Under siege

Greece has been the poster child of the European financial crisis but despite the troubles business continues. What does it take to survive against drastic austerity measures, rising unemployment and decreasing GDP? Anna Mitchell finds out.

Telmaco is one of Greece’s leading AV integrators and was established in 1975. The company has enjoyed great success, expanding from a telecommunications supplier into AV and broadcast markets. It was not until 2009 that the company experienced anything but steady growth, which makes you realise just how serious the situation in Greece is right now.

When you start to look at what the country is facing it’s clear that Telmaco, a company employing around 70 people, is doing incredibly well. It’s surviving while others are not.

Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1981 and adopted the euro in 2001. During that period the country enjoyed sustained economic growth. Investment in industry and heavy infrastructure combined with EU funds to give the country a massive boost. Furthermore Greece continued to enjoy healthy revenues from its successful tourism and shipping industries.

"Before 2009 the government was spending a lot of money in Greece and of course this was good for the AV industry," explains Vassilis Kyriazis, general director of sales and management at Telmaco. "Whether directly or indirectly this was driving government projects and providing money for many markets. But when the government stops spending then the effect is the opposite."

And the heavily indebted Greek Government has had to implement some of the severest austerity measures seen across the eurozone. This has, at times, sparked violent protests. Unemployment is rising and speculation is mounting on whether the country will retain the euro as its currency.

Telmaco is obviously not immune to the cuts and continuing financial crisis but given the state of the country the company is proving to be robust. "We are trying to be smart, more productive and expand geographically," explains Kyriazis.

"Outside of Greece we have an office in Cyprus. We’re also trying to find large-scale projects that it makes sense for a company from outside the country to be active in. We are now integrating lighting and AV for the National Theatre in Bahrain for example. We are looking for work in countries that we have good access to. So the Balkan area, the Middle East and parts of Africa."

Telmaco has a strong history of working the auditorium and theatre markets so is in a good position to try and win contracts on these projects in other countries.

"We’re also quite strong in the control room market," adds Kyriazis. "This year [2011] we have done very well with control rooms. They were mostly projects that had been delayed but it was the most successful market for us this year. We handled a big project for the Athens Metro, which was probably the largest installation. We also worked a lot in broadcast industries and had some large projects for telecommunications companies.

"We’re installing videowalls and using rear-projection cubes," he continues. "Of course now it’s all moving to LED-lit videowalls. The LED-lit cubes are more efficient and require less maintenance so provide a lower costs of ownership."

Kyriazis notes that Telmaco is very active in exploring technology developments that can help it serve its customers better and provide more cost effective. Given the financial troubles the country is facing it is a wise move and one that has seen the company win contracts to install videoconferencing systems to help organisations reduce operational expenses.

Interestingly Kyriazis says the education market in Greece was never a great area for AV even when the government was spending. "We’ve never really seen high-end projects in this area," he explains. "There is some demand for whiteboards and projectors in schools but no large, integrated projects, which is where our expertise lie.

"Where we have found business is within the entertainment market, within the events market as suppliers of rental companies and the digital signage branding market," he continues. "We have done installations in museums. Then we have the TV studios. Here, our broadcast department handles the main installation but the AV department handles videowalls, lighting and sound.

"The digital cinema market will be very interesting next year," remarks Kyriazis. "This is a market that in Greece has not grown a lot. The cinemas are not really digitising but the trend is being pushed by international changes. Nest year is going to be the question mark because on one hand the theatre exhibitors will be pushed to digitise but on the other hand they won’t have the finances. I don’t know what will happen. It will be interesting to see."

There aren’t many areas of the Greek economy that haven’t suffered since 2009. Kyriazis says tourism hasn’t suffered as much as the rest and it will be an industry that the country relies on in the coming months, or perhaps years. The Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises estimated that the sector accounted for 18.8% of the country’s GDP in 2007 so it is important that Greece continues to attract holidaymakers.

IT integration skills are becoming increasingly important for AV integrators in the region, a direction that follows global trends. "We provide IT integration skills as part of our AV and broadcast package and we install IT networks," says Kyriazis. "We have been involved in IT since the beginning of the 1990s so we got into this early which I think has given us an advantage over other companies that don’t have this background."

"Right now, because of high unemployment and the crisis, it’s very easy to recruit good staff in Greece," Kyriazis continues. "But, on the other hand, we’re not expanding so are not recruiting. What I personally do believe strongly in is training and qualifications."

Telmaco is a family company that was founded by president Dimitris Kyriazis, who now runs the company with his two sons: Vassilis and Drossos. All three are electrical engineers and Vassilis Kyriazis says a university background is very helpful. "We must continue to train our staff in the technologies they work with because every year there are changes and our employees have to keep updating," he explains.

The company is clearly doing incredibly well against a backdrop of severe economic problems. Although the company is exploring ways in which AV can provide cost savings and improve efficiency for struggling organisations it is interesting to note Telmaco is not relying on the Greek market. Geographic expansion is clearly a good move as the country struggles to get back on its feet.

"It’s difficult to say what the future will bring," concludes Kyriazis. "It’s too early to say. Unfortunately I think the next few years will be difficult as well. After that I don’t know. I hope things will be better of course but at the moment 2012 looks like a big challenge."

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