Benelux boom: Dutch AV market in good health
Political opinion in the Netherlands may be increasingly polarised, but markets are thriving thanks to a steadily improving economy and positive growth outlook. Charlotte Ashley reports.
The Netherlands is one of many countries carefully treading new waters in the political landscape in post-Brexit Europe. Although reportedly only a quarter of Dutch people feel optimistic about where the country is heading politically according to a SCP (social and cultural planning ofﬁce) poll taken prior to the March election – economically, the country is thriving.
Unemployment has been falling since 2014, is at its lowest since 2011, and is declining by an average of 8,000-a-month in the past quarter, (according to Statistics Netherlands - CBS), and the Dutch economy grew by 2.2% in 2016 across all sectors.
The beneﬁts of returning consumer conﬁdence – hitting a 16-year high last April – that had alluded the country a few years ago are evidently being felt in the AV world. “We had a growth of about between 15% and 20% over the last year so I can’t complain,” says René Schaddelee, managing director Avex, one of the largest companies working in the Benelux region. The integrator and consultant completed the acquisition of another large Dutch integrator with a focus on rental, Hulskamp Audiovisueel, in October 2016 and recently expanded into the “growing” UK market to now employ over 250 people across Europe.
Joop Noordman, sales director at distributor-turned-integrator Inter Visual Systems agrees; “The economic development of business is back to the level of a few years ago. In the last 12 to 18 months, long-cyclic markets caught up again. In the past year especially, the delayed investments of the recent years have been rising again.”
What market demand is fuelling growth for integrators? “We have seen development across different verticals, but we are constantly involved in the transformation of traditional AV distribution into streaming distribution,” says Noordman. He adds, “Video over IP is an important topic in almost every segment, but in healthcare the last 200 operating rooms we’ve completed have been built with video/IP distribution.”
Schaddelee says the evolving nature of corporate communication is bringing in business, as AV systems to facilitate different ways of working become increasingly prioritised. “We’ve seen a large increase in demand for a simple and standardised solution, ranging from huddle rooms up to the more luxury boardroom or executive meeting room systems.” But market demand is also coming from less expected sectors; “It’s a slightly niche market at the moment but we are seeing a lot of investments coming from government. We’re increasingly seeing the digitisation of courtrooms and the police looking to modernise communication.”
“Business recently has been different than expected but very, very good,” says Jeroen Helms, sales manager for Benelux, France and Iberia at Milestone. “Although in the Netherlands it is more difﬁcult to grow organically, we have managed to do so, particularly in the last 18 months.” Although the quantity of sales of Milestone’s projector screen product lines are down due to the rise of LCD panels, the quality of screen (e.g. incorporating 4K-ready technology) is bringing new value to the market. A growing LCD market has also given a “signiﬁcant” boost to its mount offerings – a win-win scenario that the company is beneﬁtting from throughout Benelux. “We’ve seen the same trends in Belgium and Luxembourg happen compared to some markets where there’s still a lot of opportunity for growth, like France.”
Helms pinpoints increasing openness in the market as the key to fuelling recent growth. “Now the industry is very open to education. Two or three years ago it was really difﬁcult to make appointments with sales teams especially to educate them on our products and the trends in the market.” He adds: “In the last year that really picked up again, so I think the economic side has obviously really helped a lot. The crisis is a little bit more behind us.”
Although companies like Avex have managed to spread across Europe, the list of companies that have done so successfully is short, and few are coming into the Netherlands to compete for projects. “Going out we see a little bit of competition there, but coming in, not yet,” says Helms. Schaddelee adds: “Most consultants stay working in the Netherlands at the moment, but we are seeing larger consulting ﬁrms from the UK and US that are expanding and working on speciﬁc global projects here.” Inter Visual Systems recently moved into the German market – a move Noordman notes took extensive planning to navigate – and expansion into the UK could be on the horizon, dependent on the impact of Brexit.
“As we are now increasingly dealing with the added demands that come from working in IT domain, it’s important for clients to realise the cost of us having the knowledge and resources to do this.”
Although expansion into the Netherlands may not be that prevalent, Schaddelee has noticed that the face of the industry is changing locally. “We are seeing a lot of value platforms developing in all directions, so platforms where the manufacturers unite with customer-collaborating companies like manufacturers of furniture for example. They create one platform to try to build complete solutions for the market.”
All agree that the perpetual industry issue of recruitment is a problem in the country, and like many other markets, new recruits are coming from the IT world. “Finding well trained and qualiﬁed staff is extremely difﬁcult,” says Noordman. “The Dutch technical training institutes provide almost no qualiﬁed technicians. Just a few years ago 50-100 graduate electrical engineers came into our business from school each year. Nowadays there are less than 10 electrical engineers.” Noordman and Schaddelee both state the company’s individual training academy, as well as resources from InfoComm, GPA, manufacturers and IT courses are essential for staff development.
Although there is plenty of cause for optimism in the industry, many see room for change, whether it be in the nature of how business is conducted in dealer-direct operations, or in the professionalism of integrators pitching to clients. “With the knowledge of AV/IT technology, we think that the Netherlands is far ahead, based on investment in development of modern technologies. I think we have huge additional market potential by joining the international market.”
Schaddelee says it is essential for integrators to maintain higher levels of professionalism; “As we are now increasingly dealing with the added demands that come from working in IT domain, it’s important for clients to realise the cost of us having the knowledge and resources to do this. And that’s still difﬁcult to show if a larger number of your competitors still just compete on price.”