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Interview: Reaching for the stars

David Davies 14 March 2011
Interview: Reaching for the stars

Five years ago when Sphere Custom was founded, South Africa’s custom installation sector was still in its relative infancy. In 2011, the market is more advanced and Sphere Custom – along with its ‘sister’ operation Artcoustic SA – has achieved a considerable footing in residential CI. However, as the owner of Sphere Custom and Artcoustic SA, Christiaan Beukes (pictured), tells David Davies, a host of major ongoing projects and a possible European venture suggest that the best is yet still to come.

When was Sphere Custom/Artcoustic SA founded and how quickly did it find a specific direction in the CI sector?

Sphere Custom was established in 2006 as a small-scale installation outfit. Upon returning to South Africa after working in the UK custom market for a number of years, I realised that there was a massive gap in the market. Not only were people getting confused into purchasing from mass market stores (and some still are!), there was a specific need for someone to guide them into finding the products which provided a suitable solution. When I started out our type of work – integrating and automating electronics, lighting and AV into homes –was relatively unknown. It was definitely a niche market in South Africa compared to the EU, UK or US, but with perseverance and a growing number of staff, we grew the company and slowly found a footing in the residential CI market.

To what extent is there an ongoing collaboration with Denmark-based audio brand Artcoustic? How does this feed into Sphere Custom’s CI business?

Artcoustic SA came along as a second opportunity. While we found that many clients were looking for a knowledgeable hand to help guide them into the correct purchases, time and time again we found ourselves cornered because products didn’t complement lifestyles or decor – and when they did they were severely compromised. Artcoustic SA came into being as a specialist distribution channel for products based around cutting edge technology and high build quality, but with decor-friendly characteristics and a considerable ‘wife acceptance factor’. We are now the agency for Artcoustic loudspeakers in South and southern Africa, hence Artcoustic SA.

Sphere Custom started purely as an installation company dealing with individually-tailored solutions to the residential market, but as Sphere grew I realised my passion lay with the Artcoustic side of the business. I started concentrating more on building a dealer base with whom I could grow the Artcoustic brand. In addition, we now distribute a number of other products from innovative companies such as Screen Excellence, Cineversum and Audio Design Associates (ADA).

What is the average value of your projects in 2011? What types of projects constitute the bulk of your activity in the CI sector?

The average value of a project runs roughly around the R 250000-00 mark (EUR 25K), but we are regularly involved, along with our dealer base, in more than just the physical project. This means that we can be drawn in to assist with decor, design and layout, as well as the colour schemes, fabrics and cabinetry.

In what ways have customers’ expectations of a residential audio system changed over the last few years?

Interestingly enough, it’s easy to sell a product and it’s also easy to distribute a product, but putting the two together into a comprehensive solution which meets all sorts of criteria for budget, look, capacity, WAF, etc, seems to be the hard part.

What we’ve found is that clients don’t just want a big sound system or a good hi-fi; they want a complete, practical, performance-based solution which fits in with their ideas, regardless of the actual product used. This is more than what the usual installer can sometimes offer.

Ultimately, this is what Sphere Custom has come to focus on. We’ve moved away from the physical installation market and more into the design- and consultancy-based solutions area, which finds us working extensively in conjunction with the dealer base which Artcoustic SA has built up.

What is the geographical reach of your projects?

We work across South Africa and are happy to assist our dealers and end-clients in any parts of South and Southern Africa. The majority of work come from the hubs of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, but we do also get the odd phone call from the middle of absolutely nowhere to go and consult on some of the most interesting jobs. Also, we’re certainly not opposed to taking on projects further afield on a global scale; why stop at the African borders? In fact, we are in discussions about a satellite Sphere office either in the UK or in Germany.

What is the one development above all others in CI technology that you will be keeping a keen eye on this year?

Streaming and internet-based AV systems. Spotify, Hulu, Netflix, etc, are all ‘cloud’-based services for which the user only requires a broadband connection. While super-fast broadband is still an issue in South Africa, this will soon change and we’ll see more of these ‘content on demand’ services coming into play. This is where it’s headed: to watch and listen to whatever we want, where we want and how we want.

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