The desire to achieve something 'tangible' - be it in terms of sales or a completed installation that delights the customer - has been the abiding theme of Bryan Vint's career. Now heading up his own custom install company, Ugot, he spoke to IE Residential about a growing specialism in country house projects and the technologies that are set to revolutionise CI in the years ahead.
Q: How did you come to be working in custom install?
A: I picked up an interest in electronics from my father - he was always fixing TVs and amplifiers! - at a young age, but I actually trained professionally as a graphic designer. Learning how to illustrate on computers brought me into contact with that world, and I subsequently got involved in Mac (1993) and PC (1998) sales. I worked for several years at the IT distributor Computer 2000, and on leaving there in 2006 I decided to start my own business - something I had always wanted to do. Through discussions with family and friends, I investigated the home automation and AV market, and decided that a) there was definitely an opportunity there, and b) it was something that we could probably do quite successfully. Basically, it's been a natural progression over a long period of time.
Q: What is it about the CI sector that particularly appeals to you?
A: Technology always appeals to me, and I like to see something tangible, if that makes sense. When you are on the sales side, the tangible aspect is to see a big number at the end of the balance sheet, but CI is about making people smile or cry - with joy, I might add! - at something you have designed and installed on their behalf. So that was part of it, but so was the challenge of starting and running my own business.
We started in a small-scale way, looking at low-level automation systems and a little bit of audio/video. My brother-in-law became very interested in joining the company, and between the two of us we started looking at CI in a more concentrated way.
Q: What kind of projects do you specialise in now?
A: We seem to be specialising in very bespoke-style properties, be it a cottage in Devon or a country house. In fact, we are working in a 61-room stately home at the moment, which is taking up a lot of our time and involves lighting, AV systems, a home cinema, outside lighting control and more. The cabling has been going on for about 14 months!
Q: If you were to pick a favourite project from the past four years, what would it be?
A: That's a very difficult question, but I would mention a home cinema system installation near to our offices in Chandlers Ford. The project started when a customer approached his local hi-fi shop about his intention to turn a double garage into a home cinema. The store recommended us and, from this initial base, the project grew to encompass control from outside and inside the room, a sophisticated lighting solution, and much more. The customer's view of our work was very glowing and we are actually going back there soon to do some more work.
Q: Can you spot a troublesome client, and what are the warning signs to watch out for?
A: Yes, I can - a mile off! The troublesome client tends to be the one who asks a million questions several times. In the case of a recent customer, he was constantly asking for more information - in large part so that he could find out what to order from eBay or approach other dealers for quotes! That kind of behaviour can be a bit frustrating.
Q: Which technologies do you think will be most significant in the next 2-5 years, and what are your main objectives for Ugot within this timeframe?
A: I think most people would agree that integration and automation will continue to come to the forefront. KNX and KNX-style systems are already part of a lot of our conversations these days. Elsewhere, it's clear that 3D and HD will drive many new technological developments in the CI market.
As far as Ugot is concerned, we want to grow both our financial and customer bases, with a view to becoming one of the largest and most respected installers in the country. We also believe there is scope to explore other areas. Ugot is a very generic name - deliberately so - and we think we can develop the brand further over the next 10 years.
Bryan Vint was talking to David Davies.