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April 2012
Dishing Up Digital Solutions
By Casey Jacobus

     Are you having trouble getting a handle on the digital age? 

     Do you want a bigger TV but Sunday’s shopping trip at Wal-Mart left you exhausted and confused with all the options? Can’t get your remote control to do what you want? Want to know how to control your electronic systems with your iPad or iPhone?

     Are you a doctor who wants his patients to be able to control the TV in the waiting room? Do you want to add a commercial-free music service to your business? Who do you call for help?

     KS Audio Video in Cornelius might be your digital “Ghostbuster.” This father/son technology and installation company specializes in providing solutions to all kinds of digital problems and provides the follow-up service and maintenance that is often missing when the customer tries to go it alone.

     “The Big Box assumption is that every house is a cookie cutter and that any TV will work in any situation,” says Ken Ziegler. “We believe each house is different. We know what technology is out there and can design the best solution for your home or business given your needs,” agrees Nathan Ziegler, his son.

     From traditional home theaters and multi-room music to new generation digital media sharing, lighting control, and energy management solutions, KS Audio Video works to blend functionality with aesthetics and simple to use operation with performance regardless of the complexity of the technology.

     The most common product they sell is the TV, just like Best Buy or any big box store. However, the Zieglers will come to your home or business, see where and how you use you TV, and make a recommendation about which product will provide you with the most cost effective service. Then they install the product and maintain it, giving you somebody to call, other than your son-in-law, when it doesn’t work correctly.

     “We want to be a technological partner and problem solver with our customers,” says Nathan Ziegler. “Whatever technological question they have, we want to be able to answer it. They look to us to be knowledgeable about the thousands of products on the market, sift through them, and provide an individualized solution.”


Going Into Orbit

     It was after the launch of the world’s first Sputnik satellite by the Russians in 1957, and the United States’ Explorer I the following year that worldwide communications became feasible. In 1976 Home Box Office (HBO) made history by initiating satellite delivery of programming to cable TV with the heavyweight boxing match known as “The Thriller from Manila.”

     That same year Stanford University Professor and former NASA scientist H. Taylor Howard built the first direct-to-home (DTH) satellite system in his garage. It was a large dish-shaped antenna that picked up programs that cable TV content providers offered for distribution to their subscribers.

     From 1981 to 1985 the “big-dish” satellite market began to take off. System sales soared as hardware prices fell. In 1980, a satellite TV system cost approximately $10,000, but by 1985 the prices dropped to about $3,000. The programming was free during those years. People made a one-time purchase of a system and received more than 100 channels at no additional cost.

     However, the 1984 Cable TV act put an end to free programming and sales dropped dramatically. In the early 1990s, four large cable companies launched a direct broadcast system called Primestar. In 1994, the Hughes DirecTV satellite system was launched. These systems provided great pictures and stereo sound on 150 to 200 video and audio channels, and the satellite TV dish era began in a serious way.

     While the satellite TV industry was developing, Ken Ziegler was making a career change.

      When President Ronald Reagan fired thousands of unionized air-traffic controllers for illegally going on strike in 1981, Ziegler lost his job. He went back to school and got an MBA degree from the State University of New York in Buffalo and then went to work for Equitable Bank in Baltimore, Md., in 1985, staying through its acquisition by Maryland National Bank and then NationsBank.

     During that time, Ziegler began installing satellite TVs part-time. He named his hobby business “Ken’s Satellites.” In 1994, he moved with NationsBank to Charlotte, but continued to work part-time installing dish TV systems. In 2001, he decided to devote himself to providing professional audio video solutions full-time. He opened a 400-square-foot facility in Concord as the home base for his company, which he renamed KS Audio Video.


Connecting With Customers

     In 2009, Ziegler bought a building in Cornelius where he could create a “technology gallery” for KS Audio Video, which would also host a number of other companies, including his wife’s pet grooming business.

     “The Concord facility was more of a warehouse than a showroom,” describes Ziegler. “We needed to be able to show our customers what we could do for them by example.”

     About the same time Ziegler moved to Cornelius, he acquired a partner. Son Nathan joined the company, bringing his experience in business technology with him.

     “Growing up, I was always involved with the business,” says Nathan. “I have childhood memories of going to installation jobs with my father. I would hand him the wrench or check the signal outside and talk to him on the walkie-talkie.”

     After Nathan graduated from UNC Chapel Hill, he went to work for a Web marketing firm in Raleigh, but when his father decided to expand and build the showroom, Nathan opted to join what would now be a truly “family” business.

     “Our business strategy is built around the showroom,” Nathan explains. “Unlike Wal-Mart or Best Buy, we don’t carry a lot of inventory. Our company is based around the customer; logistics don’t drive the business. We let the customer and technology drive the business.”

     The KS Audio Video showroom is designed to make learning about home technology easy and fun. The showroom is laid out like a home, complete with five stops—master bedroom, home theater, family room, game room and kitchen—with over 50 innovative products on display. Customers can guide themselves through the showroom, pick up remotes, and interact with all the products.

     Throughout the home there are keypads that control a Niles Auto/Video distribution system, which is completely hidden from view. By using the on-wall touch pad, the customer can select Satellite TV, Blu-Ray DVD, Digital Media, iPod Music and FM stations.

     Among the residential services KS Audio Video offers are: DIRECTV, Dish network, networking, home automation, home theater (both sales and installations), site consultation, pre-wire and system design, TV calibration, audio/video distribution, HVAC control, hidden equipment solutions, lighting control, and even security solutions.

     “These are the products the customers want,” says Ziegler. “When you install them, you get to see the customer’s face light up. It’s like you just handed him the keys to a brand new car.”

     Ziegler recalls an instance when a wife wanted to hang a mirror over the fireplace—right where the husband thought the TV should go. KS Audio Video was able to find the perfect solution—a TV that turned into a mirror when not in use.

     “People used to buy a TV every 20 years,” Ziegler says. “Now you could get a new TV every two years. People have eight or nine different TVs in their house. With hundreds of products on the market, many with the same features, we have to know the products ourselves. I can’t tell you how easy it is to use one, if I don’t know how to use it myself.”


Keeping Up With Change

     KS Audio Video is dedicated to providing customers with all the necessary information to make an educated decision when purchasing any piece of audio video equipment. Whether it is a new TV, a fully integrated satellite home theater installation, or a modulated audio and video matrix for a sports bar, Ziegler says his company is committed to working with customers one-on-one to provide solutions tailored to their individual needs.

     “Our goal is to be a healthy company, not a very large one,” says Ziegler. “Our customer base continues to grow, but repeat business is an important part of our strategy.”

     KS Audio Video does approximately half of its business in residential services and about half in commercial services. Among its commercial businesses are sports bars and restaurants; retail and grocery stores; offices including lobbies, waiting areas, and break rooms; apartment complexes; car dealerships; hotels and motels; even race car teams.

     Bank of America, the Charlotte Bobcats, the Panthers, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Hooters, The Palm, Carolinas Medical Center, the Charlotte Checkers, Ingersoll Rand, Allstate, and Gold’s Gym are among their clients.

     “Since 9/11 there is a need for everyone to be in touch with developing events all the time,” Ziegler explains. “Every business wants some TV.” Among the commercial services KS Audio Video provides are: DIRECTV, dish networking, mobile video and Internet, CCTV, SMATV, modulated and distributed A/V solutions, commercial-free-music services, and VSAT solutions.

     Providing TV services and installing them can be much more challenging in a commercial situation than in a residential one. Commercial buildings may have metal ceilings (in a gym, for instance) or exposed walls or glass sky roofs.

     “There are a host of different considerations,” explains Ziegler. “At the Epicentre in uptown Charlotte, there are 25 different entities—all powered by one dish. At the Bobcats arena, they want a ton of sports channels on high definition TVs throughout the facility. One Myrtle Beach bar has 150 separate TVs that can all be controlled on or off by one iPad.”

     Among the commercial product lines KS Audio Video represents are Astatic, Atlas Sound,  Samsung, LG, JBL,  TOA, Toshiba, JVC, Tannoy, Octasound, Lutron, OmniMount, RTI,  and Panasonic.

     In an industry where the technology is constantly changing, it is important to be able to react quickly to market changes. In the 1980s, satellite TV equipment included huge six-foot-tall dishes; today the equipment has become small enough to be used by any household. The 18-inch dish is small enough to be attached to walls or roofs.

     When Ziegler started out, he relied on the yellow pages and print advertising. Most of his staff were satellite order takers; today, he competes with the Internet, employs a larger sales force, and puts his marketing efforts into working with trade groups and attending group shows. He recently hired a business development manager to work with interior designers, builders, electricians, real estate agents and mortgage bankers. He relies heavily on KS Audio Video’s website to generate business.

     The nature of that business has also evolved. Today the business is driven more by software than hardware. Equipment purchased five years ago has become antiquated; equipment purchased today has the ability to be updated in the future with new software.

     “With computers, we are able to provide more multiple functions,” asserts Ziegler. “It is more about IT support than about putting wires together. Down the road, it will be more about the integration of products and providing maintenance and support systems.”

     “We’ll sell the product, install it, integrate it with other electronic products, and simplify its operation. We can also ensure the best total value,” continues Ziegler. “We want to make the customer’s dream come to life by providing a turn-key solution to all his digital problems.”


Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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