Edinburgh-based company Hometech Integration has carved out an enviable reputation for its futuristically-minded, environmentally-sensitive installations. Commercial director Fraser Campbell spoke to David Davies about the early days of the firm, the home cinema boom and the continually evolving expectations of CI customers.
How did Hometech Integration get started, and what was the initial focus of the company?
The company was created in 2001 as a collaboration between an established CI individual with a lot of expertise (Calum Stewart), a guy who ran an estate agency (Douglas MacKenzie) and a property developer (Chris Stewart). At that time, [CI technology] was almost exclusively the domain of those individuals who could afford to build and develop their own properties, but the Hometech Integration founders realised that if you put together a unique cabling platform, this kind of technology – TVs in walls, speakers in ceilings, remote access – could futureproof houses and show developers [a further] revenue stream.
So for the first few years, we were focused about 80% on developers and developer clients, and the remaining 20% on traditional CI.
At what point did that begin to change?
The company had grown very quickly, to the point where we opened a second office in England [augmenting the HQ in Edinburgh]. But by 2007 we felt that the bubble might be bursting and that it might not be [the best approach] to be so exclusively ‘in’ with developers. We had generated a lot of word of mouth on the private client side, so we were able to pursue a more equal split between developer and private projects.
Around 2008/2009, the previous 80/20 split in favour of developers was almost completely reversed. We had to shave the business and make some of the hard decisions that you have to do in difficult times. [Circumstances] forced us to streamline and re-examine every part of the business, and I think that we have a stronger company now. Developer interest is also coming back – we have probably had more enquiries from developers during the last three months than at any time in the last few years – and I would say that the current split is about 60/40 in favour of private clients.
Do you have a standard basic project spec?
The way that we have tended to work with developers is that we pre-wire every home for four rooms of multiroom audio and a home cinema system with two on-wall TV screens. Then, beyond that, we might be looking at lighting control, heating control, blinds, remote access, tie-ins for security, etc.
What kind of impact do you expect the iPad to have on the CI market?
I think that it will be a game-changer in the high-end market. Those who have previously been spending 100K, including 15K on touchscreens, will still spend 100K, but they will be able to buy other kit. The iPad is not a perfect interface – for example, there is no great aggregator or control program such as with Philips Pronto – and while some manufacturers have great bespoke products [for the iPad], I have still not seen that killer app. But I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
What about 3D? Is that another ‘game-changer’?
It’s difficult to say. Most people want to buy 3D TVs – if you’re going to spend money on a TV you might as well get the best you can – but have very little interest in actual 3D. The glasses still bug them, for one thing. Also, show me a movie where 3D is critical to the telling of the story. The chances are that you can tell much pretty any story without 3D, with the exception of Avatar, which had almost no story but some amazing 3D effects!
I do think 3D will have an effect on gaming and sports, but I don’t expect it to have the game-changing properties of hi-def.
Finally, how is the order book looking for the next few months?
Very good. The last quarter was really strong for sales, and we have forward orders going out for the rest of the year. The market seems to have woken up over the last three months, so we think that it’s going to be a very positive year.