European Markets – Benelux – Looking good
Adrian Pennington, September 14, 2012
The Benelux is a highly developed region with numerous industrial areas, universities, hospitals and shopping centres. There is an abundance of projects but also plenty of competition. Adrian Pennington explains.
As befitting a region which was originally defined as a customs union, the economies of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg preoccupies business there. More specifically, all three neighbours who trade heavily with other members of the EU are impacted by the economic fall-out from the eurozone. That said, most AV companies are optimistic about their own medium to long term position.
The view of AMX Europe’s md and vp Europe, Kevin Morrison is typical: “It’s been impossible to escape the economic backdrop of the eurozone but despite all the negative noise surrounding the world markets, we have experienced continued growth here.”
Or this from Olivier Klesser, IML Netherlands’ account manager: “Business has changed and budgets have been cut down to a minimum, but business only seems to have grown over the last few years.”
InfoComm also appears to be in two minds. On the one hand its 2012 Market Definition and Strategy Study suggests that the “most optimistic outlook (for Europe) appears to be in Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK and Germany”. Benelux comprises 11 per cent of Western Europe’s total pro-AV market and is projected to grow from $1.42bn in 2012 to $1.84bn by 2015.
On the other hand, notes Duffy Wilbert, svp, member services, InfoComm International: “The market looks good for Benelux, but not for double-digit growth until 2015. Those interested in the European AV marketplace should look toward Scandinavia and Eastern Europe for even higher levels of growth,” he says.
According to Carl Willemaers, NEC Display Solutions’ key account manager for the region, the crisis has hit the Netherlands particularly hard since its government was forced into austerity cost cutting.
“Investments are postponed or even cancelled,” he reports. “One big challenge is that the Dutch market is very price driven. Price is almost all the time the first priority instead of quality or total cost of ownership of the product. You can very often find consumer products in professional installations done by big AV resellers. It’s a challenge to convince customers of the benefit of investing in high quality products.”
A related challenge is to make even the many multinationals located in the Netherlands “aware of NEC and our products and to make investments in high-end quality products.”
Brussels and The Hague are, of course, the seats of European power but the financial crisis would appear to have caused a downsizing or postponement of IT contracts destined for government institutions.
“In spite of the fact that Belgium is an important centre for huge European institutions and that some important companies in the transport and telecom markets there are led by political decisions takers, they are still judicious about making investments into IT related products,” observes Filip Cogghe, senior key account manager, NEC. “It is a fact that digital signage projects begun in 2011 have been delayed.”
It’s a statement echoed by Gerben van den Berg, projectiondesign’s regional director: “Because of the uncertain future and cost reduction programmes, companies have decided to delay their investments. This means we are seeing fewer projects but more competitors and alternative solutions. It also means you have to do much more to convince customers about the right solutions.”
However, Barco’s corporate communications manager, Inge Govaerts holds the converse opinion stating that the public-governmental market is not notably affected by recession, “mainly because these institutions work with year to year budgets and plans,” he says. “These date back from before the crisis and still have to be carried out.”
Barco, Govaaerts says, has seen a steady increase in demand and projects over the last couple of months.
The Benelux is a highly developed region with numerous industrial areas, universities, hospitals and shopping centres. There is an abundance of projects here “but also a dense competition,” notes Morrison.
It is not difficult to see why UK companies are attracted to do business with the Netherlands. It is both Anglophone (over 75 per cent of the population speaks English) and Anglophile..
Although the Randstad (the largest conurbation located in the west of the country and containing the cities Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague, Rotterdam) is considered to be the largest commercial centre, there are industrial clusters and R&D centres in other places, including North Netherlands (renewable energy), Wageningen (food), Leeuwarden (water technology) and Eindhoven (electronics-advanced engineering).
Brussels is the region’s most obvious hotspot being the de facto capital of the EU. More than 1,000 public and private organisations have set up headquarters in Belgium, including NATO.
It’s high-tech too. With 95 per cent cable tv coverage, a pioneer in xDSL landline broadband and ranked in the world top 10 for internet use, Belgium still has “great potential” for developing ICT infrastructure states UK Trade and Industry and “room for improvement in exploiting mobile and wireless internet opportunities.”
For AMX, the whole region represents an important and growing market. In 2011 it opened an office in Holland and this year launched a new facility in Leuven, Belgium.
“There are some sophisticated road and water transport systems throughout the Netherlands and AMX is integral to many of these, such as the traffic control centre in Rotterdam,” says Morrison. “We are playing a crucial role in unified communications and control for customers such as P&G, KPMG and a number of top universities and medical facilities like the teaching hospital Medical Centre Alkmaar.”
The market is technologically demanding with the Netherlands especially enjoying a reputation for being very progressive.
“Technology is readily adopted and solutions like ours are very much in demand,” continues Morrison. “Partners in the region often invest heavily in training and professional certification which drives higher standards. Overall the market is dynamic and decisions are made very quickly. This, combined with the economic climate, makes for competitive trading conditions.”
While it’s convenient to lump the Benelux countries together the trio are not homogenous. For example, Apart Audio’s sales and marketing director Kris Vermuyten, says that companies in the Netherlands have always spent more money on the AV install than in Belgium. “We now see that this is changing and the cost for a comparable install is more or less the same in all countries.”
Apart Audio’s business includes the sound system installation at the East-West cultural centre, Villa Empain, in Brussels. He continues: “In Belgium alone we face three different communities with different habits and cultures (6m Flemish-speaking Dutch, 3.4m Walloons speaking French, 73,000 German speakers in Wallonia) and even though the language in the Dutch part of Belgium and the Netherlands seems to be the same, the cultural differences are bigger than most people think.”
A typical Dutch reseller, for NEC’s Willemaers is “a huge company working on all markets from rental, installations to furniture. Technical know-how is very high and it can deliver high-end solutions,” he says. “In Belgium-Luxembourg more and more resellers are moving from being a content delivery company to a total service company. You see many alliances between service companies and AV resellers. Customers are increasingly contacting those companies in the first place to manage their digital signage projects.”
Consequently Apart Audio’s Vermuyten and others strongly believe “that the best way to be successful is to approach each region with a local sales structure. After all it remains a business between people.”
AMX & RABOBANK
The 28-storey offices of Dutch bank Rabobank in Utrecht have been designed to be one of the greenest office complexes in the Netherlands.
Dutch systems integrator MK2 Audio Visueel selected a unified control and management solution from AMX to ensure the meeting rooms, and their associated systems, work in an integrated manner and to maximum energy-saving efficiency. Using sensors, for example, the AMX system is able to detect if a pre-booked meeting room is in fact occupied and make the room available if not.
If a room remains empty, the system will automatically power-down the equipment and environmental systems accordingly, to save energy and resources.
SAGALASSOS, CITY OF DREAMS
Never heard of Sagalassos? Then you should visit a unique temporary exhibit in the Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren, Belgium, that brings to life the grandeur of this ancient city in south western Turkey, destroyed by earthquakes in the seventh century AD.
The Sagalassos, City of Dreams exhibition is a tribute to archaeologist Marc Waelkens’ work to excavate the site. To evoke the atmosphere, Maverick ICS designed a 270-degree projection installation using five Barco SIM 5W projectors.