 should work with Pandora. After that, I might be working on some things I’m not even allowed to mention yet. But wearing multiple hats keeps the day exciting. More often than not, it also keeps the night exciting as I test new products at home!"

"I really appreciate the way I have been able to grow with the company," he continues. "The design team and the other product managers are exciting to collaborate with, and I like all of the people who work here. And I’m proud of our commitment to our customers."

Joe’s current challenge is the development of a new User Interface for Total Control, which he describes as "more of an operating system design than a single user interface. We’re looking at all of the aspects of the Total Control system and trying to unify it so that it’s simple yet compelling to a user. The challenge is that once you think you have it figured out, you then run into an issue where it takes you back five steps to rebuild. It’s challenging for sure, but absolutely amazing at the same time."

Joe started his career in the music industry, working in production for record labels. "As [URC Vice President of Sales] Lars Granoe always tells me, the only reason I got a job with URC was because I know audio production, and IR looks similar to a sound wave on a PC," he jokes. Joe also plays music, "mainly guitar with a lot of sound manipulators. One of our sales reps told me to send IR from a remote to the pickups of the guitar. When I did it made such an amazing sound as the IR worked with the pickups!"

Joe feels badly about it, but he calls his wife (who, by the way, is a saint, according to coworkers) "the original beta tester. I can’t count the amount of times she’s called me at work to ask how to turn on the TV. I keep a notepad around the house, so when we’re testing a new product she writes down what didn’t work, and what she pressed. I’m truly surprised that I haven’t come home one night to find her just sitting in the house with all the lights off, saying "I can’t get it to work!" My kids love remotes, and they love to lose them, and press all the buttons."

Joe’s dedication to URC and its customers, as well as his willingness to make his home a virtual lab for products in development, makes him an obvious choice for URC Team Member of the Month!

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Your Business
By Glenn Gentilin
URC Regional Product Specialist

A pressing issue for small businesses is how much stock to keep on hand. Especially during economic downtimes when cash flow is sluggish, does it really pay to keep products on the shelf, gathering dust?

It all depends on the product.

With many items, it just doesn't make any sense to keep any in stock. Flat panel TVs, for example. By the time you go to sell the unit, its street value is lower than what you paid for it.

What about electronics? This depends on how fast you go through them, and what time of year it is. Most major electronics manufacturers have one or even two model changes during a year. To ensure they don't get stuck with a lot of older units, they make every effort to push the old model out the door before the new one arrives. Consequently, they sometimes run out before the new model is released. Unfortunately for small install companies, this often means that when the time comes to purchase the unit for a job that was spec-ed out months ago, the product is no longer available and the replacement has not yet been shipped. This delays the installation and the final payment. For supply-sensitive products, it makes sense to purchase the unit at the time of the sale and hold onto it until the install. This ties up the cash, but ensures you have the equipment when the install comes around.

On the other end of the spectrum are small, inexpensive products that you use on practically every job—wire, connectors, interconnect wires, adapters, etc. These products are the very lifeblood of your company. Not having enough wire or some small component (12V power supply comes to mind) can bring an installation to a screeching halt. Ever tried to calculate how much a run to RadioShack actually costs? Having these products on hand, and on the truck, does a couple of things for you. First, it ensures you'll be able to finish the job and get paid. Second, when you stock up on these things, you can sometimes get a small discount and free shipping. Despite the larger cash outlay, this saves you a great deal of money in the long run. If you sell a lot of a particular item in a given year, keep that product handy.

With products like executive stereo systems, small LCD TVs and home network components, it makes sense to have a few units on hand at all times. Customers ask for these almost as an afterthought. They don't deliver a great deal of profit, but if a customer wants one, it's nice to be able to tell him you can bring one right over. That way, he doesn't lose interest or go to a big box store for it.

Remotes fall into this category as well. Each truck should have a couple of inexpensive remotes, like the MX-450, and a basic RF base station. When the customer wants to control equipment in a secondary area like the MBR, you have a solution right there. Additionally, you should have a couple units of your go-to remote in stock in case a customer wants a second remote, or breaks their main remote. It's great customer service. The customer doesn't have to wait, and you make the sale right away.

It's a fine line between having what you need on hand when you need it, and overspending on stock items. By straddling that line effectively, you'll be more successful and profitable.

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Hank's Tip of the Month
By Hank Eisengrein
URC Regional Training Manager, East

I know this sounds crazy, but price is not the number-one factor in customer satisfaction. Service is the key to growing your loyal customer base and your overall business.

I met recently with a URC direct dealer who said he takes telephone calls from customers on holidays, nights and weekends, because that is what sets his company apart from the competition.

This past Thanksgiving, he spoke with an important client and even reset his system using a remote-controlled power strip to reboot the cable box. The customer was amazed that the dealer not only answered the call, but fixed the problem, all while he was enjoying turkey and stuffing with his relatives.

Many years ago when I worked for Bose Corporation, I took part in a consumer survey. The surprising result with thousands of respondents was that price was seventh in the survey. Number one was service. I never forgot that fact, and you shouldn't either.

In today's market, your company just cannot compete on price alone. You must be willing to offer a fair price, but also provide superior service that makes a lasting impression on your customer.

Nowhere do you see this concept in play more than with flat panel TVs. Three short years ago, you sold a premium 50-inch plasma TV for $5,000. Your customer got a great picture, and you made $1,800. Today, when you sell a 52-inch or 55-inch LED LCD TV at $1,800, you maybe, if you bought right, make $200. How can you stay in business with that scenario? Yes, I know: "Make it up in volume." Wrong.

Your challenge in these recessionary times is to create happy customers while earning a profit. You might be thinking, "Hey Hank, it took you long enough, but I see your answer is URC." Yes, a custom-programmed URC remote system is one of the most profitable things your company can sell outside of an extended warranty.

Remember, in addition to the URC hardware, you are charging for programming and installation too. You've seen steep price drops on items that just a year ago were high-profit. Expensive HDMI cables? Not anymore. High-priced TV wall mount brackets? Nope. High-end AV receivers? They're at 50 percent of the retail price of the units you sold two years ago.

With URC's full line of high-quality, high-profit models, you can mix and match to provide your customers with great user interfaces they'll experience every day. Sell Control First! After all, the customer will always use the remote control.

Set yourself apart by providing superior service and a one-of-a-kind user interface with URC products at every price level, from state-of-the-art to entry-level. From our one-way Complete Control products to our Network Series two-way products, right on up to our exciting new Total Control system, URC gives you the tools to differentiate yourself from the megastores and others who sell on price alone.

One of my dear friends, Dave Dallafior from Steven's Audio in Bernardsville, N.J., tells customers, "You are paying my price because I offer years of experience and personal service for all of my customers 24/7." He's a very successful dealer with a referral-only business model because he provides superior service along with a mix of high-quality products.

Dave knows he can't compete on price; in many cases, he doesn't even sell the TV. But he has many loyal customers because he takes the time to contact them with a follow-up call after his professional installation team is finished.

You have to work hard at this "service" thing. It must become a fundamental part of your business—if you want to stay in business.

Happy selling! And don't forget to help your customers "take their entertainment outside" during these warm summer months.

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Be Social
By Cindy Davis
Principal and Founder, customCEsocial

Social media can seem a little overwhelming at first, especially for someone as busy as a custom integrator. But much like other things in life, a plan can make matters much simpler.

So create a weekly checklist, "an editorial calendar" of sorts. It might look a little like this:

Monday: Go to your top three manufacturers' Facebook pages and comment on a new product, or add to someone else's comment on a particular topic. This is "soft" promotion for your business!

Tuesday: Go to your top three favorite bloggers', magazine editors' or reviewers' Facebook pages and comment on something that interests you and your customers. Add value—don't just hit the "like" button. If you do or don't agree with something, say why. If you've had experience with something they are talking about, mention it. Create a dialogue. Even better, ask a question.

Wednesday: Visit your top three favorite web sites, of any interest. Find an article that interests you, copy the link to a "URL shortener" such as bit.ly, paste it into Facebook, and add your opinion. It's important to add your opinion, because it adds value to the link.

Thursday: Create a "Quick Tip of the Week." Think of the simplest things that you take for granted as part of your job, and people will love you for it. "Cable internet doesn't seem to be working? Unplug the router for five minutes and let it reboot, plug it back in—if it still isn't working, then call the cable company." "Add a motion sensor to control the lights in your garage." Think of all of the easy stuff that the homeowner can do. Add a photo if you can. Pick up a photo from a manufacturer's web site. If you are up for the task, create a 2.5-minute video that shows people how to do something. Spend a few hours writing up a bunch of these, and you have your posts for the next several Thursdays.

Friday: Today is the day to be light. What was the coolest thing you did this week? What are your plans for the weekend, or vacation? Did you take the kids to a 3D movie, install a really crazy home theater, go to a concert? Tell people about it!

Any day: When you receive a new piece of equipment, you're excited, right? You and your guys gather around it, pick it apart, play with it. Share that excitement with your social network! Take snapshot pictures and/or videos and post them. These are your "party pics," and it's the easiest and most fun content you can provide. Post this on your Facebook wall, as well as the wall of the manufacturer. It'll be great for everyone.

Any day—plus: Post pictures and updates about job installations.

Cindy Davis, the principal and founder of customCEsocial, can help you directly to improve your presentation to customers online. Contact her for practical advice on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or email. You can also reach her at 617-281-0736. Find Cindy's previous Be Social columns here, here, here and here.

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Tech Tips
By Joe Salvatore
URC Technical Support Manager

Even though the walls are all sealed up in my house, I wanted the ability to control volume on my audio system from my kitchen without having to run around looking for my MX-900.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still love my MX-900. And having it around actually made it a heck of lot easier to program a KP-900 to stick on my fridge. In fact, I programmed my KP-900 in three minutes flat.

Many of you might not realize that the KP-900 can accept preconfigured MX-900 files, which will save you boatloads of programming time. Here's how to convert an MX-900 file to a KP-900 file, using the KP-900 standalone editor:
  • Click on the “File” menu in the Menu and Shortcuts toolbar. Then select “Open.”
  • The Open window appears.
  • Open the “Look in” browser and navigate to your MX-900 program files. My files are located in C:\Program Files\Universal Remote Control, Inc\MX-900 Editor\MX-900 Configuration Files.
  • Open the “File of Type” drop down menu and select “All Supported Files (KP-900 and MX-900)”. MX-900 configuration files now appear in the browser window.
  • Click on the file you want to use and then select “Open.”
  • The MX-900 file populates the KP-900 Editor tree and automatically creates a new file with a .kpd file extension. Click “Save” before beginning work on the new file.
You can then import the file into CCP:
  • Click on the “File” menu in the Menu and Shortcuts toolbar. Then select “Open.”  Choose the selection “Empty (no rooms, no remotes).”
  • The System Configuration window appears. Select the KP-900 from the menu options. Then select “Add.”
  • The Model properties window appears. Select the option to browse your PC for an existing file and then click “Browse.”
  • Use the drop down menu for “Files of type” and select the option to import KP-900 (.kpd) files. Click “Open.”
  • Click “OK” on the modal properties window and you’ll notice the KP-900 will populate in your CCP file device tree.
For further support on this tech tip, please email us at techsupport@universalremote.com.

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Mitch's Musings
By Mitchell Klein
URC Director of Business Development

When I first heard our Commercial Division's request for URC integration with DSPs, I kinda felt a little ho-hum about it.

Not that I didn't want to hop right on it and take care of our hot new division; I just wasn't all that excited about surround sound effects, delay times and concert hall simulations. The whole DSP thingy brought back "fond" memories of Yamaha and Lexicon processors doing their best imitations of Carnegie Hall and Westminster Abbey. Sure, loads of fun but, after all, we had some REAL integration modules to attend to.

But our commercial guys really were insistent.

So I went ahead and set up Symetrix as our first DSP Complete Control Partner (of course you know ALL ABOUT our partner program, right?). Our amazing engineering team went into hyperdrive and modified our device capabilities to include UDP so our control of Symetrix DSPs, as well as others, would be possible. That was no small feat, I'm told, but it was ever so efficiently delivered (thanks Jak and YJ!).

I started to think that hey, there's got to be more to this than replicating Yankee Stadium! After all, who would ever want to do THAT? Fenway Park, perhaps—but Yankee Stadium??? (Can you tell where my baseball allegiances lie?)

Fast forward a few months. I'm standing in our well-executed booth at InfoComm and staring at a wall that clearly states "DSP INTEGRATION". Jamie Finnegan, URC Commercial's sales manager, takes me over there and proudly shows me how our newly updated KP-4000C is set up to control not one but FOUR of the most popular DSP products in the commercial industry. Each KP-4000C was programmed to control a single rack device—one each from DBX, BSS, Biamp and, of course, Symetrix.


As I stared at the monitors cleverly placed above each of the DSPs, I watched the complex array of sliders, graphs and adjustments quickly snap to new locations with each touch of the presets on the KP-4000C. Hitting the "Happy Hour" button orchestrated the same complex series of settings that we're so familiar with in our home integration projects when we ask the lighting to change scenes, TVs to go on, AV receivers to switch inputs and so on—only in this case we were telling a single device to change the gozintas and gozoutas (please excuse my tech jargon).

Dawn finally broke over my marble head. Yeah, I know that all you commercial guys out there are thinking what a dolt I am, but I finally realized that DSP jargon in the commercial space (Digital Signal Processor) has a whole different meaning than what we in the residential channel have associated all along (Digital Signal Processing).

In fact, a DSP is THE single most important device in any commercial system, since it directs all the inputs and outputs. Each device has its own configuration software to determine what inputs exist, what they are (mic, line, etc.) and where they can be sent (zones, rooms, spaces, amplifiers, etc). So these presets can send a paging mic to the bar ("Kaputnik, party of 16, your table is ready!") and New Kids on the Block to the outdoor Patio ("Time to come in, everyone!").

Yes, everyone I spoke with at InfoComm knew this. And everyone used at least one of those DSP brands. And everyone was duly impressed with the KP-4000C. I played along pretty well that I also knew this.

To put it in my most simple terms, these DSPs really are the AV receivers of the commercial world.

So you resi guys should now be as enlightened as I am, and start using them in your commercial projects. And you commercial guys now know what the KP-4000C can do.

You can all sleep well tonight knowing Mitch Klein is on board.

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Consumer Conversation
By Debra Sharker
URC Director of Sales, Consumer Products Division

What is Customer Service? We hear the term bandied about all the time.

We know the customer is one who buys goods from us.

I looked up the definition of service and found:"...the act of giving assistance to another." Many studies suggest that people want to be heard, to get their troubles validated, to be offered a solution, and to be satisfied with the experience—in other words, they want to receive assistance. You should be the one giving it.

Repeat customers come as a result of satisfaction with you and your quality products. Referral customers had the best resolution to any problems or challenges. You want both!

Service means growth for your business. Build the best team, train them, support them, give them authority to use good judgment, and put them into the field of play. Don't forget to coach them and offer up-to-date continuing education. If you don't invest in your people, they won't invest in your company. Attitude, motivation, growth—these strengthen your team.

How your employees feel is what they project! So be sure your message is positive. Find ways to engage your staff, encourage them to be vocal, reward them for good ideas, and most of all, ask for constructive feedback from them.

The best customer service reps need to feel confident in their own abilities, feel support from management, and feel rewarded for what they contribute to the company.

Your team is your voice. And your message is service. Each person on your team—from those who answer the phone to those in the customer's home—needs to feel empowered to offer service.

Last year I bought a new mattress from a national retailer. The delivery crew arrived on time, with the correct item, took away the old mattress and, as they put in the new one, vacuumed under the bed and dusted the furniture! I was shocked at the absolute care they showed for my home and rushed to tell everyone I knew where they should buy their next mattress.

A few months ago, I had new stone countertops installed in my kitchen. The contractor took away the old tops and, after the installation, cleaned up and mopped the floor, which had become a mess. Again, I was astonished by the top-notch service.

Those two superior experiences made me think of things we can do in our businesses to offer the best service, and to keep customers singing our praises:
  • Clean up when the install is done. If you got sawdust on the floor when you used the drill, get it up. If you had to move furniture, put it back. If you left handprints or smudges anyplace, clean them.
  • Offer to take away and properly dispose of all old equipment. Find out about recycling old electronics in your city, and offer this service. Consumers love to know they are helping to green our world.
  • Call the customer after one week to check in and see how things are going. Then call again after one month. Let the customer know you’re available for questions. When they need to buy more, they’ll remember.
  • There are always questions about how to use a remote. Make a list of the Top 10 questions and answer them. Add your logo and contact information, and leave this document behind when you finish up the install. Customers will thank you for it and call you less!
  • Have a referral program. Every time a customer sends you business, send them a thank-you gift (my carpet cleaning company sends me gift certificates to Brewster’s Ice Cream every time I send them a referral).
For those of you with a retail store, it's just as important to have trained service people on the floor, not just order-takers with no knowledge. Consumers who are shopping for help will move on to the next store if you don't offer it. Your frontline people talk to customers first! Talk to them and find out what customers are saying, what they're asking for, and—if they left without buying—why? You can't improve your service model without knowing what's lacking in your organization. Let your employees tell you before the customers stop coming back. Trust your team, because most of them sincerely want to help build a successful business.

URC delivers more than just remotes. We deliver the total experience. See our Consumer Products Line at our site or contact me at dsharker@universalremote.com.

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Strictly Commercial
By Jamie Finnegan
URC National Sales Manager, Commercial Division

InfoComm 2011 was a terrific event overall, and a very strong show for the URC Commercial Division. Dealer receptivity to our value proposition—highly functional commercial control technology that can be deployed more efficiently and at a lower cost than traditional solutions—was very high at the show.

We demoed our low-cost KP-4000C controlling four major DSP manufacturers, and it was a huge hit. No one on that show floor could claim to accomplish something like that at our price point. We garnered significant attention, and quite a few other DSP manufacturers gave us a vibe of "Hey, what about me?", because they wanted to be part of the demo as well. This demo wall alone opened up many opportunities for us with key accounts and manufacturers.

URC at InfoComm 2011.

As successful as the KP-4000C demo was, the new Asset Management System (AMS) we announced at InfoComm was the hit of the show. Now, we were able to show not only integration, but also the ability to manage, monitor and control across the network, all at a price point no one can touch. Let's just say that AMS was a major crowd-pleaser!

Our reps also did a bang-up job. They were constantly bringing their dealers through our booth. We were two or three deep almost the entire show.

Robert Durbin, our new sales engineer Larry Zolata and I enjoyed getting to know a lot of you. And, of course, Jeff Wagner did his customary great job of getting people's attention with his hourly presentations that drove even more traffic to our booth.

All in all, InfoComm 2011 was a resounding success for URC Commercial...and we're just getting started.

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URC Tool Box
App of the Month
Blank IP Devices for KP-4000
Got IP devices? Need to control them? Import a blank IP device! Both UDP and TCP options for your KP-4000. Why DO the work when it's done FOR you? Easy follow-along instructions too. Great for commercial and residential alike. Developed by URC Commercial's own Robert Durbin.

To access this app in the URC Tool Box, log on to the URC Control Room and then click here.

Haven't checked out the Tool Box yet? What are you waiting for? Do it today! Just log onto the URC Control Room and click "URC Tool Box" on the left side of the home page.

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URC Complete Control Partner of the Month: Zektor
Our newest Complete Control Partner is Zektor, which manufactures a wide range of A/V switching and distribution products. You can now control Zektor's new Prowler matrix switcher via IP, RS-232 and IR!

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What's Hot
URC's CEDIA EXPO 2011 Schedule. Click here to view.

Registration is now open at www.cedia.net/expo



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International News
In conjunction with our master distributor for Europe, BMB Electronics, URC Education and Content Development Manager Russ Hoffman last month visited Holland, Italy, Belgium and Poland to train BMB staff as well as a wide range of dealers on our products, especially our new Total Control System.

"It was an honor to travel throughout Europe and meet so many great people along the way," said Russ. "Even better, it was great to educate so many talented people about Total Control across the continent."

URC's Russ Hoffman trains BMB staff and a wide range of dealers in Italy.


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Upcoming Events
Stay up-to-date with our training and events schedule for July.
Click Here

Links
Contact the editors of Control the Universe:
editor@universalremote.com
Visit the dealers-only URC Control Room:
www.urccontrolroom.com
Visit the main URC site:
www.universalremote.com


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