Interview: United we stand22 June 2011
Forged out of a fire and security business, Lewis Building Technology has expanded successfully into multi-room AV entertainment, home cinema, integrating lighting, climate control and other areas. Very much at the cutting edge of the integration market, LBT is already there when it comes to the accelerating trend for IT/AV convergence. “We’ve been there and got the T-shirt!” managing director Justin Rhodes tells David Davies as he reflects on the company’s past, present and future.
What was the starting point for the formation of Lewis Building Technology (LBT) in 2008, and in what ways is its offer distinctive from other companies in the ‘smart home’ sector?
LBT was born out of a successful fire and security business. We were regularly installing integrated systems in luxury homes and buildings. When we were looking to partner with automation and control companies we found much of the sector tended to focus on audio-visual, which is really just a part of a smart home.
We saw an opportunity to offer system integration that included security, lighting and heating controls as well as AV, and so set up initially as a division of the security company, and then as a separate entity.
How does the company’s usual project mix (eg. residential vs corporate, etc) break down as of 2011? And in which specific areas of the residential market are you registering particular growth at this time?
Since we started, we’ve seen almost all of our success in the residential sector. We’re now starting to win a few projects in the commercial sector and by the end of this year, we’re likely to be about 80:20 residential to commercial. Our aim is for revenue to be more like 50:50 but it seems that while commercial customers are keen to explore the possibilities, few are ready to really invest in creating smart buildings.
We have seen a growing demand for lighting control recently, although demand for cinema rooms and multi-room audio remains high.
To what extent are residential customers becoming comfortable with the idea of integrating ‘critical’ systems such as security and fire detection with other home control technology? Anecdotal evidence suggests a certain residual resistance to this idea…
I think here we have an advantage – our customers already recognise our expertise in integrating fire and security systems. The trick is to add control that is relatively straightforward to well-established alarm and detection systems, but not to try and replace or reinvent them.
Our show home has proved to be a great asset in terms of demonstrating how the functionality of something like an intruder alarm can be used to impart information about occupancy to the lighting and heating controls. It also helps clients to understand the potential for introducing certain control measures retrospectively – after all, not everyone is starting out with a new build or complete renovation!
LBT recently partnered with Meridian Audio to launch its first European boutique showroom. What were the principal objectives of this project and how do you assess its performance to this point?
We have been constantly impressed with Meridian systems – both technically and aesthetically. There is a good fit between our two company’s core values and consequently with what we know our customer base expects to buy from us, which is extremely high quality.
I think to an extent the Meridian brand has been a bit of a well-kept secret, but their links with Range Rover and McLaren are getting the name out there. Since we opened the showroom in March, we’ve had a steady stream of existing and new customers through the door. And we have already won several large Meridian whole home installations, which is great!
Across the professional sector, we hear a lot of talk about IT/AV convergence. In practical/logistic terms, what does this mean for a company like LBT?
Very little really – we’ve been there and got the T-shirt! There was a major shift towards IT-based systems in the security industry about seven years ago and we reaped the rewards by embracing the trend early. It’s now very much a given that any significant installation will be specified with full structured data cable. All of the LBT engineering team have a background in IT networking, so it’s second nature for us to think about projects in these terms.
Finally, is there a specific project from the last 12 months that symbolises the development of LBT since formation?
Earlier this year we completed an installation for clients as part of a major renovation of their period home. We provided Meridian systems, Lutron lighting, security and communications linked via touchscreen controls. The clients were so impressed with what we did, they have now commissioned us to install a media centre with HD video conferencing and presentation facilities at offices nearby. For me, this is a strong indicator of our ability to deliver a variety of integrated electronic systems, and provides confidence that whatever we’re tasked to do, we can bring it all together.