Moving customers: Tom Lipiec upholds service at MiT
“We all pitch in,” enthuses Tom Lipiec, VP of sales and customer service at Moving Image Technologies. “Everybody pitches in and everybody covers everybody. We are all part of sales and operations, manufacturing. We are all part of every facet of the company.”
The fact that the company partners and officers wear many different hats is why MiT is so successful, he believes. “All of the owners have an entrepreneurial spirit, and because of that spirit we would’ve been drawn to doing this company like a magnet, whether we would have wanted to or not. This is who we are and this is what we do.”
While Lipiec is primarily responsible for sales, he also does advertising and marketing, in addition to wearing the all-important customer-service hat. He also covers overall building security and various infrastructure responsibilities.
“When you call our main phone line at MiT, you always get a person.” Lipiec asserts. “The only time you will get a recording or electronic prompt is when all 12 to 15 of the lines that are going into our building are busy. Otherwise it might be the receptionist who answers, someone in sales or customer service, any one of the partners and even the CEO. You never know who you are actually going to get when that phone is picked up. This is pretty much a microcosm of how we run the whole company. The overlapping philosophy of our duties works very, very well and keeps everybody in tune with how things are going, because you are part of every phase of the operation.”
Other than that, he laughs, “lots of strategic planning, lots of drinking, lots of spirited debates, lots of having fun, lots of hard work and tons and tons of laughing” are part of the recipe for MiT’s success. “Working with this group of people is just great,” Lipiec says, giving credit to the other co-owners. “Although I am not one of the original owners, I started right around the genesis of this company being real. I contacted them on their first day of business, in fact. I knew these people and what they were capable of. I saw the energy in their eyes and heard it in their words and I just knew I wanted to be a part of that,” he recalls.
Knowing one another so well permeates all decision-making and communication within the group. “When we get into discussions about new products or directions for the company, we all have ideas. And we all throw them out there, nobody feels timid about it. As a matter of fact, we really promote that everybody puts their idea on the flagpole and raise it up.” Over the years, Lipiec has found “that the good ideas tend to support themselves.” Before everybody agrees to the “Okay, let’s do it,” the process involves “everybody else immediately starting to knock down the idea. Our debates get very spirited,” he admits. “Whatever the idea is, it immediately faces some very strong criticism. If it is a good idea, it will survive. And one by one, the partners and officers will join in and support that good idea.”
Conversely, “if it is a bad idea, it really starts to expose itself as such and we take a pass at it. While this is done with a lot of vigor and emotion—people really get involved in making these decisions—it is a good way to be vetting these ideas,” he believes. “Everybody feels comfortable about offering good ideas, bad ideas and everything in between. MiT is a close-knit family and we have no hesitation to discuss our ideas openly.”
MiT’s customers are very much part of the process as well. “All of our products come from them,” Lipiec elaborates. “Some directly, when they have an idea for us; others indirectly, when we suggest something to them and they provide us with their feedback. One way or the other, it is part of us constantly communicating with our customer base.”
At other times, he continues, the MiT sales and engineering groups “put two and two together when customers tell us about a problem that they are experiencing. We realize, hey, that is something that needs a solution and we’ve got to make it.” Usually after it is all done, he chuckles, “everybody goes, ‘Wow, where has this been? I need that.’ MiT is a manufacturer of cinema technology and we take this responsibility very seriously.”
While coming up with its own products that provide practical solutions, MiT also is a full-line dealer and reseller. “We are a hybrid-type company,” Lipiec confirms about technology sales and FF&E (Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment) provided by Rydt Entertainment Systems. “I work closely with Jerry Van de Rydt on a daily basis. So much so that we call it the Tom & Jerry Show. Or maybe it’s the Jerry & Tom Show,” he corrects himself with a laugh. “We sell everything anybody needs to build up a theatre from concept all the way through to selling popcorn and everything in between. If you want to show movies in a multiplex or in a park or at the drive-in, we’ve got you covered too. If you want to serve food and alcohol in a cinema, we can help you make it a reality.” The customers’ ideas “are usually well-thought-out, but they need someone to help them convert their ideas from concept to a completed cinema within the constraints of a budget,” he observes. “This is what we do. We are a one-stop-shop!”
“In addition to buying all these boxes of equipment, they will need to have it all installed.” Lipiec notes, touching on another aspect of Moving iMage Technologies. “We provide a full package that includes the installation and the service that follows. Once you have it put together…you’ve got to keep it running. We offer warranty on all our products whether we resell or manufacture them. And on top of that we offer extended warranties and, in general, we do everything we can to help people stay onscreen.” In other words, “Our goal is the same as the cinema exhibitor, which is basically, always being up and showing movies. If we get a call from a down theatre,” he promises, “we shift into a very high gear to get whoever is having a problem right back onscreen. For us, that’s paramount. Just as the exhibitors feel, of course.”
While “being located on the West Coast sure does help us quite a bit” in getting parts shipped late in the day for the East Coast and Central markets, MiT also “has a network of independent installers and service technicians scattered around the entire country and the world. They are where our customers are, and they get them ‘up’ and back to showing movies right away. Of course, oftentimes things can be resolved by walking someone through a simple reboot, let’s say, over the phone. And our NOC system takes care of many of these issues on a daily basis. There are several different ways that we can help the customer out.” He adds that the prerequisite is deploying “good, reliable equipment that is set up correctly, of course.”
What happens when all that equipment has been installed, when everything has been converted and the d-cinema rollout is finished? Are manufacturers, dealers and installers just going to shut down? “No, we are not going to shut down,” Lipiec laughs at our intentionally provocative suggestion. “There is always a move for higher quality, there is always a move for keeping up with technology,” he asserts. So what is going to be that next big thing? “Obviously, there is multi-channel sound that is object-based…to improve the audio,” he responds. “There are technologies for new seating options, enhanced 4D experiences, and lasers are coming down the pipe for projection. So it is really hard to say where the next big thing is going to be. One thing that is for sure is that MiT will be there.” Everything he just mentioned, “MiT is already working on,” Lipiec confirms. “We are involved in many of those future cinema technologies right now. We are researching what is way off in the future and we are selling what’s right on the cutting edge today.”
“There is a whole new philosophy,” he notes, recalling a recent conversation about low-frequency transducers and other seating-related technologies. (For our recent overview of enhanced “4D” offerings, click here). “I think it can be done in such a way where it is artistically complementary to the audio system.” Lipiec expects “a gradual migration away from just passive seating to some form that enhances the audio and the visual experience. There are mild approaches and, of course, more active methods that actually jolt people around and add wind and water in their faces,” he contends. “That is an entirely different way to approach the theatrical experience.” There is a place for that too, he feels, and it will be another option to enjoy the movie just like seeing it in a dine-in or large-format auditorium represent. “I think a type of holodeck remains the Holy Grail for cinema way off into the future. And I do believe that studios, exhibitors and manufacturers will move towards that direction with everything that enhances the experience and makes it more realistic. Whether we will ever get there and how, that remains to be determined,” he opines. “I see it as a journey. We’re going to get there sometime, maybe long after we’re gone. One of these days, entertainment is going to be so much more advanced. All of the technology is headed in that direction, one way or the other.”
With a name like Moving iMage Technologies, the company seems to be heading in the same direction too. “This is the type of people who we are,” Lipiec concurs. “We want to make things happen. And do it in a big way. We dream big and then make it happen… Life is good and the future is bright and we are looking forward to another ten great years at MiT!”
Taking care of business: Close-up on Tom Lipiec
“My original desk was a xenon lamp box. We were going to be a manufacturer and we did not even have a facility to do so. It was pretty crazy and here we are ten years later, doing quite well. It is a good feeling to share with many good people.”
Tom Lipiec has nearly 34 years of professional experience in the cinema industry, beginning at Presidio Theatres, Act III and Luxury Theaters. Presidio built and owned his favorite theatre, the original Arbor Cinema Four in Austin, Texas. After moving into engineering positions at Lucasfilm/THX, he became director of the post-production division of THX Ltd., where he collaborated with Skywalker Sound and ILM, among others. These specific technical efforts gained him two credits for Star Wars: Episode I and Episode II (for the Digital Cinema and DVD versions).
His favorite films are all the Star Wars movies and Schindler’s List, along with everything from Monty Python. It was “the movies” in general that attracted him to the cinema business in the first place, he assures. “We know our customers are fun people and we are working in a fun industry. Our parties and get-togethers are just an extension of wanting to hang out with our friends in the industry. Hey! Our company has its own theme song. I play ‘Beer for My Horses’ by Toby Keith and Willie Nelson at every one of our parties. You gotta face it, we work in a fun and pretty cool industry."