AVS Special Member
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Douglasville, GA
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First, I'll answer the OP's questions as an HT enthusiast and consumer...
1.) I'll be honest... D. That said, I'm part of the crowd that does indeed enjoy most aspects of HT as a hobby and I don't mind going it alone or relying on AVS as a source of help/troubleshooting/venting. There have been very few AV related issues I haven't been able to resolve without professional help, but those usually ended up being extremely quirky component interaction issues or just component failures. Also, there might be a more diplomatic way of saying "cheap-ass"... I didn't take offense by any means (probably because I am a cheap-ass) but "price-conscious" might be a less derisive term in general.
2.) It depends on the markup. Personally, anything beyond 10-15% and no, I wouldn't see the value. That said, I know plenty of folks who are less in-tune than me that would pay 20-25% more to know they were receiving guidance and personalized service based on their priorities and situation.
What would likely concern me more would be the inevitable brand choice restriction that would come along with such a solution. One of the best aspects of going piece-meal is your total system is not restricted to the brands carried by a particular retailer/installer.
3.) It probably depends more on your personal experience as a pro installer. If more people buy it installed at the end of the day, price it as installed. If more people buy it uninstalled, price it that way.
4.) From a consumer psychology standpoint, I'd probably feel better about upgrading the components I wanted than downgrading from the suggested. If the guidance is there, honest, non-judgmental, and non-hard-sell then the customer should end up with the balance between price, performance, and aesthetic they're looking for. Also, independent of the question and while it's usually not really the case, saying "this is our entry-level but we don't really recommend it and you should start here" has always seemed a bit disingenuous to me... if you don't recommend a product (at all, not just for a particular application), why sell it? Are you just preying on the price conscious and/or trying to hook a perspective future upgrade customer?
Now I'll editorialize as a former (briefly) industry insider with roots in DIY...
I have a love-hate relationship with custom installers... or better put, there are some I love and some I hate. Having some experience writing for a CEDIA-member publication, I've come across some great installers who offer high-end products to high-end clientele and specialize well in that niche. Some are even able to extend that expertise down into the entry level. That said, many who try to move from the high-end CI world into the entry level world where customers value savings over their own time and are generally far more price conscious, many installers quickly take the attitude that no one but them can do an install correctly any anyone who DIYs is bound for trouble... some even become quite snide and arrogant about it. Many feel that offering support for equipment they sell but don't install is an annoyance, an unpaid waste of their time, and marginalizes their CI work. They don't want to give away their expertise away, even if it's for equipment they sold in the first place and profited from. Any time an installer has disdain or loathing for their customers, they probably shouldn't be seeking out that type of customer to begin with.
First, to clarify, my use of "entry-level" is a bit different when applied to the custom-install world as compared purely to equipment selection. In this context, entry-level could be a $5k or $10k theater where a custom-installer's bread-and-butter lies in the $20-$50k and up jobs along with automation and whole-home integration.
It seems the OP's intentions are to specifically NOT become the type of installer I'm talking about above and truly offer value and balanced help to an entry-level and/or DIY customer. I commend that and there should be more custom installers that take this approach. I think you'll have better luck capturing entry-level customers that are less in-tune with the industry/hobby as a whole and really need that guidance than you will converting the hard-core DIY and AVS crowd. As you can see, many just love the hobby and don't want the hand-holding. Some are just complete cheap-asses. I happen to be both.