Are Custom Installers a Ripoff?
You’ve decided to take the plunge and invest in a home theater system. You know you’re not that handy and a lot of the technical aspects of picking the right gear, setting it all up, and calibrating that gear are beyond you. Instead, you’ve reached out to a couple of custom installers and gotten some quotes. As always, some are higher than others but you think you have one that is reasonable…until you show your AV friend. They freak out and tell you that custom installers are a ripoff and that you could get it for much cheaper. Is that true? Are you getting ripped off? Let’s discuss!
Before we begin, let’s make an assumption. First, you did, in fact, get a couple of quotes. We know there are bad actors out there who will give you an inflated price based on the size of your house or the car in the driveway. If you get a couple of quotes, you are sure to get one or more from upstanding companies. We must also assume that you picked a reasonable quote from a reputable company. There are some that will just pick the highest quote because it “must be the best.” Sometimes that is true. Often, it is not.
Apples to Apples Comparison
When your “friend” or (more likely) randos on the Internet say that custom installers are a ripoff, they are looking solely at the prices of the gear. They’ll point out that you can get other gear for less that has (in their opinion) better performance. They might be right, but we’ll talk about brands in a minute.
Mostly, they do not value any other considerations other than raw performance. They don’t think aesthetics should be a concern (“Why are you getting in-wall speakers?). You can take a look at their theaters and see that cable management isn’t high on their list. Therefore, they look at every bit of labor cost and think it is a waste.
Most of all, they never consider the fact that a custom installer is running a business. Yes, you are paying a bit of a premium. Yes, there are profits built into the quote. How else are they supposed to pay their employees? By hiring someone else to do a job for you, you are saying that you are willing to pay that premium so that you can get exactly what you want and not have to do anything yourself. That’s pretty much how all businesses work.
“I’ve Never Even HEARD of Those Brands!”
If you were to look at the price of gear online and compare it to the gear recommended by custom installers, you may think the installer is a ripoff. But you likely aren’t comparing the same gear. Sure, you may be able to get a similarly capable subwoofer for less, but there is a reason that the custom installer uses specific brands.
Yes, it is because they have relationships with those brands and get discounts, but it is more than that. Custom installers often choose brands for more than just pure performance. Many times, they are looking for custom installer-specific features such as RS-232 ports (for direct programming and control) or access to OvrC. OvrC (pronounced “oversee”) is a way of remotely dialing into your gear to fix any issues that you have after the installation is complete. This is great for you as a customer because it means that you don’t have to wait for them to come out to reset your system. But it does mean that their choice of gear is more limited and may be more expensive.
There are other restrictions placed on custom installers as well. Their relationships with specific brands often mean they can’t carry other brands at all (by contract). They may also be required to only quote full price for that equipment. Often custom installers will pass on discounts to consumers through other line items but they often have to put the full MSRP on the gear because of the manufacturers. If they don’t, they risk losing the ability to carry that gear.
Also, consider what you will end up with. Your online or in-person friends may have great theaters that they love. But you’ll have your own room that was fully customized to your specific tastes and a team of people to fix or modify things whenever you want. Yes, you paid more than they did but they paid more in their time and effort than you. While they were researching gear and learning how to calibrate their systems, you were playing golf or spending time with your family. They valued their time less than you do. That doesn’t mean the custom installers are ripping people off, it simply means that they are providing a service that you don’t want to do.
How is that a ripoff?