Slow and steady wins the race


By Sandy Benson

Custom Audio Video opened in 1996 with three people and one truck. At that time the business was focused on retail sales of high-end electronics in an area where home audio/video was just a fleeting thought in the building or renovation process. 

It took about four years for cash flow to solidify and for the team to strengthen. In 2000 Custom Audio Video expanded from 2,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet of retail, design and inventory space in Sheridan Park. The new location features displays of audio, video, lighting, shading solutions and automation.

Part of the Custom Audio Video growth plan was to invest in a hands-on showroom that lets customers experience products like home theatres in a home-like environment.

First growth milestone: 2002

In 2002 the Palmetto Bluff (originally Crescent Resources) amenities began to build out. Fraser Construction and Auberge selected Custom Audio Video to provide audio, video and displays for conference rooms, ballrooms, outdoor and indoor dining, and pool and fitness AV systems. At that point the commercial division of Custom Audio Video was launched.

We continued to grow, and by 2006 we were a team of 30-plus employees. There were many bumps along the way, with the 2009 recession hitting us hard. Most construction came to a complete halt and required us to regroup and rethink our branding and focus. Custom Audio Video invested in both training and marketing. We committed to slow, steady and sustainable growth, which paid off.

Second growth milestone: 2012

We knew it was time to expand expertise into internet technology when clients began looking for wireless and streaming options and more sophisticated AV solutions. A solid working relationship with telcos like Hargray facilitated that expansion because the internet was becoming a requirement for new technologies, and collaboration enabled better client service.

Third growth milestone: 2018

Technology adoption caused the business to flourish, requiring a major retail location upgrade. The Sheridan Park space was transformed into an interactive showroom where clients can see, touch and test technology and equipment. This expansion included a digital signage display for businesses like realtors, restaurants, churches and schools. Continual showroom upgrading aligns with our goal to be the design center for the latest and greatest in AV and integration.

After 25 years of slow and steady growth, we appreciate our solid base of incredibly loyal clients and our team of the best designers and installers in the business. Customer service will always be our top priority before, during and after the sale. Service is so vital to our business model, we have a division dedicated to service.

A surprise benefit of growth

Growth helped the business expand, stabilize income and create lasting careers for employees. As a business owner, I am happy and proud that our growth also allowed us to donate to many needy and worthwhile organizations over 25 years. Giving back to a community that has allowed us to be in business for 25 years is a gift.

This room is reminiscent of the black and white Maxell iconic photo of the early ’80s. Remember the black and white print ad with a guy in a chair being blown back by stereo sound?

Four tips to manage your company’s growth 

1. Manage your expenses. The economy is booming now, but that is not to say it won’t turn at some point. Just because the money may be flowing in doesn’t mean it’s time to spend it. Set some aside for the proverbial rainy day. It does rain and often pours!

2. Take care of your people. More than ever, employee retention is critical to a growth plan. If you grow too quickly and hire too many new people, or worse, take on business you can’t service, it will hurt your current team and customers. 

3. Invest wisely. Managing expenses doesn’t mean not spending. Investing in your company is the fuel for its growth. Budget for a solid marketing plan you can afford to do consistently, pay good people well and make sure your systems and processes are as automated as they can be.

4. Be humble. A realtor friend told me “This strong housing market makes a lot of average realtors feel like they are great realtors.” Don’t rest on your laurels or think you are good enough. Keep updating your skills, learn, or as Stephen Covey says “sharpen the saw.”

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