In recent years, many audio and video manufacturers in the consumer, recording, MI, or just about any space began to show more than a little interest in the market that seemed like it just wouldn't quit: commercial installation. Today it looks like they made the right guess. As for the AV integrators themselves, companies with flagging divisions in rental and residential markets are continually struck by the resilience of their installation business.
"Generally, in terms of business, we are overwhelmed," commented Brock McGinnis, sales manager at Westbury National Show Systems in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. "We're very, very busy, both in terms of project execution and all the opportunities that we have. My desk is littered with proposals and bids in progress."
McGinnis noted one caveat to this success, stating that the Canadian economy has taken nowhere near the hit experienced by its U.S. counterpart. More specifically, Westbury's focus on the relatively steady small-to-medium-sized enterprise sector has protected the company from the crunch experienced by those servicing larger corporations or projects dependent on government spending.
"The banking and financial industry has never been a huge part of our business," McGinnis elaborated. The trouble in that sector "really hasn't affected us, and we're at full production. We've added to our programming department, installation department, and sales department this quarter. In fact, I added to our sales department simply to have the capacity to respond to the opportunities that we have."
That's a lot of good news coming from one company in a down economy, and McGinnis was quick to modestly point out that Westbury's rental business is down. "But the systems division is doing really well, and we're starting to acquire business now for fourth quarter of 2009 and first and second quarter of 2010."
Those who are wondering about the backlog vs. pipeline mix take note: the future isn't looking so bad. Often when integrators report that they're busy right now, many are prone to grumble about backlog and projects conceived, budgeted, and financed long before the dire circumstances hit our economy. But McGinnis reports that "there are other projects on the boards now that have neither been postponed, nor cancelled."
Getting into specifics, McGinnis added the gaming industry to his list of healthy clients. Additionally, in his region, "sports and entertainment verticals still have a lot going on. The worship vertical is not nearly as large in Canada as it is south of the Mason-Dixon line, but there are still a lot of large church builds going on."
One relatively new development in the worship market is the addition of web streaming capabilities to AV systems, even in traditional churches which have not adopted contemporary music or video screens into their services. McGinnis provided an example, "We have one traditional Baptist church that's in the middle of spending more than $200,000 to do a streaming web ministry." The church is opting for high-quality camera equipment and digital audio to expand its presence online.
"The technology continues to push clients into using our services," McGinnis stated. "Whether it's a sports, gaming, worship, or corporate client, they need technology in order to do what they do. Our discipline in many cases is not a want, it's a need. As all of their markets shrink with recessionary pressures, they're all worried about becoming more competitive. What we're hearing over and over again is, 'We need to be the best that we can be, and to be the best, we need better technology.'"
In the SME area, many Westbury clients are skipping the projector setup and opting for 65-inch flat panel displays in their boardroom. "They feel that it presents them to their customers better," McGinnis said.
Westbury is not just riding a recent wave of success. The firm has grown at an average rate of more than 20 percent over the last 10 years. Slow and steady organic growth has prevented the booms and busts that can be triggered by a single mega client in a given year. Looking ahead, McGininnis estimated, "We expect to hit another 20 percent increase this year, and we are not concerned about next year at all now."
According to McGinnis, who would probably find that most integrators agree with him, the type of business most affected by the present economic crisis is bulk buys of commodity products. "We're glad that we have taken the approach that we have," he concluded. "It's about offering expertise and service, and being valued for it. We're selling more and more service--we're leading with it. We do contract maintenance at a reasonable price, and our clients appreciate that."