Stick ‘em up

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Recent months have seen the biggest downturn in trade that most of us have ever experienced. When an established livelihood is under threat a good resort is diversification, and just now an excellent opportunity presents itself to independent dealers: the business of TV aerials and satellite dishes, their supply, erection and servicing. As the digital switchover gains pace and as the Freesat TV platform expands there’s a lot of potential business out there.

Avenues

Because Freeview transmissions do not conform to the old channel groupings – and because they can be more fussy than analogue ones – many viewers need an aerial upgrade for good reception of terrestrial digital broadcasts, generally in the form of a new wideband array, carefully fixed and aligned. We charge £80 upwards for this, required at the time of buying a Freeview receiver, never mind waiting for the analogue shutdown. A lot of people who wanted nothing to do with Sky are now looking to receive Freesat broadcasts, and thus require a dish to be installed for the first time.

It’s well known that existing Sky dishes can be used for Freesat, but many of them have only a single-output LNB. For full function of a PVR or for multi-room viewing, a new LNB with two or more outputs is required; often the old dish is not physically amenable to that, or is too badly corroded, so a whole new outfit is needed. There’s also a steady demand for new Sky dishes which needs to be fulfilled. Work in all these categories will expand over the coming months and years, and existing riggers will not be able to cope with the huge demand at the time of switchover in each region.

Halfway there already

As an existing retailer you generate potential ladder business with every piece of TV and video equipment you sell. You may well have people on your staff who are technically competent, but whose future is under threat right now. You are used to serving the public and you have an existing trading base. You have established customers, especially in the middle and older age group. You probably have one or more big vans for delivery and/or service – could they take a roof rack and some ladders? Could you stretch, if necessary, to another vehicle (going cheap right now) for the purpose of rigging aerials and dishes, bearing in mind the potential of it? Spring is only a month or two away…

Gearing up

Anybody who has been involved with electrical or electronic repair service will have no difficulty with the technicalities of aerials, dishes and their management: the requirements are more physical than technical, though the selection and installation of UHF aerials is more complex than with dishes in fact. Much help in training, equipment choice etc. is available from the CAI on 01923 803030, www.cai.org.uk; the aim should be  to qualify for registration with the Digital Installers Licensing Body (0870 129 8015, www.rdi-lb.tv) so that you can proudly display the digital tick on your shop, vehicles, adverts and paperwork, as well as on the products you sell.

Apart from wheels and ladders the main hardware required is test equipment for correct alignment and signal checking of antennas. Although combined terrestrial and satellite meters are available at high prices we have found it better to use separate ones for each type of transmission, and I can personally recommend equipment from Promax (www.albanelectronics.co.uk) and Swires Research, www.swires.com, both of which we use ourselves with great success. These meters are a world apart from those ‘peakers’ which served in the analogue era – they now provide transmitter identification (essential with satellite dish installation) and signal quality readouts. The ironmongery itself, in the way of dishes, aerials, brackets, clamps, cables, etc. etc. is available from distributors Alltrade and CPC, both excellent for me.

The other essential is an insurance certificate covering all aspects of the aerial service business, and particularly your public liability.

Onwards and upwards

Since we embraced the antenna business we have done well out of it, our care, pride and expertise reflecting in the charges we make, seldom under three figures per job. There’s no competition from Tesco or e-tailers here!

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