Sept. 28, 2020 - When the pandemic came knocking on our door, we were afraid just like everyone. We were afraid of what this virus was, and how dangerous it was becoming. We were also afraid for our family business.
AVPro was built from the ground up. It was built on grassroots, no external funding or debt ever; every dollar earned went back into the business, which lead to slow organic growth. We got here by adding strong people to the team step-by-step, which eventually grew to around 50 employees in the United States and around 130 internationally.
We were proud of where we were. Then, one-day sales grinded to a halt. Now all of a sudden, we had decisions to make and not fun ones. We felt personal ownership and responsibility to our staff, but also immense pressure to operate in the best interest of the business. We consulted industry friends, business advisors, trade organizations, and more seeking guidance and the consensus was clear; since sales were gone, we needed to, at the very least, lay-off around 60% of our staff. This was devastating – it left a lump in my throat you would not believe.
We started operating day-by-day, then hour-by-hour. It was terrifying. We made a call to get all of the owners together and had a day’s long meeting about what we were going to do. About 2/3 through the meeting, the decision was to take a different approach and think about what we felt would happen at the END of all this. Was this industry going to be intact? Will people abandon this technology? Or will it come back at some point? We chose the latter.
So, now we had an assumption. We assumed that it WAS GOING TO COME BACK and there were some decisions to make on handling the INSANE amount of downtime. The industry had hunkered down and no one was working in the normal sense (understandably, people were not allowed into homes or businesses anymore). So, a furlough seemed logical, right? Save on expenses and bring employees back later? We hated that idea.
We concluded, if we are coming out of the other side of this, we will SPRINT out of the tunnel, like a bullet from the barrel of the gun – this meant a few key things. Of course, we introduced a work from home policy (luckily, we were prepared for this with staff already using Teams for years). We did not stop engaging with customers – we just did it differently and remotely. We did not halt the production of any products; we did not halt R&D. New developments and modifications went on as usual as if we were going to ramp up again. When other suppliers were out, we had full shelves.
A once buzzing office now had six staff members, primarily warehouse. But the MOST IMPORTANT modification we made to our business was to double down on our Employee Education program. Since we had all this down-time, we started daily meetings to work all customer-facing staff through the AVIXA CTS Certification, including Sales, Tech Support, Trainers, QA/QC, and even Marketing. We invested money and time in crafting a study program that included books, web training, Elite AVIXA Memberships, and weekly Teams study sessions to embark on a challenge to have the most educated staff in the business. We had known about the CTS program for a long time, but only one of our staff members was certified. We had attempted to get more CTS certifications in the past in the past, but busy schedules got in the way of changing the culture. CTS is a challenging program, but it is so beneficial for employees, as a manufacturer, to understand what installers, consultants, specifiers, and designers face – not to mention the technical knowledge gained. We expected to get a couple of staff members through, but our team came together and shocked the hell out of me. Right now, we have 75% of our customer-facing staff with CTS Badges – I don’t think anything like this has been done before.
Every time you interact with a salesperson, tech support, marketing, and trainers – you can be sure they are highly educated individuals who understand the customers’ perspective and understand our technology. This has improved our sales, support, and outreach SO MUCH that all employees in a customer-facing role are required to get and maintain CTS & ISF certification statuses. We have always been a company hell-bent on education, but this kicks it up a notch.
Our commitment to our staff and customers will never end. We are incredibly grateful that we somehow did not follow the lead and advice from others and walked our own path. Instead of seeing employees as "expenses" we saw them as people and through investing in them during a tough time, we knew they would invest in us.
This story was written by AVPro CTO, Matt Murray.
About the Author:
Matt Murray is AVPro Global Holdings Chief Technology Officer. With an almost uncanny ability to understand Audio/Video electronics and where the market is headed, Matt is the core mind behind the AVPro Edge and Murideo product lines. AVPro started as an online distributor of display calibration products in 2011, and over the years, has grown into AVPro Edge (A/V Distribution), Murideo (A/V Testing), and Bullet Train (HDMI Cables). Matt helped develop the Level III course for the Image Science Foundation and is an ISF certified instructor specializing in Dolby Vision and HDR formats.