Business

Custom Connections provides home theatre, audio installations

My Biz: One-man operation 'wanted to bring the store to the customer'

Rich Smith, owner of Custom Connections, has a customized trailer with parts and supplies needed for audio visual installations. Photographed in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Rich Smith, owner of Custom Connections, has a customized trailer with parts and supplies needed for audio visual installations. Photographed in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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For someone whose business is state-of-the-art communications, Rich Smith has a relaxed media strategy.

He has a website, but “to tell you the honest truth, I haven’t been to it in over two years,” said Smith, Custom Connections’ owner and sole employee. “The only reason I did it in the first place was strictly as a landing page.”

Smith admits he did “everything under the sun” immediately after launching the business in 2004.

“I still do a little bit of snow removal,” he said. “I did lawn care, anything to keep going.”

Before striking out on his own, Smith worked for Best Buy, installing car stereos and traveling to help open new stores — back when the big-box electronics chain opened new stores.

“I saw that car stereo was going to change a lot, and I like audio,” he recalled. “It came to the point where you can’t change (factory sound systems) out. They’re integrated into the dash.

“I kind of started thinking about home audio stuff. I actually went and did car audio for another company for about a year, while I was planning on starting this.”

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Smith works out of his southwest Cedar Rapids home, towing his mobile workshop — a 16-foot enclosed trailer with tools, ladders and other equipment — to the job site.

“I wanted to kind of get away from the brick and mortar,” he said. “I wanted to bring the store to the customer.”

Business is about 70 percent residential — home theaters and audio — with the balance being business customers. Business work includes surveillance cameras, sound systems for lobbies, showrooms and public areas, and audio/visual installations for conference and training rooms

”A lot of it is presentation stuff,” he said. “You set your laptop up and throw it to your TV.”

Home installations range from simply hanging flat-screen TVs to sophisticated home theaters.

“If it’s something more in-depth, I’ll sit down and have a meeting with them,” Smith said. “See what they’re looking for, what they expect of it. We ... figure out a plan.”

Smith also works with local homebuilders and remodelers.

“People are building a lot of newer homes, but a lot of people are reinvesting money in their older homes, doing a remodel and putting a theater in the basement,” he said. “It seems more and more people want to hear music wherever they go.

“So you have speakers throughout the house and as you walk from room to room your phone can actually play through all that.”

Not all installations are in the house.

“Lots of landscaping stuff, TVs around pools,” he said. “They make weatherproof TVs, too. You pretty much mount them in the middle of the yard and let anything go.”

New country homes can be a challenge.

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“I’ve had a couple multimillion-dollar houses that they’ve built and the internet, the fastest they can get is 1.5” megabits per second, he said. “They can’t watch Netflix, they can’t stream music. Ninety percent of the time it works, but 10 percent of the time you’re going to have an issue.”

He recently had “a couple of conversations with people about putting a projection screen in the basement,” he said. “You get a 110-inch projection screen and a projector, and you can do a lot with it. But now, you can get an 82 or a 90-inch TV and it’s almost the same thing.”

One successful job leads to another, keeping Smith busy “to the point where I’m balancing with that horrible decision — do I find another employee?” he said. “I’ve thought of it occasionally.”

AT A GLANCE

l Owner: Rich Smith

l Business: Custom Connections

l Address: P.O. Box 352, North Liberty

l Phone: (319) 331-7799

l Website: ccinstall.com

l Know a business in operation for more than a year that could make for an intriguing “My Biz”? Contact michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

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