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Looking Ahead: Q&A with AV Luminaries

In April 2008, two AV integration giants consummated a pretty significant merger. Audio Visual Innovations and Signal Perfection Ltd. became AVI-SPL. So it was a fitting time to take stock of the AV industry. A virtual roundtable sheds light on a still-growing market.

Credit: Ryan Morris/WPN

In April 2008, two AV integration giants consummated a pretty significant merger. After more than two years of wrangling, Audio Visual Innovations and Signal Perfection Ltd. became AVI-SPL, a company with more than 1,200 employees and 40 offices around the world (see “Anatomy of a Merger”).

This month, with the AV industry's main event kicking off in Las Vegas, we're set to enjoy the fruits of another merger, with InfoComm 08 and NSCA Expo housed under one roof, giving AV professionals unprecedented access to technology and education (see “Where the Pros Are,” page 44).

So it's a fitting time to take stock of the industry—where it is and where it's going. By phone and e-mail, PRO AV assembled a virtual roundtable of experts, asking questions designed to generate a snapshot of the AV integration business at a time when technology is enabling change, the nation's leadership is turning over, and AV systems look more like IT every day.

Our panel includes Marty Schaffel and Chad Gillenwater, leaders of the combined AVI-SPL (formerly the leaders of AVI and SPL, respectively); Chuck Wilson, executive director of NSCA; Randy Lemke, executive director of InfoComm; and Barry Goldin, director of systems integration at Chantilly, Va.–based Audio Video Systems and chairman of InfoComm's System Integration Leadership Council.

ON THE AV BUSINESS

PRO AV: We see studies that seem to indicate that despite terrible economic conditions, the pro AV industry looks healthy. How would you characterize it?

GILLENWATER: Our biggest fear is fear itself. You read the paper and people start to believe that the world is coming to an end. But unless there's a self-fulfilling prophecy going on here, the demand is real, the sales are real.

The amount of work we get every week through this point in the year, given that when you pick up a newspaper you want to slit your wrists, is amazing. We're up substantially this year, and normally this is a slower part of the year. [AV] has become something that a business sees to make it more productive and profitable. And that's attractive in a down market because it's a way of overcoming the challenges of a potential recession.

LEMKE: I hear from design consultants that certain vertical markets, such as Wall Street firms and mortgage banks, are slowing their plans, while other verticals are holding up pretty well. The integrators work with a bit less backlog but they are, depending on location, doing well.

However, there is a cloud of gloom and doom hanging around, which I hear about from our members in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, that the U.S. economy is in jeopardy. If that feeling of doom turns into real economic stress, projects may get pulled offiine and even buildings halted in mid-stream. We are not there yet, and we all hope this is a shallow pullback.

WILSON: Well, the good news is we can't find enough qualified technical workers in this industry to meet current demand, so we don't have to deal with workforce reduction. The bad news is, we can't find enough qualified technical workers in this industry, so if our members get any busier than they currently are, we are in big trouble.



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