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Q+A – Alan Kennett, Almoe AV Systems

The commercial manager of the Dubai Media City-based installer urges trade shows to focus on practical solutions that help customers understand the full potential of AV. David Davies reports

The commercial manager of the Dubai Media City-based installer urges trade shows to focus on practical solutions that help customers understand the full potential of AV

How did you come to be working in the professional AV business?
I had been active in a related IT sector for some years and integrating with AV. I was working with a company in Thailand when I got caught by the Bangkok Airport closure of 2008. I was on a two-sector trip back from Europe and got stranded in Dubai. I called a friend of mine who was the MD of a pro-A/V company and ended up staying with him for two weeks whilst the BKK airport was closed. He asked me to come in and advise him how he could improve the sales and business processes, and [by] the end of the forced two-week visit I must have given some good advice as he asked me to stay – which I did.

What do you regard as the highlights of your career prior to joining Almoe?
I have had a varied career in different sectors. One of the highlights would be when I worked for Herman Miller and, along with our dealer MJ Flood in Ireland, we won the Citibank new building [contract]. It was exciting as at the last minute the buying decision changed from Dublin to NY. This meant the dealer sales director and myself had to immediately fly to NY and spend the whole flight hand-colouring-in large floor plans; how the other passengers loved us! But it did the trick: Citibank was impressed with our efforts and it was the largest furniture order of its time in Ireland. The Citibank office overlooked the Statue of Liberty and we signed the deal in a setting straight out of a movie; a real ‘punch in the air moment’, I will never forget.

When did you join Almoe and what is the scope of your responsibilities?
I joined Almoe in early December 2009. My role here is commercial manager, but we are not the largest of companies so this role encompasses many things. I assess all the contracts for Almoe to ensure that we are covering all of the important points and that any detail is being picked up. There is a direct correlation between the contract and the business process, and my role covers this interface, setting out the policy that we will adhere to during the contract term. In addition, I oversee the sales team at Almoe, steering them to projects that would benefit from a professional AV company.

Which areas of the professional installation business are most important for Almoe?
We take a lot of pride in our installations. Getting the right mix of equipment is extremely important, and ensuring that they interface properly and provide the right final effect is key. At Almoe we are continually looking at ways to improve the overall quality of installations and have recently introduced two changes to our installation processes. We have just moved our rack building to a new warehousing unit, allowing us to facilitate a custom assembly line that is already proving its worth. Along with this new facility we have ramped up our service capabilities, bringing in a dedicated engineering services manager. To improve our future services to our clients, we have also introduced a unique number labelling system which will allow us to immediately identify cable endpoints for any of our installations – invaluable in fault-finding.

To what extent have these interests been affected by the economic downturn, and do you now see signs of recovery?
To a large extent, Almoe has been lucky. Just as the downturn came we started work on the enormous new Meydan Racecourse Stadium in Dubai. From an AV perspective this project has grown considerably in scope over the last year, and the vision from the client has made this a very exciting workplace for our team. In the market, though, it has been well-documented that 2009 has been tough for many AV companies, resulting in some casualties along the way. What has been quite interesting is that the opening of Meydan seems to have galvanised a new optimism in the region. This could be coincidence with a slight economic upturn, but everybody here ‘believes’ in Dubai, and to have a focal point of hope for the future is very welcome. It’s a big story and makes good news in the newspaper for a change. In fact, this renewal seems to be working to some extent as our proposal team has a very healthy stream of inbound enquiries right now. That has been missing in the market for some months.

Aside from the ongoing move towards more fully integrated solutions, what other trends do you think will shape the market over the next few years?
One thing I love about AV is how it is evolving. In the past it would have been background music systems that would have been the most important. While this is still a key element, we are now seeing the introduction of visual media that accompanies this. Almoe has just completed the audio system for the Meydan Racecourse Stadium, and as part of that facility an incredible 106m wide LED screen has been installed, giving a real ‘wow’ factor. Almoe controls the software for this and is experimenting with new visual effects. This synergy between sound and vision will definitely develop [further].

What do you think can be done to encourage the further growth of pro-AV install in the UAE?

One of the main problems with selling pro-AV solutions in the UAE is that a lot of the people who make the decisions don’t understand the equipment they are purchasing. This isn’t necessarily their fault: it is a highly specialised area of supply and, in these days of tight economics, companies don’t have the resources to research the value of these installations properly. This is where education comes in: simplifying the structure of a solution and visually showing the benefits such as sound modelling go a long way to making the whole process more understandable. AV consultants do a lot of this, but sadly are often overlooked in the final stages of the decision-making process as commercial pressures come into play. Ultimately, this can lead to disappointment from the client, which then drives down the perceived value of pro-AV. Trade shows should concentrate less on ‘tech gadgets’ and more on practical overall solutions, to improve the understanding of the role AV plays in specific structures, stadiums, auditoria, hotels, malls, etc.

Finally, what does the future hold for you? Any unrealised ambitions?

Right now my focus is to ensure the growth of Almoe; there is still a lot of work to do here. We are about to move offices, at which point we will restructure the internal business processes. New business systems, IT policies, service and maintenance structures all need to be realised in 2010. It’s quite rewarding to improve a business. I think one thing I would like to do ultimately is to be a client for technology. My experience of AV and IT over the last 10 years has given me a good insight into what is good and bad when installing. We all like to create and I would like the chance to do that, bringing in some exciting technologies with simple user interfaces that excite the human operator rather than frustrate. Perhaps I can convince a hotel owner to let me loose on a new build one day, although this would most likely need to be in an economic upswing as I would need a large project budget!