An interview with Sam Taylor, Senior Vice President and COO, Almo Professional A/V
With 2020 in the rearview mirror, we are settling in and setting our sites on new goals in 2021. And yes, while 2021 is already starting with its share of challenges, there is a bright glimmer of expectation for the future, especially in Pro AV!
With recent AVIXA reports showing 7-8 percent growth this year, the Pro AV market continues to march ahead. In fact, according to AXIXA’s 2020 Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis, North American Pro AV revenue is expected to grow to $78.5 billion in 2021, up from $74.3 billion in 2020.
There are other glimmers available to small businesses in our industry. The latest COVID-19 Relief Package signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020 provides a second round of assistance to companies in need. See the see the full article from NSCA for complete details.
Many lessons were learned in 2020. Like most companies, the Almo Pro A/V crew was also challenged with cancelled events, the work-from-home learning curve, and moving quickly to offer new ways to keep reseller and integrator partners learning, working and relevant.
We sat down with Sam Taylor, Vice President and COO for Almo Pro A/V to get his perspective on the highs and lows of 2020 and what to expect from Almo in 2021. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: What was the single greatest challenge for Almo in 2020?
Sam: The most difficult part was the inability to begin or complete installations due to facility closures. We’ve experienced a “W-shaped” business cycle with projects at a hard stop in the spring, only to come roaring back in the summer, then closing down again in the late fall with re-opening starting to happen again now.
Q: How has Almo responded to this challenge?
Sam: Two primary ways, by keeping our partners educated on new trends and opportunities in the industry and providing them with relevant products/services/support they need to keep their business moving forward – either with existing opportunities or with new ones. While many markets like hospitality and onsite events were paused, others like distance learning for education and working from home for corporate businesses had urgent new AV needs.
Q: How is Almo keeping partners educated?
Sam: For the first time in 11 years, and after announcing and preparing for our regional E4 Experience education and networking program to travel to Washington, D.C. and CA last spring, we cancelled our live events and introduced a new virtual platform called E4 Evolution (E4v). E4v was met with such success that it has become a permanent part of the E4 program. With fully curated live and interactive AVIXA-certified sessions led by all-star educators on relevant topics to help attendees thrive, E4v has become the next evolution in live education experiences.
We are soon announcing the next E4v, which will take place in March! Stay tuned for details!
Q: What other measures has Almo taken to support integrators since COVID changed our world?
Sam: We are constantly evaluating and changing direction based on the industry and the needs of our partners. We now offer PPE, disinfectant fogging kits, hand sanitizing kiosks and other point-of-entry products. We supply work-from-home bundles and lecture-capture devices for educators and business professionals. We’ve even entered an exclusive relationship with ARHT Media to offer holographic telepresence technology, which is the next best thing to being live!
At the same time, we’ve expanded our managed services offering, particularly for labor and installation to include drafting and engineering options. So many spaces have to be reworked to accommodate COVID restrictions, like restaurant build-outs and restructured office and educational facilities and most of these changes must be made quickly. Almo provides these services so integrators can use them without having to worry about hiring the experts or managing the overhead. We are ready for you now.
Q: How have you handled shipping and manufacturing delays due to COVID?
Sam: The most common delays we have seen are with cameras and USB audio products due to high demand, particularly for education. We offer multiple manufacturing lines so that if one is delayed, there is usually another to access. We help our partners lock down on product allocations early and build flexible options into their P.O.’s to provide the best possible outcome. Offering managed services to help get those products installed quickly and effectively has also helped our partners complete their projects.
Q: Looking on the bright side, what are some of the positives that emerged as a result of all the challenges in 2020?
Sam: It’s been interesting to see how some of the changes we’ve been forced to make have actually been beneficial. We have the technology to make working from home a professional, productive experience. Our E4v has enabled partners to participate in more educational sessions worth AVIXA CTS renewal units from the comfort and safety of their remote workspace. New projects and new ways of conducting business have created exciting new opportunities for our industry that we have been able to immediately embrace.
What are you looking forward to the most in 2021?
Sam: I cannot wait until I am seeing our customers and our vendor partners in person, and getting back to the business of being together as an industry face to face for business and pleasure. While some things may permanently change, many will stay in a “hybrid” mode for some. As COVID vaccines and treatments become more widely available, public spaces will continue to open, making way for existing projects to continue and new projects to begin. The future is bright!
DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS FOR SAM? IF SO, TYPE THEM IN THE COMMENTS SECTION BELOW!
At a recent gathering of professional meeting planners, they tapped into my AV industry experience to discuss how to keep people socially distanced but not have to rent a ton more meeting space while providing a great AV experience. I told them the answer was short… short throw!
I recently had the privilege to be involved in a meeting planner’s conference with a mix of agencies and in-house corporate planners to discuss the business of getting back to in-person meetings. Part of my role at Almo is to help plan and produce our own E4 Experience traveling show among dozens of other smaller tradeshows, events and summits with the help of an amazing events team. As the turmoil of COVID continues to linger, we all compared notes about “how are we going to do it… and SAFELY?”.
One major expense for any event is the rental of the meeting space – it’s usually wrapped into a package with catering and sleeping rooms but when you have a local event like an E4 Experience, the meeting space rental can be pricey. My fellow meeting planners there do not have the advantage of their own “house AV” comprised of many CTS Certified business development managers such as Brian Rhatigan to help spec and design the most effective solution.
The usual gold standard for a meeting is rear projection for that “wow” factor of the big stage with multiple screens without seeing that ugly stand and hoping someone does not walk in front of it, trip on a cable(s)… you get the picture. However, we all know that takes up a lot of space. Now that we have to socially distance six feet apart and still want that wow factor and NOT break the bank on meeting space, we’re lucky to have in our arsenal the short throw projector which, if used properly can still provide the “wow”.
Epson’s PowerLite Pro L series offers a full line of high-bright laser projectors ranging from 6,000 lumens up to 30,000 lumens, all with optional interchangeable lenses including those for short throw applications. When it comes to rear-projection, a typical projector will require about 25 feet of clearance behind the screen. This can be reduced significantly by using one of Epson’s short throw lenses shrinking the required distance down to under 10 feet. For a 75-foot-wide ballroom this gives you an additional 1875 square of usable space while maintaining the clean and clutter-free look of rear-projection.
My meeting planner colleagues were also discussing various ways to produce more revenue for sponsorships or reduce the cost of printing large signs and paying for rigging for, in many cases, union labor (not to mention the environmental impact of all that vinyl in landfills). I introduced them to the Epson LightScene laser projector to empower them with the creative freedom and flexibility to tell the client’s story, in the way they envision it. Forget the old gobo lights!!! Engage your audience by designing a visually compelling and immersive experience.
It was SO great being IN-PERSON with these folks! The ideas flowing, exchanging terrific keynote speakers, wonderful venues – there’s nothing like being in person. As part of the AV industry, I was thrilled to share some new tech with them to help us all get back together.
By Melody Craigmyle, AVIXA Leadership Search Committee
Recently, I sat down with Maureen Mead, Business Development Manager for Almo Professional A/V, founder of the AVIXA Women’s Council local chapter in the Baltimore area, oh, and AVIXA Certified Technical Specialist (CTS) and NEWLY accredited CTS-I. Her CTS accomplishments allow her to join the small club of women who hold these distinguished accreditations.
But why did this busy mother of four pursue CTS certification and involvement in the AVIXA Women’s Council? How has this helped her both personally and professionally? What is her advice to other women currently in the industry or those interested in potentially pursuing a career in Pro AV? Read on to learn more…
Melody: Tell us about your background, Maureen. How did you get here?
Maureen: Well, I have a background in athletic game day production and programming. As Director of Operations, I was very involved in the technical aspects of set up/break down for sporting events. This intrigued me to learn even more about the audio visual industry. I took a position in inside sales at Almo Professional A/V, then eventually moved into my current role as Business Development Manager.
Maureen Mead, CTS-I, CTS
Business Development Manager
Almo Professional A/V
Melody: How did you become interested in AVIXA?
Maureen: When I started at Almo, I began noticing initials behind names and wanted to learn more about what they meant. I did some research on AVIXA and immediately became a member. Through AVIXA, I was able to take online courses, participate in webinars and get connected with other women in the industry. Every door I went through, I realized there was so much more and I wanted to keep learning!
Melody: What motivated you to get your CTS certification?
Maureen: I wanted to be a solutions center for partners, not just take orders. I received a lot of encouragement from fellow AVIXA women and after looking further into it, I realized it was absolutely something I could do. I started a self-taught course and was able to learn the material at my own pace. There is a huge library of helpful videos and other information available to members on the AVIXA website and this made it easier for me to find what I needed to keep moving forward.
Melody: When did you become certified?
Maureen: I started the journey toward CTS certification in June 2016 and put June 1, 2017 on my calendar as my goal date to become certified. This is something I encourage everyone to do…set a test date! We all have busy lives and it’s easy to get off track but if you keep the goal somewhere you can see it every day, you’re more likely to keep pushing toward it. I went in and took my test and left as a CTS certification holder! I saw how this credential validated me in the field and this inspired me to go further so I immediately applied to take the CTS-I test and started the preparation process all over again. Not many women in the industry have both designations so I’m pretty proud of this!
Melody: Why is it important for a professional in the industry to be CTS-certified?
Maureen: It definitely adds validation to your professional role. Everyone in the Pro AV industry knows what CTS certification is. If you see CTS behind someone’s name, you know they are serious about their job and our industry. This was important to me, especially being a woman in a male-oriented industry (although this is evolving!). When my role at Almo changed from inside sales to business development, I was out in the field more spec’ing jobs, meeting vendors and getting involved in the technical aspects of a project. I was able to immediately use the knowledge I gained through my CTS certification training and provide more value to our reseller and integrator partners.
Melody: Can you give an example of how having your CTS certification has helped you on the job?
Maureen: Not too long ago, I was at an industry trade show and an attendee started a conversation with me about a project. This person seemed to be mocking me as if I didn’t understand what they were saying until someone came up behind me and whispered over my shoulder “she’s CTS certified.” The attendee said “Oohhhh” and the tone of the conversation immediately changed. Their opinion of how they were going to communicate the details of their project completely shifted and I got the real story about the mechanics behind everything, instead of just a birds-eye view. And I was able to provide valuable input based on my training.
Melody: What do you think are the greatest benefits to AVIXA membership?
Maureen: There are so many! As far as education goes, there are countless valuable courses available free of cost, which is helpful because the further you go into education of any kind, the more expensive it can become! With an AVIXA membership, you are also part of a close-knit community of professionals with a common interest – they become a support group and a sounding board when you need answers. It’s refreshing to know there is a credible group of AV professionals already assembled. It makes sense to want to join forces with them and become a part of this team.
Melody: What is your involvement in the Women’s Council?
Maureen: I began by meeting with the Women’s Council chapter based in DC. But it’s a bit of a drive and the truth is there are already so many talented AV professionals right here in Baltimore. I applied for a chapter here and am currently in the process of selecting officers. There are so many options and paths a professional can take in this industry – it doesn’t have to be technical. We have AV women in sales, marketing, editorial and other thought leadership positions. The AVIXA Women’s council is really a family within a family. I feel that being part of an AVIXA Women’s Council will definitely enrich your career.
A few months ago, I invited by one of my dear friends to go see the Broadway hit “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in Philadelphia. The show tells the story of 15 year old Christopher Boone, who has an extraordinary brain and is exceptional at math while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He sets out to solve a mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog, and his detective work takes him on a frightening journey that upturns his world. The Olivier and Tony Award®-winning play was adapted from Mark Haddon’s best-selling book.
The role of Christopher has been played by 18 actors since the show originally opened in London. Luke Treadaway, who originated the role at the National Theatre, received a 2013 Olivier Award for Best Actor and Alex Sharp won the Tony Award® for Best Actor on Broadway.
An Olivier (as in actor Lawrence Olivier) Award, for those of you who don’t follow the theater, is London’s version of the Tony. Oh and yes it won five Tony Awards®, including Best Play. So suffice it to say, don’t take my word for it but it is a great play and well worth the price of admission. Here we are getting ready for it to start – selfie time – that’s my friend Nancy!
Here is what the stage set looked like before the production began…
Looks pretty sparse, right? The girl at the theater was curious about “Curious Incident” so I did some digging about the AV and here is what I found out:
As well as a variety of pre-programmable lights that can change direction and color under the control of a lighting control computer, it’s powered by 6 high power projectors – two stacked to get the required brightness on the stage floor, then one each on the stage left, stage right, upstage wall, plus an additional one on the circle front of house. These are fed with a variety of different images and pre-recorded video sequences to help to portray Christopher’s world, as well as his inner feelings. These combine with a huge number of LED pin-point light sources built into the stage floor, which are controlled by the lighting computer, and also the video system, so a fluid mix between light and video can be achieved. Here’s a look at what it looks like in live action:
We had a great time, enjoyed the show immensely and I ended up solving a little mystery of my own. Who done it? Panasonic!
For more information on these projectors, please don’t ask me, I’m just the marketing chick. Ask the real expert Steve Alexander, our business development manager for Panasonic. He’s an audio expert too!
No animals were harmed in the production (fake dog on the stage).
As a proud Kentucky native, I look forward to the Kentucky Derby every year. The hats, the pageantry, the mint juleps, the horses – it’s all just an incredible spectacle for the best 2:30 (approx.) seconds in sports. For your information Secretariat ran it in less than 2 minutes and that record has never been broken. This year, the Louisville Airport unveiled its newly renovated space with EVERYTHING you think of when you think Kentucky including:
The original celebrity chef himself Colonel Sanders
And finally Bourbon (I’m not sure what the book is all about….)
As a point of interest, Jack Daniels is not technically Bourbon, its made in Tennessee. “Bourbon needs to be produced in America and made from 51 percent corn, and whisky does not,” says Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Greg Davis. Bourbon also needs to be stored in new charred-oak barrels, whereas whiskey barrels do need to be oak but not new or charred. “Lastly, to be called bourbon, the liquid needs to be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel at 125.” For other whiskies the liquid must be distilled to no more than 190 proof. David notes that this isn’t just common practice — “it’s actual bourbon law.”
Now that you’ve had your bourbon lesson, now you are wondering what this has to do with audio visual or digital signage? Well they have installed some beautiful looking LED displays that replaced a hideous burned out bunch of Pioneer plasmas (sorry Pioneer I loved you very much). And oh yes, Muhammed Ali is from Kentucky.
However, leering in the shadows of the exit to the main terminal past security is a long forgotten video wall that is in dire need of calibration, new panels or something. I’m not a technical person so I would love for someone to propose a solution because it drives me CRAZY every time I go to visit my mother.
After a multi-million dollar renovation, why would they leave this eye sore, especially since they are getting ad revenue? Would someone please go pitch them a new video wall? Here’s a blog from our own John Wills about video wall refresh projects.
Tune into the Derby the first Saturday in May! I will be watching at home in my fancy hat and mint julep in hand -with real bourbon of course!