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Interview: Smarter spending

David Davies 5 January 2011
Interview: Smarter spending

Founded in 1988 by Guy Singleton (pictured), UK CI business Imagine This has carved out an enviable reputation for the quality of its engineering solutions. Ahead of a “very busy”-looking 2011, Singleton spoke to David Davies about his own route into the CI sector and the changing expectations of high-value project customers.

How did you come to be working in CI, and what was the starting point for Imagine This?

I came into the business through engineering, rather than through having a shop-front or selling hi-fi [as some others have done]. I was an electrical engineer by trade and began to move into the CI sector 13 or 14 years ago when I went to work for Sound Ideas. I started to do Lutron and Crestron installs, and generally evolved my skills in the CI area. Subsequently, I set up  Imagine This in 1998, have consulted for Crestron and other manufacturers, and undertaken projects ranging in cost and geographical location.

With Imagine This, did you know from an early stage what the focus of the company was going to be?

I think we always wanted to do the full systems integration for bigger projects. We’re not really geared up for smaller projects; we never had 30 guys to go out and hang plasmas, for example. We are very careful about each project that we take on and, in each case, want to be sure that we can dedicate the necessary time and resources. All of us are from an engineering background, so we regard the dressing of the racks and the infrastructure and cabling to be as important as the Blu-ray player we sell. We’re not so [focused] on the boxes; it’s more about the solution we put in.

Was there one particular project in the first few years where you thought, ‘yes, we’re really getting somewhere now’?

In 2000, we worked on the conversion of a Thai Embassy villa into a residential property. The project involved many different disciplines – heating, lighting, video and audio distribution, etc – and helped to  give us a portfolio with great project  images and client comments. All of that was important in helping us to secure other large projects.

None of us had a background in sales or marketing, so it was a steep learning curve, and for a long time we didn’t advertise or tell people [in the wider world about our work]. But that project helped us to spread the word.

How many projects do you do on average each year? Any favourite brands?

We are a fairly small team and tend to undertake between 6 and 10 projects per year. I am personally involved in them at every stage. Projects are generally  of a reasonably nice size, mainly Crestron-based, with some Lutron systems. Audio-wise, there is no specific brand that we adhere to greatly.

Have you remained busy during the economic downturn?

About a year or so ago – and probably like most people – I was hoping that everything was going to be okay. I figured that we are a luxury industry – we’re not doctors! – and in the event of a recession that could be the first thing [to suffer]. But hand on heart, the last 12 months have been the busiest we have ever had. We have had plenty of decent-sized projects and are currently working on designs for 2011; it’s shaping up to be a good year for us.

In what ways are customers’ technological expectations changing? Is 3D cropping up more often?

We have designed a number of state-of-the-art 3D screening rooms over the last six months so, yes, we are seeing more requests for 3D. An increasing number of people want to be 3D-ready.

More generally, I think that people are spending money smarter. [There isn’t so much] demand for the very high value media servers as people are searching for more cost-effective solutions like Apple TV. People are realising that there is some value in cloud content and streaming video through Apple TV, rather than having a ‘jukebox’ at home that you rip your DVDs to and [the content] goes ‘round the house. Interest in those sorts of solutions is definitely growing.

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