The Atlanta Small Business Profile – Mark Kiffin, Modus AV

Today’s episode of the Atlanta Small Business Profile features host and small business expert Ted Jenkins and Mark Kiffin, President of Modus AV. Modus AV is one of the best audio/visual companies in the city of Atlanta. The company is dedicated to helping home and business owners simplify the process of integrating technology into their environments.

Transcription:

Ted Jenkin:

Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Atlanta Small Business Profile. I’m your small business expert, Ted Jenkin. And this week, there’s a lot of homeowners in Atlanta that they’ve been stuck here at the pandemic and upgrading their home and putting in that home movie theater. Who knows if we’ll go back to the movies at all? At any point, I’m delighted today to have Mark Kiffin, who is the president of Modus AV, one of the best audio visual companies in the city of Atlanta. Mark, thanks for joining me today.

Mark Kiffin:

Hey, thank you, Ted. Good to see you.

Ted Jenkin:

So I know people always say,” I need the guy.” But they don’t always know what AV is. What do you do and what kind of products do you sell at Modus AV?

Mark Kiffin:

Well, at Modus, we are a technology integration company. So we do everything from audio video to automation to smart technology, not only for homes but for businesses as well. So I handle sales, system design, and project management. And then I have a team of installers that do a great job with providing high performance audio video, and making it easy to use.

Ted Jenkin:

Well, you said two things in there that I think our viewers would want to know. One is you talk about this idea of smart technology. And people hear about that all the time. And you also said easy to use. How is smart technology changing homes? And what kind of things are you doing to make it easier? Because everyone has these 27 devices, and they don’t know how to get them to all work together.

Mark Kiffin:

Right. Well, that’s the challenge. Every device does one specific thing, and it has its own app. Or if you’re using a home theater system, you have five remote controls on the coffee table, even integrating things like voice control in some cases.

Ted Jenkin:

That makes a lot of sense. Now, you didn’t always have your own company. You worked for another company at some point, Box AV, and then you eventually broke off on your own. How did you know when was the right time to break off and own your own business? A lot of people don’t know when’s the time to quit corporate America? When’s the time to leave this person I’m working for and do my own thing? How did you know the time was right?

Mark Kiffin:

Well, you feel it, and there’s also a timing aspect to it. I had reached a point at that company where it felt like I hit a wall. And I couldn’t really grow personally, and from a business standpoint, beyond where I was. So in addition to that, I wanted to do more residential and high-end audio projects, which those are my passions, really. So I weighed the pros and cons, got buy-in from my wife, which-

Ted Jenkin:

You always need that.

Mark Kiffin:

… took a lot of convincing. But once she gave me the thumbs up, I went ahead and took the plunge.

Ted Jenkin:

Mark, is it a capital-intensive business? I know when you’re dealing with all this kinds of equipment. Is it the kind of business where you have to store tons of inventory? Or are you able to actually price out a deal, and then order what you need just in time inventory?

Mark Kiffin:

Yeah. Right now we’re operating with just in time inventory, and up until recently with the pandemic and supply chains being delayed and all that, things have been pretty smooth. If I had a showroom or some brick-and-mortar location, then we’d probably warehouse more inventory. But right now, we’re mostly just in time.

Ted Jenkin:

Did anything change in your business here with the pandemic? And you mentioned the supply chain and maybe getting equipment from China. Or did the tariffs this year actually impact your business?

Mark Kiffin:

Yeah. Both of those things became a problem. So right now, there are still products that are on back order, that have been on back order for two months at this point. And then of course, the tariffs have increased my costs as well. So we’re starting to see things loosen up a little bit, but they’re going to be tight for a while.

Ted Jenkin:

So you see all kinds of products. You see the most high-end, high-tech equipment, the best smart technology. What’s your favorite product now? Do you have one, if you’re talking to homeowners and saying, “You probably want to take a look at a having this in your house?”

Mark Kiffin:

I do. My favorite product right now, because I’m an audio guy, so my favorite product is a speaker system from a company called Kef, which is-

Ted Jenkin:

Kef?

Mark Kiffin:

… Kef. Yeah. K-E-F. And they’re a high-end British speaker manufacturer. They’ve been in business since 1961, and they have a speaker called the LS50 Wireless Mark II. The new version just came out a few months ago and it’s basically a high-end audio system. So amplifier, digital converters, and speaker system all in one box. So if you’re an audiophile, you take pride in putting systems together with all the different components, and getting the right wires and all of that. But this does all the work for you. Basically it’s two speakers, and you can stream to it. It has actually streaming built in, and it sounds fantastic.

Ted Jenkin:

Yeah, that’s really cool. It’s so hard to know what equipment is right. And I wonder when you talk to homeowners, and you’re building these kinds of systems. It seems like all companies have their own technologies today. Google has its own technology. Amazon has its technology. Is it best for a homeowner to try to use just one brand? Or can you still incorporate multiple brands into a home AV-type solution?

Mark Kiffin:

You can incorporate multiple brands. It’s a challenge to do that sometimes, which is why people like us exist. Because we’re really good at it.

Ted Jenkin:

In your work, you are good at it.

Mark Kiffin:

Well, we try. But it’s really finding out what the customer needs, and not overselling them. But also raising their level of expectation, and giving them better performance than they thought they might’ve gotten.

Ted Jenkin:

Do you think with the change now, now that there have been announcements that HBO Max is really going to just run these first-run movies, and people, I don’t know if they’ll end up back in the movie theaters or not. Is now the time to invest and get a home movie theater, even if you don’t have a big room? Can you do it at any budget? If I only have $5,000, or I have $50,000, is that enough for me to get started to build a home movie theater?

Mark Kiffin:

Yeah, absolutely. And one thing we do is we’re able to scale that experience to whatever space you have. So if you want a full-blown home theater system with fancy wall coverings and a projector and speakers behind the screen, we can do all of that. But if you have a small living room with a 65-inch TV, and all you have room for is the sound bar, we can work with that, too.

Ted Jenkin:

Like many industries, there’s always competition in a service industry. Or when you’re talking about putting together a beautiful home AV system, how do you try to differentiate yourself from your competitors when you compete, and you have to bid on a job?

Mark Kiffin:

Well, the first thing is answering the phone, which sounds pretty basic. But I found that a lot of times that we won a project, it’s because we were responsive when the customer made that initial call. So a lot of times the customer will say, “I called company X and left a message, and no one ever got back to me.” And that’s just unacceptable. So we’ll always answer the phone, almost regardless of what time it is, even if it’s after hours. And then we always make it a point to get back to the customer within a couple hours, or certainly the same day, and try to engage with them as early as possible.

Ted Jenkin:

Mark, all businesses try to find good employees. But I imagine in your business, if you have to get someone to do one of these huge home installs, you need highly skilled technical people. Has that been hard to find right now? Or are you finding with the pandemic that there are more people looking to get into these highly technical skill jobs?

Mark Kiffin:

Yeah, it is a challenge. And it’s been a challenge for this industry for awhile. We’re fortunate in that we have highly-vetted subcontractors that we use for very specialized things. So some people are a one-stop shop, and they can do pretty much everything. But they don’t necessarily do everything well. We prefer to work with people that specialize in different fields, and act like a contractor would if you’re building a house. Get the best people and create a team, and do that project. And really maximize that experience for the customer.

Ted Jenkin:

Well, I have to ask you. People are looking at TVs all the time. Do you have a favorite brand of TV, especially when you’re going for that big 70-inch or 80-inch or bigger TV?

Mark Kiffin:

Yeah. Well, my background is in film and television. So I’ve always been a Sony guy. Because in broadcast, Sony is king. And in home video technology, Sony makes a fantastic product, regardless of whatever size you choose to go with. And even if you want to do projection, they make some fabulous projectors, including what they call short throw projectors, where you can have a screen on a wall. And instead of hanging your projector from the ceiling, have it on a piece of furniture, a couple of feet in front of the wall and still be able to project like a 120-inch size image.

Ted Jenkin:

Wow, that’s crazy. So what do you see next? I know 2020 has been a challenging year, but you’ve done a lot of homes here in Atlanta. And a business has been good. What do you see next for potential services that you might expand to, and thinking forward into 2021?

Mark Kiffin:

Well, our long-term goal is to open a showroom. Right now, we go to the customer, which works well. But with some products, you really need to be able to see them and touch them and play with them before you figure out what’s right for you. And especially when it comes to audio product. Because you need to listen to it to make sure that it suits your taste, and to be able to compare it to other brands that you may be considering. So that’s on the roadmap. We want to get there.

Ted Jenkin:

Well, I want to say thanks so much for taking the time to be on the Atlanta Small Business Profile today. Continued success to you. And, folks, if you’re thinking about doing that home improvement, thinking about putting in that high-end movie theater, or redesigning your house, definitely talked to Mark here at Modus AV. These guys know what they’re doing.

Ted Jenkin:

Thanks again, Mark, for joining me today.

Mark Kiffin:

Thank you, Ted. Great talking to you.

Ted Jenkin:

And as always, we’ll talk to you next week. I’m Ted Jenkin, small business expert, right here on this week’s Atlanta Small Business Profile.


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