Creativity and guts led to the creation of a first-of-its-kind electronics experience center in Chicago, Ill. At least that’s how Ken Walker explained how his company, Artisan Electronics Group (AEG), became a trailblazer in the AV industry.

In July 2017, AEG opened a 1,105-square-foot showroom on the 14th floor of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart—the largest commercial building in the United States. The 4.2-million-square-foot facility spans two city blocks. An estimated 10,000 people work in the building and more than 25,000 pass through its doors daily, making it a city unto itself.

The Mart has long been a design center for both trade and consumer shoppers, boasting the finest brands in every category of the luxury residential home market. Yet, an AV showroom did not exist in the Mart until AEG came along. Opening the 14th floor showroom took years of patience and plenty of planning, but Walker had a vision that kept him going.

Work in Progress.

“Upon opening the doors, I knew in an instant that this was where the future of our business and my dreams were going to play out,” he said. “The opportunity and challenge in front of us, to build the most sophisticated, beautiful, creative, and original AV showroom in the country, if not the world, was a heady task to say the least.”

Walker knew that in creating a showroom, he needed to showcase more than the latest in AV equipment. “We wanted to create a space that would have a true residential feel to it, to the largest scale that we could believably recreate,” he said.

“For AEG at the Mart, our 12-seat theater would be the centerpiece of the showroom. It would need to be beautiful to look at with the lights on and mind-boggling in performance with the lights off.”

The showroom originally featured a Draper 120” motorized acoustically-transparent screen, but now displays a Profile+ fixed frame screen with TecVision XH900X ALR viewing surface.

Open for business!

“Because we no longer have a specific reason to show a front projection image on the wall, we think the time has come to install a permanent-fixed screen on the front wall. We believe the best screen choice for this application is the Draper Profile+ screen in the borderless configuration,” he said. “The subtlety of using a grey screen surface on a grey wall will be a fabulously subliminal approach to continuing our ‘where performance meets aesthetics’ mantra. For as stunning as our theater is, we know that it will be even better if we use an ISF-certified 4K screen. If that screen can give us the ability to improve an already spectacular demonstration, we are fully confident that we will secure more top-end theater projects, every one of which will include a best-in-class Draper screen.”

Developing the showroom took time and risk, and the payoff has been better than Walker expected.

“Short of a family wedding, our grand opening was as meaningful and joyous an event in our lives as any could be, and we were so grateful to receive the show of support that we did for this momentous occasion.” He continued, “We want people to be coming to us for our reputation as theater builders and we are beginning to see that happen with increasing regularity.”

“There has been nothing that has been easy about becoming the first ever electronics showroom in the Merchandise Mart, but as the saying goes, ‘If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.’”

You can download Walker’s detailed story of his “March to the Mart: A True David vs. Goliath Story About Entrepreneurial Creativity and Guts,” by clicking on one of the links below.

EPub version-The March to the Mart

PDF version-The March to the Mart