Working for a Home Theater Company

A cabinetmaker got an offer to build all the cabinets for a home theater company. Here are the tips he received on how to size up the opportunity — and make the most of it. October 18, 2005

A home theater company has approached us and would like to use us as their sole source of cabinets, entertainment units and to do the display in the showroom they are opening. Any suggestions for our first meeting? As we've done nothing but custom furniture and kitchens to this point, I'm not sure if there are any industry standards we are not apprised of.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
Could be a good opportunity. You probably wouldn't have any trouble building around their electronics expertise. I'm sure they can supply you with the details/parameters that you would need to build a good product. I would be more concerned with the business end of the deal. Look out for big promises that have you jumping through hoops at high expense. Who is going to pay for those displays in the showroom?

Remember that your business client's forecast is likely overly optimistic. It is in his best interest to estimate high to make you willing to invest in him in one way or another. I round down. Don't be afraid to interview him to see if he knows what he's doing, has a track record, references, etc. Does he expect you to extend him payment terms? If so, and if you are able, he definitely warrants a credit check. Be careful and don't be too hungry. I don't have to start my saw not to make money. Unfortunately, in the early days, I often did.

"Be cautious" is my initial take. If he's seen your work elsewhere and is impressed and that is his motive, then you have a real opportunity. However, make sure that he's coming to you as a positive move versus a negative or reactionary move. Where has he been getting the work in the past? If there is a previous supplier, who dumped who? Check out credit, etc. and be careful of becoming one-client dependant.

I have been dealing with one outfit since October last year. It's a gold mine.

I just started this same scenario a couple of months ago. The a/v company installed components in a cab I did for a reputable builder's own home, and was impressed because it was the first cab they installed that they didn't have to drill one hole in. As it turned out, the a/v company is moving to a new showroom, and want me to do a large unit for their home theatre room. I have gotten more work from them than any other source, and it is very steady. They have me deal direct with the customers, and asked for no commission. I supplied the labor and they supplied material cost for the unit for their store.

Things to watch for:

1. The company I deal with is extremely successful and high-end. In order for this relationship to be worthwhile, it needs to be a steady flow of business. I would research the company and see how long they've been around, etc.

2. Try to get a feel of how on top of things they are. If they are not - huge headaches for you. Give them a call on their cell phone to ask them a nonsense question, and if you leave a voicemail, see how long it takes for a response.

3. Be ready to become an architect of entertainment centers. Clients are going to want to see renderings of the product. Televisions are huge these days, and building around them to not look awkward is fairly difficult - get up to speed with some decent design software. Theaters and e/c's usually have a very dramatic theme, so you need to be creative enough to design and point out to the customer how things tie in together.

4. Watch for out-of-the-ordinary shop process and pricing. Get a grasp on how much speaker cloth costs, and how you are going to apply it to the frame. Rubber bumpers for underneath adjustable shelves to eliminate rattles. Ventilation of components and creating a vertical flow of air. Wire routing, shelf scooping and case cutouts. Fretwork on bases or toekicks for floor-sitting subwoofers… How will you cut them, how long will it take, and what looks good?

We are in the same boat, and there was a lot to learn and digest, but thankfully the guys from the a/v company are on top of the game and give me all dimensions of components and how they relate to another, as well as what needs ventilation, etc.