Gather takes a holistic approach

A new Europe-wide integrator wants to offer AV that focuses on people not technology. Paul Milligan sits down with Gather CEO Jean-Pierre Overbeek.

Expansion is commonplace in the AV world, especially in the buoyant times the sector is enjoying since the demise of the pandemic. But normally when we talk about expansion, it’s from Spain into Portugal, or the Netherlands into Belgium, not across the whole of Europe. But that’s what Gather has in mind, the newly launched AV and UC brand from Econocom Group. Gather will be headed up by Jean-Pierre Overbeek, the current CEO of BIS|Econocom, who has a 25-year track record in the AV and IT world and was CEO of Benelux integrator BIS Group when it was bought by European digital services provider Econocom in 2017.

BIS|Econocom has been steadily growing its AV business since then, so where has this desire for expansion come from? “We are the one of the best kept secrets in the AV industry,” says Overbeek. “In Q4 2022 we started an internal analysis of the 54 companies we have within the Econocom Group and the services, products and expertise we have in-house. We were doing €250m of AV revenue and we didn't even know it ourselves at the time. We see opportunity in the AV industry because we see a lack of a clear European leader. We’ve even seen some US companies come in, so we decided to become that clear, dominant leader in our region, that's our ambition.”

Gather is currently active in Benelux,  France,  Spain, Germany and Italy, with a limited setup in the UK says Overbeek, “but we are actively looking for some external growth as well.” The numbers are impressive even before Gather begins in earnest, in those current countries it has approximately 500 colleagues in AV providing services to 60 countries, either via its 19 offices in Europe, the US and also via the PSNI Alliance, of which it is a member.

The current geographical reach of BIS|Econocom will also give Gather the ability to cross border systems and services for multinational corporations. “One of the most important reasons to do this is that a large part of our Econocom customers, and we have thousands of them, are not aware of our (AV) expertise, so we can cross-sell within an existing number of customers in Europe, so it a logical step to take.”

Even in countries with small AV sectors, there are still well established SIs already in place, so what could Gather could offer clients in say Portugal or Estonia that local integrators can't? “We consider the AV industry to be fragmented, there are local companies, regional ones and some national ones, but only a few who can do cross border. What we see with our current multinational customer base is that they require the same customer experience, but they can't deliver that in the different premises they have. There are some UK companies able to do it with some partnerships in Europe, some others do it on a more nationwide basis. But there are only a few who can really do it throughout Europe or even globally. And that's where we want to focus.”

Gather currently has offices in the Netherlands, Belgium, Paris, Madrid, Milan, one in the south of France and sales offices in London and  Frankfurt.  “We have the ambition to expand quite rapidly in Germany and in the UK, with external growth or fast organic growth. That means we have covered northwestern Europe,” says Overbeek.


So why the new brand in Gather, rather than just expand in its current entity? “AV customers are still demanding specialised companies. There are some IT companies who have acquired AV companies but then they are swallowed by a bigger setup, and then the specialised characteristics of that AV entity becomes less important and less recognised by clients. We are specialised and we want to really show what we have in-house, and that's done by having the Gather brand. If we brand ourselves as Econocom or Econocom AV, we would still be seen as a financing company or an IT company, but not as an AV or collaboration specialist, and that's where our focus is with Gather.”

If Gather is now looking at cross-border projects in more than one country, does that not put it up against organisations such as the GPA and PSNI? (the latter of which BIS|Econocom has been a member for some time). Not so says Overbeek, “For us, it's complementary, we have been a member of the PSNI for six years, I've been a board member in EMEA, I know the organisation inside out, we believe the PSNI is a fantastic organisation. What we have with Econocom is so much knowledge in-house, we feel we can serve customers the best we can. We  are  definitely expanding our role within the PSNI with the growth of Gather. We don't see this as competition towards the other members of the PSNI.” Overbeek also points out that fellow SIs such as Diversified (PSNI), and AVI-SPL (GPA) are already doing the same i.e. a member of an global alliance whilst also working across multiple countries.

When asked what he thinks Gather will do well, Overbeek stresses it will have a more holistic approach to AV design and supply. “For us, it's not only about AV technology, although we are AV geeks we have a more holistic approach, we have interior designers in-house providing complete 2D and 3D designs and floorplans, and we can also furnish offices. Not only are providing AV technology but furniture, carpets etc everything from floor to ceiling.”



Overbeek describes Gather as having a human centric approach to technology; “The (AV) industry is still very much focused on the technology itself, on what it can deliver and the specs. We feel it should be the other way around, we need to explain what it can bring to the users. In our discussions with customers, it starts with what they want, how they use it, what are the use cases? What are the scenarios they have in place? We try to completely turn it around. This is also the reason we started producing interior design 15 years ago, we can install a fantastic AV system, but if the room sucks or the chairs are terrible, nobody will want to use that meeting room. It’s not about pushing the latest products when the hertz or lumens or candelas increase, it's about what do people really need?”

To help its clients reach the right outcomes Gather will use XR and AR technology to show clients what a room will look like once completed. “Sometimes we do more interior than AV technology, because they liked the design. We are able to show what we will build and it's not just a kit list full of Samsung and Clickshare, because sometimes the clients see a list like this and say ‘that’s fine’, but they don't really know what they are getting. And with us they do.”

2024 looks set to be an exciting year for Gather, even though it is a new brand, it has years of experience, and Econocom’s finances and staff structure behind it to give it the best chance to succeed. As Overbeek concludes, it has done a good job of growing so far, but now has its sights set even higher. “When we (BIS) were acquired in 2017 we were doing €40m of annual revenue, now it is €100m. And we are in a small country in Europe, if we copy this success with Gather in bigger European countries then it can be really good, we really want to put our money where our mouth is.” 

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