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Interview: Sid Stanley eyes a return to the mainstream for Sharp

Sid Stanley, Sharp Visual Solutions Europe general manager, talks to Duncan Proctor about the company’s first ISE offering since Foxconn came on-board, and how the brand is plotting a return to the mainstream.

Can you tell me a bit more about the new products you’re bringing out at ISE and your overall plans/hopes for the show?

As I said to you last time, when the Foxconn investment happened, that would allow us to go on the offensive in terms of range expansion, ISE is the first opportunity to show that expanded range. There’s a new 70in videowall display, which is niche and unique, we’ll launch a new range of Big Pads with optical bonding, which actually look beautiful from a viewing and picture experience. We’re also going to enter the huddle marketplace, so there’s a small 40in Big Pad, which for me is quite exciting, market-making stuff. And finally, we’ll launch two digital signage monitors with a range of software and flexible connectivity, and an entry-level monitor range in the 60in area.

What market opportunities do you think these products will open up for Sharp?

In terms of the product side, there are some mass-market areas like signage, we’re significantly expanding our signage presence with a range of monitors that feature both System on Chip (SoC) integrated software and the new OPS (Open Pluggable Specification) standard – mini OPS. Clearly we think huddle is going to be an emerging and growing application area in line with a lot of the value proposition around collaboration and how engaged and effective meetings are important to organisations. Equally, in luxury retail with a large videowall display area, we think the 70in videowall display would appeal to those customers that just want a brilliant image with minimal bezel interruption and the best quality impact in terms of what they’re showing. So a range of niche stuff, some market-making stuff, and obviously we want to make sure that we’re in the large market areas as well.

What are the main benefits of the new products from the perspective of the system integrator?

I want Sharp to be positively disruptive in the market, I think there’s space for a new strong vendor, we’re not new, but we have a range expansion, which makes us very interesting. We’re always innovating, whether first to market with large form factor displays, we were very early to market with true interactive. I think for the system integration channel, now that we have this investment, it’s time for Sharp to start breaking ground again. Some of it is good, mass market appeal, but in other areas we offer our partners unique opportunities like huddle, like 70in, and even in the signage area we’re offering a range of flexibility in terms of spec and the entry-level screens, which I haven’t seen anywhere else in the market.

How have things at Sharp changed since you started working with Foxconn?

In terms of our market presence, through circumstance rather than planning, we moved from being mainstream to a niche manufacturer because we lacked the investment capabilities to stay with a mainstream portfolio. What people should see at ISE is we’re quickly making that return journey back to mainstream, and I think that’s big news for the market because there’s a sort of status quo to the marketplace, and I think it’s time for someone like Sharp to positively disrupt that and give more choice. But otherwise, we have Foxconn in the company organisation, which means we have more assets, more capability, and they’re looking to move forward with Sharp as quickly as possible.

How long a process will it be to return to the mainstream?

I think we have to be realistic, I think we have to make our impact in terms of range quickly, which we are doing. Its not been long since the investment happened and we’ve already got significant expansion for ISE. But I think it takes a while for the channel to move its mind-set – you have to earn the right in this market with a consistent strategy and strong products and good people, and then the results will come gradually. We’re realistic, we’re determined, but I think the results will come in the mid-term, and actually the range expansion will continue, with other expansions at InfoComm and then ISE next year, so there’s a lot to do and a lot to bring to market, so that can’t happen overnight.

Were you ready with these products as soon as the deal was finalised?

One area we were always investing in was the Big Pad, so the new range that has direct bonding, they were already in the pipeline. The signage expansion, the entry into the huddle space are all new, the entry-level 60-90in monitors are all new. So it’s probably a mix of a roadmap, which was already in the pipeline pre-Foxconn, and then an injection of speed and range as a result of Foxconn coming along.

What impact will it have to be able to utilise Foxconn’s advanced production capabilities?

One of the challenges of having choice is that you need to make the right decisions about where you’re going to invest, and therein lies the responsibility and the challenge to get it right for your business, for your people, and your customers. Some areas were quite straightforward because we’re filling gaps and moving from niche to mainstream, because you need range to be appealing. In addition, we’ve had choices about where to expand in terms of some of the new areas and we’ve had to decide on priorities.

Foxconn brings the efficiencies of the largest electronics manufacturer in the world, whether that’s scaled manufacturing or something as simple as lower cost of materials. But bringing that all together in a range and getting people to work together from different cultures and organisations takes some time to bed down. That has been an interesting time internally, but it’s been less than six months since we officially did the deal, and already we’ll be hitting ISE with something hopefully very interesting.

Which of your established verticals are you expecting the biggest increase in business following these launches?

I want to be in all the verticals. To be at the top-end as a vendor I think you have to have range. Clearly we were already very strong with our Big Pad range in the corporate space so we are significantly strengthening that segment, we’re entering huddle and we’re expanding our mid-range, you’ll see a broader PCAP offering as well. But also in terms of signage, that’s probably the biggest adjustable market out there. We haven’t really been in the signage space, I don’t think that’s a big secret. Entering signage with a comprehensive range from ISE means that we want to have a say in all of the main verticals. We have to earn the right, as I said, but we’re going to have a damn good go!