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Interview: The happiness quotient

David Davies 30 August 2011
Interview: The happiness quotient

Recipient of the 2011 Crestron International Residential Integration award for Best Integrated Home System, Kensington Home Technology emphasises the ‘custom’ aspect of CI and says that customers value its resistance to over-specification. David Davies caught up with MD/
co-founder Malcolm Stewart (pictured) and discovered that business is ‘booming’ in its core target market of high-end London properties.

What was the starting point for Kensington Home Technology?

I studied chartered surveying but interrupted that to go into the army for a few years. Subsequent to that, I was wooed into construction, but ultimately realised that specialising was the only way to make money. Around 2001/2002, I started to notice that there was a void in the market for [more affordable CI installations]. I kept coming across people who were being quoted hundreds of thousands of pounds for full control systems, and they obviously didn’t want to spend anything like that much. So with two friends, I started doing jobs in the area – initially as a bit of a hobby. Then, in 2005, we progressed to setting up Kensington Home Technology.

How quickly did the company establish its own niche?

Five, six years ago, a lot of AV companies were only interested in whole house control jobs; not many were prepared to do the smaller jobs properly. Our work is still very diverse: the projects can vary in value from £15,000 all the way up to £450,000, with all sorts of stuff in-between.

Whatever the project, we don’t go into it with an agenda. We sell the customers what they want rather than what we want to sell them. Basically, we just want happy customers.

How concerned are you by current talk of a possible ‘double-dip’ recession?

Our properties are mostly in central London, all high-/top-end, and that segment is absolutely booming. If there is another recession, I think that we will be fine as the top London space is literally getting cheaper by the day. We only have to close another couple of jobs and we will have hit break-even for next year, so all in all, we’re pretty happy.

Any new customer requirements emerging lately?

In the wake of the riots, we have had four people approach us about installing security doors just in the last week. I think that those events took everyone by surprise – from the government on down.

Apple iPad control is another popular request, but above all people tend to look us in the eye and say ‘you are going to give us a reliable system, aren’t you?’ That is always the top priority.

With the rise of cheaper solutions, do you think that the more high-end integrations – such as those enabled by Crestron systems – will begin to decline in popularity?

I suspect that Crestron might be selling fewer controllers in the future, but the back-end of Crestron – the racks, basically – is becoming an even more desirable product. I think it’s about the only decent platform for remote access; it is seamless. Launching the Crestron Prodigy system was a good move – it’s competitively-priced and very cool.

CI is increasingly competitive. What features distinguish the Kensington Home Technology offer?

I was actually asked this question about a year ago, which prompted me to conduct a survey with past customers and interior designers that we have worked with. The main message that came back is that we don’t over-specify. We are custom installers, after all. We are supposed to come up with a solution that’s right for the customer.

It’s also clear that we have a great team. We’re still a small company, there is no hierarchy, and everyone likes working together. Every month we’ll go go-karting and have a curry… Work hard, play hard [is basically the approach], and it seems to work well for us.

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