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Media Visions Celebrates 25 Years

by Nook Schoenfeld • in
  • March 2019
  • Milestones
• Created: March 7, 2019

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The Birmingham office

Along with Milestone, Company Announces Big Plans for the Future

Media Visions, with offices in Birmingham, AL and Nashville, TN, is celebrating a big milestone this year as a live production vendor and integration specialist. For 25 years, they have been providing full-scale production for live events as well as integration of equipment into more establishments than we can count. All this time, owner Mike Cruce has stuck to his company’s motto, “Turning Visions into Reality,” and judging by his long list of clients, he’s succeeded in doing just that.

‡‡         The Early Days

Cruce grew up in Florida, though his parents had emigrated there from their Alabama roots. His dad was a worship leader, the minister of music at his church. Cruce became devoutly religious himself and credits his religious practice for guiding him through his major life decisions. It also helped him get his foot in the door of the entertainment business. His first gig was as a camera operator at the West Lauderdale Baptist Church’s TV Productions in 1980.

That job led him to work with Miami station WHFT, where he earned while he learned, eventually becoming “a jack of all trades.” Tape op, editor, props, news announcer were just part of his job as the TD. This set him up for directing the switcher on a six-camera shoot of a live two-hour nationally aired broadcast each week.

From there, Cruce landed a job as the master control operator at a station broadcasting in Spanish, WKID 51 in South Florida. Cruce became master control supervisor, responsible for scheduling personnel and developing broadcast procedures for implementation of each day’s programming on air. In 1987, that station became part of what is now known as the Telemundo Hispanic Television Network. During his period there, he was promoted to operations manager for the whole network.

While Cruce had advanced rapidly in his technical career, he decided to try his luck at sales. Through some advice from a friend, he hooked up with Ikegami Electronics, a company that specialized in selling broadcast quality cameras. As it turned out, he was a natural. “I’m a people person, and I found I could talk to people about these products in a way that endeared me to them. I’m not afraid of electronics, mechanics or anything to do with my gear. I would field-strip a camera and put it back together in minutes while making a pitch, just to show them that working with this high-end gear wasn’t that difficult. That knowledge helped me become a better salesman. Folks just trusted me, and I developed a network of people through the Southeast.”

One of the prouder moments of his time with Ikegami was some work he did with NASA at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where he worked with several officials and their contractors to develop a new color camera for viewing shuttle launches and sensitive fueling and payload areas. This led to NASA being able to change from black and white images to color images throughout Kennedy Space Center and beyond.

Along the way, Cruce married his sweetheart and started a family. As a traveling salesman, however, he would have to spend long periods of time away from his family, and eventually sought a change. While he had been raised in Fort Lauderdale, his family had spent vacations visiting Alabama, and Cruce had grown fond of that area. Despite Ikegami’s attempts to keep his service, he pulled up stakes in 1991 and relocated to Birmingham.

Cruce ended up taking the position of national sales manager for a local dealer (who was a vendor of Ikegami gear) and hawking gear out of his office, instead of constant travel. The company had been in business for roughly 10 years and maintained a level of sales of approximately $2 million. Within 18 months, Cruce took the company from that $2.2 million in sales with two offices in Alabama to nearly $9.9 million in sales with five offices in three states. He realized he was good at what he did, and though he made a lot of money for his employer, he was certainly grateful for all that everyone had done for him. “I was at a time in life when I felt a larger presence guiding me. I think God just does stuff that pushes us in the right direction.” So in 1993, he hung out his shingle, and Media Visions was formed.

‡‡         The Start of a Company

Cruce built a basement office and decided he wanted to design systems and engineer them. He really didn’t anticipate owning gear at the beginning, he was just an integration company. When asked how he came up with the name Media Visions, he recalls, “ I spent two weeks scribbling names on paper. I knew I did not want the name to include the words video or audio, because I felt that would lock me in — stereotype my company. I just wanted to include the word, ‘Vision,’ because that was our goal, to fulfill your vision. That’s how our slogan came to be.”

Cruce was off and running as a dealer and integrating gear that was “a right fit for each application. We maintained a small rental division that did some very small corporate shows, we could do things that were local, but we never did any touring. While we were a small company, we networked across the nation, and people came to us for our skills at integration. We expanded at a good pace in the 1990’s, opening offices in San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta and Orlando. Business was booming and all was well until 9/11 hit,” he adds. “The whole country went on hold, and hardly anyone was spending money on new gear.” Not being able to have enough work to support these offices, Cruce returned to his one Birmingham location and did a little work while waiting for the economy to turn around.

In talking about his business approach, Cruce states, “We’ve always been a boutique company in a way. We’re never trying to hit on anybody, it’s more important that we keep our long-term clients happy. People seem to enjoy talking to us because they get a personal touch. We develop a relationship with people and they like what we are providing. It’s like I tell folks, ‘You can get boxes anywhere, but you can’t get our people.” He goes on to explain that he never got into the concert business until he established a shop in Nashville, but the concert bug had actually bitten him a long time ago.

“Back when I first started running camera, I got asked to be a part of a live production event that had hired the band Firefall to play,” he says. “We had a three-camera setup, with my camera set up on top of a Winnebago. That was my second camera job and first concert experience. At that point I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but I never thought I’d own a production company.”

Cruce admits he never ventured into collegiate studies, preferring to attend the school of hard knocks. In fact he never really thought of himself as a salesman, either. “I approached clients in a different way. I never banged on any doors. There’s a skill in being able to talk to somebody and not be nervous about it. I simply provided a service. I could go into a place and back myself up with my knowledge of gear and explain to folks that I’m not really here to do anything but help them get what they needed. I never really looked at it as sales. I wasn’t trying to sell refrigerators to Eskimos, I was selling products to people that needed them; television stations and facilities, outside production houses.”

By integration, Cruce is referring to the whole process of an installation. Media Visions could design, build and install — fulfilling the whole big picture. “We would walk in to a potential job, and the first thing we would say is ‘What are you trying to accomplish?’ Then they would say, ‘Well, we’d like this many cameras, this many playbacks. We want this many displays, and we need them here, here and perhaps one outside in the lobby.’ So we would design something based on what they told us, and if we were lucky, we’d sell it to them and build it. Not all integrators design and build a system. Some get handed a design from a design firm and then they will go build it. Others are just a design firm who won’t touch anything concerned with the build. At Media Visions, we do both.”

In May of 1993, he incorporated his business and spent his time counting pennies while trying to build it up. “One day my accountant stops by and he says, ‘So you’re just going to sit in your underwear in your basement designing systems?’ I said ‘What?’ I told him that I was going to be an integrator/engineer. He went on to tell me there was a company in town that has run into some hard times. They’re going to close their doors. But there are three good guys, and they have some inventory. You can probably go to a bank and buy their stuff for pennies on the dollar.” The company was right down the street, and Cruce never knew they existed.

“The company didn’t have enough work, and I’ll tell you why. They were AV, and I was television. The two weren’t related back then. I was able to bring the television side to the AV side, and we were able to design systems right off the bat. In fact, some of my first customers from those days are still working with me today.” That company had slide and overhead projectors. They were doing hotel jobs in ballrooms. So Media Visions hired their first three employees and started working on actual shows for the first time.

Cruce expands on the operation building up. “We got approached by some people who said things like, ‘Why don’t you become a Sony dealer?’ So we did, along with Ikegami gear, Eiki projectors, etc. We bought one, then another. Eventually, we lost the three original guys, but hired nine more. Business was booming — we opened up shops in other locations because we bounced around the country so much.” That all worked well until 9/11, when the bottom dropped out of the corporate market.

‡‡         The Nashville Phase

In 2002, Cruce got a call from a Nashville production company. They had a show in Las Vegas that required some big projectors. A big country act was embarking on their farewell tour, and they were kicking it off with a special for Dick Clark. “So I go out there to hang my screens, and I watch this team of people work,” Cruce says. “I thought it was really cool. It wasn’t corporate — everywhere I looked, people were laughing and having fun while they worked on the Alabama show. Nobody was in dress blacks, just jeans and ball caps. I told one of the crew guys, ‘If you ever need a change, if anything ever happens to your company, give me a call.’” Six weeks later, that guy called Cruce to say his company was going out of business.

“I was lucky and in the right place. But it was 2002, and nobody was spending money. I couldn’t buy any new gear, but I looked at the logistics. The company had two steady tours,” [Alabama and Brooks & Dunn], “and income would keep rolling in. Next thing you know I had a Nashville office and another three new employees.”

Cruce would not have taken that leap without the two tours already signed. “The first thing I did when I took over was to call the three employees they had, to assure them they still had jobs. I still hold fast in my belief that Media Visions is all about people serving people. I’ve always said ‘Put the people in place first, the gear can come later.’”

Cruce still recalls the first LED wall he bought. “We bought a 15-by-20-foot LED wall of “virtual” 10mm product from Opti Screen for one million dollars. It was a big leap — that was leading-edge stuff back in the day.” From there, the rest is history. Media Visions became a major player doing shows out of Nashville as well as integration work. “The Nashville operation went up to nine employees within the next 18 months with designers, warehouse guys, etc. We grew fast.”

As far as his installation side was going, “we came along at a time when people were tired of dealing with six different companies to do one integration. It was kind of neat as we were able to do everything for everybody. I do stress that Media Visions is video-centric. We do provide sound and lights, but the biggest chunk of what we do is video, and we do that very well. Some clients may come up and say, ‘Well why dontcha,’ and if I felt we could do it all (video, lights and audio) we would. But if I felt they needed more expertise I would bring in someone else and tell the client to discuss their needs with them.”

One of the more important things to Cruce is taking care of his crew. “I have always believed that I wanted to operate the company along the lines of it being a place where I’d like to work if I was looking for a job. Employees are treated fairly, with health benefits and a 401K plan.” That logic, and the good service his company provides, have led to steady growth and success for many years.

Last year, Cruce started to wonder to himself ‘What’s the next level for me and how do I get there?’ This brings up an interesting story that dates back to his youth. “I believe in a higher power. I’ve always trusted God. When I opened Media Visons 25 years ago, we had a little ribbon-cutting ceremony, and my pastor had a word with me. He took me aside and told me to hold my hands open with my palms out. He said, ‘That is a picture of how God wants you to hold this company. If you close your hands, he can never put anything in or take anything out. Keep those hands open and he will fill them until the day that you want to hand it all over to whoever’s gonna run with it next.’ So for 25 years I knew that whatever was going to happen, it was bigger than Mike Cruce.”

Tom Atema and Mike Cruce seal the deal

‡‡         The Next Chapter

Cruce has kept a keen eye on all the video products on the market since he opened that Nashville office. He’s been installing as well as touring with all kinds of displays, frames, rigging hardware and processors, not to mention all the cables. He’s been through all the rigors of dealing with manufacturers in China for years. In the back of his mind, he had had a question for years. A question that festered until he finally thought he might have the solution. But it require a lot of R&D with his team and a lot of restraint to keep his idea quiet from the rest of the industry.

Media Visions decided the time was right to design and sell their own lines of video tiles. It wasn’t that they found fault with anyone else’s brands, but he had an idea that could make the way we mount LED displays universal.

The frame, one of the lightest aluminum touring frames available, is designed to be universal across many resolutions. It’s also designed for touring in a hanging or ground-stacked configuration, but is also perfectly at home as a dance floor (with appropriate LED modules) or flush mounted to a wall. The panels are 100 percent front or rear serviceable.

“We have also developed two universal ‘touring carts’ that can be populated with our panel or also just about any other manufacturer’s LED panel,” Cruce says. “One is for ultra fast deployment of large hanging LED displays, and the other is for ultra-fast ground-support-based LED walls.”

Media Visions spent over 18 months perfecting their ideas and proving their system would be a game-changer. That’s when Cruce decided it was time to really go to the next level. He wanted to sell Media Visions to someone that saw the bright future of his ideas — someone that not only would, but could take the ball and run with him on this venture.

“I’m extremely pleased to let you know that, as we head into our 26th year, we have been acquired by and are now part of the Atema Partners family, which includes two other premier providers in their respective sectors: AP Live, the leader in audio visual solutions — including large-format video and LED support — for corporate meetings and events, festivals, concerts, and exhibits worldwide; and OCD Labs, the forerunner in custom wiring and infrastructure packaging for concert touring and fixed production.

“This new chapter is an exciting one,” Cruce says. “I believe it propels both companies to even greater heights, and I am thrilled to be part of it.” Cruce has transitioned to the position of Sales Engineer, and the daily operational responsibilities are now in the hands of the company’s new owner, Tom Atema, and his team. Atema started Atema Partners in 2008 and, over the past decade, the company has been lauded for their customized service with honors including a “Best in Business” award from the Nashville Business Journal in 2018.

Lastly Cruce would like to say, “It is with a very happy heart that I welcome this new venture and the opportunities it will bring. You can get gear lots of places, but you can only get this new, unmatched expertise through Media Visions and Atema Partners. In this endeavor, I know that God has blessed, and will continue to bless our efforts as we seek to honor Him in all that we do.”

For more on Media Visions and Atema Partners, go to www.mediavisions.com and www.atemapartners.com

 

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