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Going Global

Leading US Manufacturers are Turning Their Attention to the Booming Custom Market in Europe

The rising tide lifts all ships, as the old adage goes. And this year, the European ship is IP-equipped and ready to cruise.

Home electronics installation is nothing new to Europeans; the English, German, Danish, and Italians have been key innovators of hi-fi equipment, and continue to produce world-leading products. From Canton loudspeakers to SIM2 projectors, an undeniable craftsmanship and attention to detail link many European products. But varying voltage standards, and the simple reality of home constructiondry-wall vs. 19th century stonehave enabled the North American custom market to take root much faster, and flourish much more than in Europe.

Last months Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) trade show, in Brussels, however, proved to be a watershed. The pan-European event welcomed both residential and corporate installers, and broke the 10,000-attendee barrier.

This landmark registration reflected a 30 percent increase on 2005s show, and more than two dozen U.S. manufacturers, including Crestron, AMX, Sonance, Lutron, Runco, and Vidikron, attended ISE to meet dealers and forge partnerships with European distributors. Three hundred and thirty one exhibitors from more than 80 countries attended the show, and freedom of movement between E.U. countries, and a strong EURO seem to be contributing to the significant growth.

ISE is supported by three separate partnersInfoComm, CEDIA, and NSCA. From higher education to residential electronics to commercial installation, manufacturers showed off products to dealers, retailers, and installers who will soon be influencing the buying process.

The U.K., Germany, and France are the heavyweights in the European integrated systems industry, with Russia and Eastern European countries proving to be formidable forces. According to the new data released by the ISE, the Middle East is growing significantly, too, reflected by a doubling of attendees at the show.

Whats more, the ISE survey forecasts 2006 to be a banner year for European integrators and manufacturers, with higher demand for wireless and networkable equipment, migration toward vertical markets, and global diversification. Total gross revenue for the European market is predicted to surpass EURO 2.5 million in 2006 (it was EURO 2.3 million in 2005). Sixty-four percent of European companies expect their turnover to increase.

The majority of enterprise integrators who participated in the survey said that returns are strong in the corporate market, and that they are planning to crossover into new vertical markets such as residential, education, government, and military sectors.

Starting in Geneva three years ago, it was a real sales job getting traditional integrators into this show, stated CEDIAs executive director, Don Gilpin. Now they are coming back, year after year, and more are joining.

Mike Blackman, ISE managing director, added that ISE has established itself as the place to be. The key point is that we want everyone here to do businesswe want to ensure that.

Though the organizers of the show are American, the sponsors main goal was to build a comprehensive event for the European communityone tailored for the regions unique business concerns and nuances, according to InfoComm executive director Randal Lemke. Our main two goals when we started this show were to create a true European show and a true systems show, and we have accomplished those goals, he noted.

We do need to bring more audio companies to the show, but weve already seen renewed interest in that sector, so its promising, Lemke added. We expect 10-15 percent growth next yearbetter returns. This show is well-positioned for the future.

Many of the U.S.-based custom technology manufacturers who set up booths in Brussels hoped to fortify their presence in the market and position themselves with local distributors. Matrix Audios Dan Saso was enthusiastic about growth in the European industry, and is investing valuable time and money into expanding his business across the pond. Business is booming here, he said, and the opportunities for us here are really big. We want to get in front of distributors here and meet with dealers to show them the unique solutions we offer, especially those that are wirelessly connected.

In Brussels, Matrix showcased its line of audio distribution systems and in-ceiling speakers IR-equipped for instant feedbackprime products for installations where space may be at a premium.

Ohio-based NuVo Technologies is another U.S. company seeking to strengthen its presence in the European custom channel. (Currently, Belgium is showing the strongest demand.) NuVos Vicki Theiss agreed that business was growing exponentially for European dealers, and that NuVo wanted to be one of the companies prepared to meet their needs. We listen to the specific requests of our international distributors, and tailored the chassis of one of our products for the international audience.

Other companies, like Runco, not only showcased products that they believe fit well within the European framework, but also have invested in services on the ground. Runco has opened a new Portugal-based facility to support Runcos European distributor and dealers by providing authorized service, factory-trained technical assistance, and direct replacement part support. According to Bob Hana, president of Runco International, the opening of the Lisbon service center is a direct result of Runcos plans to increase its market share in the luxury segment of the European home theater industry.

While not at the Brussels trade show, power conditioner manufacturer Furman Sound Inc. is following the path of many U.S. companies who have begun shipping products into the international marketplace.

These releases [ELITE 10 E and ELITE 16PF E power conditioners] mark the next step in expanding our line of international products, noted Dave Keller, Furmans executive vice president of sales and marketing.

Further evidence of European growth is in the CEDIA U.K. show. Last years event drew more than 4,700 industry professionals to Birmingham, including a growing number of architects, interior designers, and house builders keen to find out more about the technologies in the sector, stated Wendy Griffiths, CEDIA U.K. operations director.

Lutrons marketing manager, Roger Stamm, concurred. Business is good for us in the U.K., and now we want to reach out to more international dealers on the continent and expand to Eastern Europe, he said.

Margot Douaihy ([email protected]) is a freelance writer/editor.