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Interview: Questions of control

David Davies 2 March 2011
Interview: Questions of control

Established in 2003, UK-based custom installer Olive AV tackles a wide variety of project types – from relatively straightforward IT fixes to elaborate, whole-house automation endeavours. Company director Simon Williams spoke to David Davies about the evolution of control interfaces and why 2010 was Olive’s best year yet.

How soon after forming Olive AV do you think that the company had a specific identity with regard to the custom installation marketplace?

We had been in the custom installation marketplace for a while and knew what we wanted the company to be before we started. Of course, we didn’t know everything about running a business – in fact, I don’t think you ever do! – but we did know what our intentions were regarding the CI business. Within the space of 12 months, we were able to establish a brand for the company and, within a couple of years, were doing the kind of installs we wanted to be doing.

In terms of the projects we do now, it’s a really broad mix. At the higher end, we currently have three projects on the go that are 500K-plus, but our key marketplace is more in the 100-200K whole house install. It’s difficult to analyse as projects can take several years, but I would say that in any given year we probably have five or six [in the second tier]. Then we also do a lot of smaller stuff – single room solutions and tidying up of customers’ IT set-ups.

We currently have a team of 12, but are always on the lookout for new talent.

In what ways are customers’ expectations of control systems changing? And what impact is the iPad having?

[Across the board] everyone has had to raise their game, and that is no bad thing. We spend a lot of time personalising our control system interfaces; matching them to the interior design and the [varying] technical requirements. It’s definitely not a one size fits all approach; you have got to deliver a unique product.

I wouldn’t say that the iPad has necessarily removed [other] touchpanels from the equation. A lot of people will still want a [high-end] panel for control of a whole house system. But we are finding that people are increasingly preferring smaller controls for day-to-day use, and it could be that the iPad is an inexpensive way of adding more control.

What is Olive AV’s geographical reach?

We do a lot of projects in the South East, and London specifically: Hampstead, Highgate, Chelsea, Westminster. But the amount of work we do outside the UK is increasing, and we are currently doing jobs in Kuwait, Amsterdam and the French Alps.

In terms of overall activity, every year has been better than the one before, and 2010 was our best ever by quite a large margin. We had projects that were sold in 2006-2008 and delivered in 2010, but we have also taken on plenty of new jobs since the [economic] crash and have orders booked for 2011 and 2012. It’s a positive outlook.

Are there any recent projects that particularly stand out in the memory?

The higher-end projects always tend to be unique in one way or another as you are responding to different client requirements and environments. Recent examples include a cinema in a large private residence in Notting Hill which includes speakers flushed into the walls and a number of other nice features. We also created a 3D floorplan that allows the user to ‘touch’ each room and get instant feedback and control for music, lights, etc. They can take an overview of the whole house [from this one control panel] and don’t have to go through a whole load of interfaces. It was quite a challenging project and took about three years from the initial ideas to completion.

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