Interview – Brick by brick16 June 2009
The sheer quantity and diversity of modern AV technology can sometimes be intimidating enough for professionals. In recognition of this, UK custom installer Thinking Bricks says that it seeks to address the exact demands of any given project and provide a complementary solution that does not threaten to overwhelm the end user with unnecessary functionality. David Davies reports.
As at the time of its founding nearly five years ago, the company continues to be driven by its two directors, Matt Dodd and Ian Trudgeon (pictured). While Dodd is Thinking Bricks’ in-house IT expert with extensive experience of wireless networking and distributed audio and video, Trudgeon is customers’ continual point of contact – from initial consultation to final fine-tuning.
We spoke to Trudgeon about the origins of Thinking Bricks, the challenges now facing the CI sector, and "the need to keep a very sharp pencil behind your ear".
Q: How did you get started in the custom installation business?
A: I started from a corporate background and had about 18 years in the pharmaceutical industry in the UK, working in a variety of roles including sales and marketing. Feeling down-at-heel with the corporate world one evening, I decided to google ‘architecture + gadgets’, and out of that search came the smart home industry and CEDIA. Through a long-time friendship between my wife and Matt’s, I also knew that Matt was a bit unhappy with his work. Over a few beers one night we talked it through and decided to go to CEDIA Expo 2004 as a potential business unit. I did all of the designer track, Matt did the installer track, and from that we decided to go ahead and start our own company. By January 2005, we had left our respective corporate jobs and the business was up-and-running.
Q: In what ways do you think that the services offered by Thinking Bricks are distinctive?
A: There are basically two key aspects to our business. The first is talking plain English to people about technology. We are very plain-speaking and we try to demystify some of the things that go on. The other aspect is customer service. If we feel that a customer is disappointed with an install, we feel that disappointment as well and we do everything that we possibly can to put it right. Unfortunately, I know that that is not always the case with all CI companies.
Q: What measures have you put in place to monitor the changing demands of CI customers?
A: A central part of how we do that is through an extensive customer relationship database which includes a wide variety of customers, such as architects, interior designers, M&E consultants, building contractors, electrical contractors, existing customers and property developers. A great deal of my time is spent contacting these people and finding out what they are into, what jobs we might possibly get from them, and what their attitudes are to the kind of work that we do. In addition, we always go to CEDIA, keep up with the various newsletters and information sources, and have very good relationships with distributors.
Q: What impact is the economic downturn having on your area of the business?
A: I think it is making our customers more cautious. We are no longer sending out a quote and receiving the answer ‘yes, when can you start?’. Instead, we are getting answers like ‘that is a bit more expensive than I thought. How can we reduce the cost or is there another option that you can show me?’. There is an enormous amount of to-ing and fro-ing, and this is an area in which the customer service side is really paying off for us. There is also less work out there and more competition for each job, although I think this is consistent with every single industry. You need to keep a very sharp pencil behind your ear!
Q: What does the future hold for Thinking Bricks?
A: The core aspects of our company – the plain English side of things and the commitment to customer service – will never change, but I think we are quite interested in looking at all elements of where people might use Thinking Bricks. Once we have got through this year, we would like to look at the possibility of setting up specialist divisions for home cinema, property developers and boardroom/media room presentation. It would be great to have these diverse divisions within the company so that we are best able to keep one group of customers going if another group doesn’t end up bringing in as much business as expected.