AV Chicago: 40 Years of Change, Innovation, and Being “All-In” in Live Events
What started as a small home-grown audio equipment sales and installation company in suburban Chicago has now grown to become one of the leading AV event rental and production companies in the region. 40 years has passed since Founder Edward Gomboz started AV Chicago, then known as Wizdum Audio, with a simple focus on installing sound systems into houses of worship, schools, and corporate office buildings. It quickly grew into an integration company, focusing on providing the industry-leading AV technology. Rentals, known as AV Rentals by Wizdum, was a small component to the business and was just looked at as an additional offering for existing clients.
In the year 2000, the company was acquired by Pentegra Systems LLC and they had no interest in keeping the AV rental component of the business. Gombos wisely held onto it and started what is now known today as AV Chicago. Today, AV Chicago has grown beyond just rentals and offers comprehensive event production and management services to an impressive array of clients. The company has also garnered notoriety for being able to pull off last-minute projects of scale, like providing onsite video production and distribution for the Chicago Cubs World Series Victory Rally, which has only become more important with the recent Covid-19 pandemic.
AV Chicago’s leadership team Justin Frick and Andrew Brode took some time recently to reflect on where AV Chicago is today and what the next 40 years may have in-store for us.
What are some company highlights and what makes AV Chicago different from others in the industry?
A: One of the big things is our involvement in community. While we are a for-profit company, we believe in being an active part of our industry, including being proud members of AVIXA, Event Production Network (EPN), ILEA Chicago, NACE, MPI-Chicago and other trade organizations, and focus on supporting local nonprofit organizations. Collaboraction Theatre Company is an example of a group that we have supported for many years. We provide all the audio-visual technology support during their season.
We’re also a company that knows how to have fun; work hard but have fun. AV shouldn’t be without personality. From Justin and I and through our team members in the warehouse and executing our events on site, we take our jobs seriously, but not too seriously, and I think that shows in many ways. A lot of people like working with us because we’re not just dry AV people.
J: I think this all ties into us being core values-driven, which may not be as important at other places, potentially. “Show Ready” and “All In” are two of our core values but our third being “Human” is a big testament to that. We believe in the human connection and it’s about more than just equipment and technology. It’s much more about the client and their outcome.
A: The business has thrived in many ways by tackling logistically challenging projects. We have thought outside of the box and not always gone the easy way.
What makes the culture at AV Chicago so special?
A: This is a very demanding career when you’re in this industry, at all levels. It’s a 24-7 type of thing. Long days, long hours. Tricky situations. If the client wants the show to start at 7pm, we’re starting, ready or not. One of the things that is important within our demanding world is to develop a culture that is all in. Everyone working with us wants to see the show go off. At AV Chicago, you could be in accounting and if you have to get in a truck to help make the show go off, you will do that. When you’re in that type of world, you want to be around people that are connected and focused on the brand and the client’s needs. You will go the extra mile to make sure the client is happy. People know that is what builds success and I think our team rallies around that. Our clients notice it too and that is one of the reasons they come back to us time and time again. It’s also important to have a life outside of work and we support that balance.
J: We’re a definitely a work to live company. I would say though that “not my job” is not an allowed phrase in our company.
How is the live events industry changing and how is AV Chicago adapting for the future?
A: I think the live events world is changing quickly. I think to where we are today, the demands and needs are greater than ever. They are more last minute than ever too. For us, it’s about leaning into everything we have talked about with our culture and core values. We didn’t let the pandemic stop us from being core values focused. We could have said we’re short on labor, just hire anyone and everyone and we will figure it out later. We focused on people being the hallmark of what we do. We spent a lot of time focusing on this and we knew it was going to pay off after a pandemic we never knew what was coming. It paid off when things got rough last fall and we experienced an onslaught of business. We already had the team in place to be successful and it has paid dividends for us long term. Clients have picked-up on it too and are more engaged with our brand than ever.
J: We know who we are and that is key. There are a lot of anything for a buck AV companies out there. We’re all-in and know what we’re about but we also know where our strengths are. It is definitely understood by our team and clients. When everything hit the fan during the pandemic, we still had our core values and knew who we were, long before we had to adapt and find our way through the pandemic.
What does the future hold for AV Chicago?
A: One of the hopes I have for this business is controlled, sustainable growth that is to the benefit of our employees. As we grow, we’re able to provide more resources and opportunities for our team members. For our clients, we want to continue to serve them and help them adapt to this new world. I want AV Chicago to continue on, through new generations and leadership changes, for the next 40 years, and the next 40 after that.
J: We want to grow as big as we can while still supporting the same values. We’re not going to sacrifice our values for the sake of size and profits. For us, it’s all about producing quality work and supporting our community and team members.
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