Starting a Satellite Installing Business


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SatelliteGuys Guru
Original poster
May 12, 2004
Rockford MI
Hello all,
I am thinking of starting a satellite installing business. I was wondering if anyone has any advise. Also, how much does D and E pay for a new install? Do you have to supply your own install supplys or does the satellite company pay for it? I understand that they don't provide a van or truck, but basic things like cable and coax ends, different things like that.

The installation business has gone to hell, constantly falling rates with higher costs to do business.
Do yourself a favor and find another trade.
I am really wondering about this, who is to blame?
Do we cut our own throats?

I went on a job that customer wanted 3 wall fishes... I gave him a written estimate for $75 per wall, he said he would think it over and get back to me. a week passes and I call the customer back to follow up and he says he called another tech who installed the 3 wall fishes for $25.

wonder why 3 weeks later he calls me and says he has problems?

guess you get what you pay for.

I strongly recommend checking with BOTH Dish Network and Halsted Communications to see if they have operations in your area. In CT, both do.

Dish pays hourly, has benefits, and supplies all needed supplies.

Halsted pays piece-work, has benefits, and supplies all needed supplies.

Once you've done a while at either, I STRONGLY recommend quitting for a job as a cable installer for a while on top of it to round out your broadband knowledge. Being a "Cable Sucks, Satellite is Great" partisan is a BAD BAD career move. The vast majority of horribly low-quality techs are of that stripe and can't for the life of them explain the first technical difference between the two things and their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Try to get an in-house cable job or employee of a contract installation house with benefits.

ONLY THEN should you consider your own business and here's what you need to do then, at least for my recommendations.

First, get your SBCA Level I & II as soon as possible if neither Halsted nor Dish got you certified. Get Level III certified for MDUs as well.

Second, start on the track towards NCTI Master Installer with NCTI's courses and certifications.

Third, learn about running a business, especially with regard to taxation and accounting practices, both federal and state law on these.

Fourth, get your state licenses for CATV/SMATV/DBS/etc. and telephone on top of it. Many states have totally separate licenses for these two things and you need to be able to run phone lines with your coax, and do it legally.

Fifth, go and nail down your SCTE, BICSI, and ETA-SDA certifications to completely prove yourself.

With all appropriate licenses and certifications, the world is your oyster in broadband. Now you just need to find all the work to keep you busy, hire men and women who can do good work, and train them to one day replace you. :rolleyes:
we didn't cut our own throats-we didn't need to-once the providerts started offering free this and free that, including free installs, the public's intoxicatiopn with that went thru the roof-if, like me, you decided not to play along, you basically cut your own throat...

if you do plan to start an installation service only business, you need to have a reputation for above quality installs, because your client base will not be the customer and it won't be the providers-it will be a handfull of retailers who don't want the hassle of hiring inshop installers and no longer have the time to do it themselves...with any luck, you will have enough work coming from a few companies to keep bread on the table, but i would also find a number of related things to do along with this if you want to be solvent...jmho
I would NEVER do 3 wall fishes for $25 unless I was getting paid aweful well for the rest of the install.

It does seem like people are willing to pay less and less as there are more and more people selling and installing satellite systems. This is good for the consumers, bad for the installers. With the free installs and free systems being promoted so much people are not willing to pay as much as they used to if anything at all.

To top it all off with the bigger SuperDishes it is more difficult and takes more time to do these. It does not seem like the pay to install these have went up, it is just an added expense to install compared to the Dish 500. Since installers are not able to perform as many installs and the installs cost more, then the installer stands to make less per day than what they used to make. Many if not most consumers are not willing to pay the extra money for pole mounts or more difficult installation since free free free is advertised.

This does not mean that someone cannot still make good money in this business, just dont expect the pay to always go up if ever. I personally think it is a great business to get into because you get to meet a lot of people and you get to do a lot of travelling.
Well with regard to throat cutting, the cut rate install pricing didn't do that either. Cable has had that for years. We still used to get decent rates. There was a time when $50+ was standard for a full cable modem install WITHOUT a new drop, WITH an existing line if that which was there was useable. Now, you're lucky to get $30 for an install WITH a new drop and WITH a new home run to the modem.

DBS on the other hand has always suffered the death of a thousand cuts of endless subcontracting wherein was born the phenomenon of the hordes of satellite idiots, ready to turn a three hour high quality install for $150 into a one half hour basement quality install for $50.

Now some will ask how they can do that and the answer is simple: it's what the market will bear. If you charge price X and raise it by Y percent, you do a projection of what you will bring in if your sales drop by Z percent and after a little trial and error, you generally find a sweet spot where you can raise prices per unit and lose customers and still make more money, just before the curve drops and you lose money.

In DBS this point of equilibrium was reached pretty damn quickly. The woods are thick with idiots using station wagons without an extension ladder, who crimp with pliers, and who never ever ground anything. The lack of quality has lost some customers, but enough installs are being done fast enough to get more money in than if Dish or Direct had no one but quality installers doing careful thorough work.

There are guys doing ten two-set installs per day across nine towns ever day all summer. You can guess how bad their work can be.

The only way to insure decent rates is to be the dealer, receive all the money the DBS service credits for the install, and to charge your own rates above and beyond the "standard professional install" quoted on Dish and Direct sites themselves. You have to make the customers aware at the time of purchase from you what that means and what the rates are for non-standard work and why it is important to do it right.

Unfortunately, Dish pretty much forbids upcharges to the customer for non-standard work and only compensates the installer for very few things and their rates are abysmal. Thus a Dish customer is extremely unlikely to get the choice of let's say a fiber transceiver set for a trench mount which is set four hundred feet from the house on a rural property. Or a complex switch and diplexor set-up to backfeed every output of every box to all televisions.

With Direct you've still got some latitude.

But then, with hackers butchering peoples' houses and upselling a forty dollar tripod for one hundred fifty dollars rather than a simple ten percent markup plus labor, how long can that last?

The market of the future will be alliances with electricians or to be electricians and to prewire house during construction or renovation for all kinds of services before the sheetrock goes up as well as pre-siting dish mounts and distribution systems and lockboxes for MDUs so all residents share one dish array.
Almost all of my work has to do with repairs and upgrades of so called free fullfilment installs. I do a lot of inwall difficult and time consuming work for dealers who cannot afford to have their in house installer take a complete week on one complete system upgrade to a house.

I only use the highest quality materials and comply with all NEC and local codes.

The trouble with South Carolina is that there is no need to be licensed for any contracting job which costs under $1200 in materials and labor.

Anyone can go out there and call themself a professional saelite TV installer. The poor quality of jobs here really show it.
Licenses are frequently unenforced UNTIL a major mishap goes to court and trial. THEN it gets looked into, which is WAY too late.

First, state labor departments need to audit EVERY SINGLE ONE of their state's cable and DBS installation outfits. If they treat them as employees for command & control but as contractors for taxation and benefits, then they are legally EMPLOYEES and NOT contractors which makes the 1099 instead of a W-2 tax evasion in the eyes of the IRS. Oops.


Never mind workers' comp fund issues.


Second, those that pass muster should show a principal being properly licensed in such a way that the employees are covered or in possession of the appropriate apprentice licenses and the contractors they do business with also properly licensed.

These two steps would eliminate probably better than 85% of all installers in both cable and DBS instantly and although it would eliminate SOME good installers and leave SOME bad installers, it would force the bad ones out largely and the good ones could become compliant and licensed.
The reality is that a lot of sates do not have the funds to enforce what is legally termed, "de minimus" cases.

The non-licensure of small entities has its history in the Depression and "Hobos" or farm labor. Hobo is derived from the term, "Hoe Boy", or a migrant ininerant worker, who during the Depression worked for food and board.

The strong farm lobby in many states do not want the leginimate registration of "illegal aliens," on account that they would have to pay benefits and workman's compensation.

State gudgets already have large shortfalls and politics do not allow taxes to be raised to fund more state employee positions. A friend of mine once wanted to establish a temporary employment service consisting of legal itinerant farm laborers. He was emphatically told by the state employment commission that they would not approve it, because they did not have the resources to implement it on the state's behalf. He was also told that no farmers would pay for the higher wages of his labor pool.

An IRS agent friend of mine tells me that the IRS knows that the underground economy exists, but they do not have the manpower to police the large number of "small potatoes" underground operators. They are not willing to spend hours and hours of an agents work to investigate cases and to bring them to tax court to collect an "iffy" possibility of collecting serveral hundred dollars in taxes and fines, which will likely be mitigated to 30 or even 10% of the original fine, should the case even go to court.

Big business reaps the benefits of low wages to keep "illegal aliens" illegal. Consumers reap the benefit of low prices. Political parties reap the benefits of votes from individual and interest groups. Big business lobbies pressure politicians.

It is all connected politically.
The free installs and gear and basicly free everything is the fault of cable for running adds about how much it costs to have a sat system installed and equally the fault of sat providers for not getting a back bone and firing back at them for the fee's that they charge. Still sub cons and dealers have in many respects cut theyre own throats through shoddy work practices, poorly trained employee's, highly overpriced fee's ranging from $1,000 up to $2,000 for systems that had msrp's of $300, and hit or miss support for existing customers. Certifications aside what little policing of the sub cons and the dealers is conducted by the actual providers and is done on a small scale while it should be handled by either an independant company or federal department.
Free systems, free installs, free service, free this, free that has people expecting to get service for little or nothing with everything that is promoted. How much do you think you are going to get for a customer that paid $200-500+ for their system (depending on when it was connected, number and type of receivers, etc) vs. the ones that paid little or nothing? Those that paid little or nothing would probably be the ones that would not want to pay anything because they see less value/investment in the hardware that they have.

Also you are expected to do more for less in many cases such as the dual tuner receiver installs, SuperDishes, etc. There are limits to how much a company an afford to install and how much an installer is expected to do for an x amount of dollars. Sometimes I think those limits are and continuing to be tested.
A lot of the prblem lays in the high volume low pay scenario mentioned above.

Installer X is a solid tech, he used to get paid close to $150for a 1 box, now, he gets $50 for the same 1 box install.

To make up for that, he tries to do MORE installs in a day, cutting corners and doing what he thinks he has to do to make the same money he made a year and half ago.

Currently the major house I work for pays $77 for a 3banger basic install.

I got out of that and now do strictly HD with OAs. A single HD with a OA, relocate and a swap pays $77.50. All equipment covered.

Under the circumstances its a helluva lot easier to do it right on the 1 box HD/OA upgrade than it is to bust out the 3 banger for the same price.

High Volume Low Pay/Cost translates into techs trying to do more to make what they used to make, that in turn leads to short cuts and shoddy installs.
I agree SkyOnion, they have to do two or three times the installs to make the same amount as they did in the past. In addition to that each install is harder in some markets due to the SuperDish and/or DirecTv oval dish for the local channels. Even if the pay was the same now in the SuperDish markets as it was in the past the installers cannot install as many as they did before due to the more complex installation of a SuperDish as it takes longer to get installed.
With a dual meter and the dishes set correctly for skew and altitude, setting up multiple LNB dishes isn't hard and doesn't take long. Five minutes ASIDE FROM assembly time for the dish and mounting of the mast at most. It seems the quickest part for me.

What is taking forever is the running of all new cable, two lines for dual tuners plus a third for the backfeed, running an NEC compliant ground, etc., and with more and more houses having all areas finished, finding routing for cabling that the customers will accept since so many won't allow housewraps. "Shouldn't this work wirelessly?"

"Uh, NO!"

Sales people are trained to LIE to the customers and promise them anything. I have literally had customer service in both satellite and cable tell customers they didn't need to be home for the scheduled appointment as the customer could just leave their house unlocked and we could do the install without them there.

I've had customer service claim that we could make all tuners from all boxes appear on all televisions in the house simultaneously for no extra money. Yeah, I'm going to eat the over one thousand dollars of cost for the agile modulators and passive combiners not to mention the IR-over-coax units back to a central spot.

I've had customer service tell customers that we can install larger dishes to get better signal if there are trees in the way. We could, IF we had them in stock, and IF we could charge you for them, and IF that would be good practice. No line of sight means just that.

Then you have customers who after you've just dragged six RG-6 quadshield lines and two #10 ground lines to the top of their third story roof and are trying to connect up to the LNBs, will pull on the bundle of cables and nearly kill you.

Or those customers who decide to visit their strange affectations on you such as going nude, asking you to babysit their children, offer you cocaine, or what you think of G-d.

And sales and management just tell you to get it done no matter what it takes. As if their agreement to get everything done no matter what is binding on a subcontractor who is SBCA certified and going for his state license. No line of sight or no place to ground is pretty self-explanatory. Their assinine desire to make 40-50% of what the job source is paying out does not translate to an incumbency on me to hack the install.

The word "union" is going through my head more and more these days...
Funny you should say the Union word, I've been thinking about it a lot of late as well.

I won't name the house I work for but it is one of the largest in the nation. All in all they are probably one of the better houses to work for but the very attitude you mentioned above is prevalent throughout. Get it done at all costs no matter what you have to do. We got a new manager not too awful long ago and it's actually getting better. He understands WTF No line of sigh and no suitable ground actually means.

The bigger problem I'm having is the customer. I do my utmost for a high quality no shortcuts install, routinely take 45mins to 1.5 hours on customer education but no matter what I do at5 least one customer per day has some problem they can't surmount. It runs the gamut from not understanding that they HAVE to be on this or that input to see the feed all the way to those that assume one receiver can send signal to every TV in the house, and that I should do that equipment provided for free.

I laughed when I read what Wolf said above,:
"I've had customer service claim that we could make all tuners from all boxes appear on all televisions in the house simultaneously for no extra money. Yeah, I'm going to eat the over one thousand dollars of cost for the agile modulators and passive combiners not to mention the IR-over-coax units back to a central spot."

I actually had that happen two weeks ago.

I had a customer yesterday tell me that:
"The guy I talked to from D* said you wire my other three rooms in case I want to move my receiver..."

I said sure, $75 per room for convenience outlets.

"No, he said you'd do that for free."

I'm sick of that kind of crap. They'll tell a customer anything to make the sale and in the end it bites the rest of us in the arse.

Just like when we launched OTAs in my market area. They were guaranteeing customers would receive all the channels available from the OTA Broadcasters, never mind the fact that they only supply us with directional antennas with 30degree reception windows, and never considering topography or interference.

Some days ain’t worth it.
Installers are expected in many cases to give you extra cable for free, install an additional room for free, wallfishes for free, they just assume that everything is included in the installation. I always tell people that they get free BASIC installation and there is a chance that there could be an extra charge.

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