Previously operations director EMEA, at Peerless-AV, in September 2016 Keith Dutch was promoted to managing director, EMEA, taking over from his brother Gordon, who had overseen the buy-out of his company BBG Distribution by Peerless in 2009. Now into his fifth year as MD, Keith has been at the helm in what is certain to be the most challenging period in the company’s history. He spoke to Installation editor Rob Lane in the midst of the latest lockdown about the challenges ahead.
How was 2020 for Peerless? How did the pandemic directly affect your business and plans, and what did you have to do to adjust?
Despite being a very challenging year in many ways, 2020 was a record growth year for the European business. As part of our Brexit strategy, we have ramped up stock holding in our European warehouse in the Netherlands to mitigate any effects to our mainland Europe regions. As you would expect, we studied the development and consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic closely, following local government guidelines in every region then re-forecasted our sales targets and business strategy as we saw necessary. 2020 was a testing year for everyone, but we remained fully operational throughout with every division of the business really pulling together to ensure year-end profitability and close on a high.
We had a fantastic start to the year with ISE in Amsterdam and, whilst numbers were down on previous years, we had a very positive show with quality time to connect with customers, network and prepare for new partners. We also won two industry awards celebrating the achievements of our sales team during ISE, and hosted our biggest and most successful evening event at ISE yet with over 1,200 guests.
In April we were awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2020 for International Trade, a prestigious Royal accolade acknowledging the hard work and commitment that we have invested to develop our profile not only within the UK, but all over EMEA and globally.
The passing of Melinda Von Horvath, our VP Sales & Marketing for EMEA, was a huge loss and we will continue her legacy and honour her within the business in many ways including internal and external sales awards in her memory.
The wellbeing of our staff and work life balance has always been a priority of the business, but 2020 was a year of adjustment and we were early to react with our measures to help staff work effectively and productively from home, even ahead of the March lockdown. We’ve placed particular emphasis on regular internal communications to ensure all staff working remotely feel well informed, involved and maintain the relationships with colleagues and managers.
How are things looking for 2021 and beyond?
January is looking positive and, again, our European business is growing, and we have some big, healthy projects wins, with many in the pipeline for our LED and outdoor solutions. Another national lockdown in the UK to start the year was disappointing, and we wait to see what impact this will have and whether Europe will be as affected by the latest variant as we are showing here.
We remain cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the rest of 2021 and hope we can start visiting customers and meeting face-to-face in the second half of the year, depending on vaccination roll out and government guidelines.
What pro AV sectors are most important to Peerless, and are there any in particular you’ll be targeting this year?
Digital signage remains our biggest sector and where we are seeing most demand for our LED, outdoor, kiosk solutions – as well as video wall and standard mounts, trolleys and stands. A major trend in digital signage has been the rise of Direct View LED (DvLED) displays, and now Micro LED is the new buzzword. In the corporate space, where collaboration rooms and huddle rooms were once all the rage, the pandemic has forced remote working and video conferencing to the fore. We have certainly seen an increase in demand for VC trolleys and mounts for the latest displays and VC equipment, as well as a rise in requests for desk mounts for 49in curved displays, and we expect this to continue into 2021 as organisations have a mix or office and home-based working.
How’s the residential side of the business going?
Peerless-AV is still active in residential and we maintain our strong links with loyal retail customers. The growth of outdoor living has really seen an upturn, fuelled by lockdown 2020, remote working and the amazing spring/summer weather we were lucky to have. Travel restrictions means that many people concentrated their time and money on home improvement projects and revamping outdoor dining/entertainment areas. Our 86in UltraView UHD Outdoor TV is ideal for this type of residential use, providing all-weather rating and brightness for direct sunlight readability.
What do you see as the key technologies going forward, and how will Peerless be involved?Micro LED is where the big display brands are playing right now, investing and developing and driving the market. As an accessory brand, we plan in partnership with all the major OEMs, as they dictate the market and we work closely with them in development, anticipating demand and ensuring products are of the highest quality to match requirements before launch. Our SEAMLESS dvLED Video Wall Integration Programme will be integral to the execution of these new LED developments.
As we start to see the Micro LED market mature and more 1:1 product stocked in distribution throughout Europe, we clearly have an advantage with our SEAMLESS Connect Series Mounting Systems readily available and stocked on shelf alongside LED brands at our distribution partners.
What product launches have you got coming up?
In 2021 we have several strategic launches within our Emerging Technology division, especially within LED and Outdoor, two key growth areas for our business right now. Our SEAMLESS dvLED Mounting Systems are evolving as we continue to work in close cooperation with all the major LED brands to release dedicated solutions to the market, and as we receive more requests for custom installs this is where our support expertise and in-house specialist project execution comes into force.
Outside of LED and Outdoor, we continue to develop our core range of mounts, trolleys and stands for markets including hospitality, corporate and education, and more information will be announced later this year.
The most recent launches are our new SmartMount Trolley (SR560-HUB2) and the SmartMount Flat Wall Mount (SF640-HUB2), both for use specifically with the 50.5in Microsoft Surface Hub 2S and 2X.