CIE met with Aubrey Wright, founder of Handy AV and discovered a company blazing a trail across the worlds of digital signage and digital experiences.
Meeting at the company’s impressive HQ and demonstration suite in Sidcup, Kent, a tour of the showroom and facilities leaves the visitor in no doubt that the company is ready for any challenge the AV world can throw at it, working right across the UK, Europe and further afield too.
Before launching Handy AV in 2002, Aubrey had built a solid knowledge base working in IT as a data networking specialist for blue-chip companies as well as vendors.
Aubrey explains: “The IT market was becoming saturated at the turn of the millennium and I wanted to change to something with more scope. When the company began, we were working with products like high-gain projectors from the likes of HP and also in the early days with brands such as Displaymate, delivering interactive white boards into the education sector. However, it was when the company started working a lot in the retail sector that we really-found our feet.
“In those early stages we were working a lot with some of the first touch-screen displays to be available; these used technology that was originally developed for touch-screen fruit machines. Similar, but more advanced technology still exists today – in fact we used the technology to help build an augmented reality experience for Tisot, the high-quality watch brand for its Harrods site.
“Using camera interactivity and a watched-shaped paper band, the shopper can see what different styles of watch actually look like on their wrists. The touch-screen allows the user to scroll through and choose the different watches.”
Mixing all types digital signage and digital experiences and delivering them into the retail sector is now the backbone of the company.
Aubrey explains: “We have all the knowledge the client will ever need and that is really key to what we do. Yes we spec the gear, come and fit it and maintain it for the company, but we take a consultancy approach to everything we do. Helping companies, who are often very ambitious for what they want to achieve, make the right choices at the start is really important for a successful outcome.”
Handy AV was keen to build a relationship with a manufacturer that could really deliver an overarching digital signage platform for its clients. After looking at brands like Cisco, which in the end could not hit the type of package and price points the company wanted to offer, a chance meeting with Samsung representatives led Aubrey to offering his input into the a platform called Magic Info Pro. After helping troubleshoot the system, Aubrey and his team told Samsung that to be successful any systems had to be web-based, and it has to be scalable.
Aubrey says: “They really took our feedback on-board and later on Samsung’s Magic Info and MagicInfo Premium platforms proper were born. We still work closely with Samsung, giving our input to the European and Korean teams and this is our platform of choice when looking to deliver exciting retail experiences.”
A key client is Primark, a brand that has seen impressive growth with its retail presence right across Europe.
“As well as supplying systems for the company in towns such as Middleborough and Stockport, we supplied the system that went into the Stratford store which was able to benefit hugely from the Olympics in 2012. There were four LED video walls, different department screens, screens at the cash desks – a project that was really well received not just by customers and the store, but by the press as well.
“I remember Paul Marchant, chief executive of Primark, Philip Green of the Arcadia Group and Stuart Rose, executive chairman of Marks & Spencer at the time all standing right outside the store during the launch event, admiring how good it all looked.”
After successful projects like this one, the relationship has gone from strength to strength.
“Primark told us, ‘we are going to run you ragged, we have 20-30 stores planned: Germany, Spain, UK, Ireland, Austria, Portugal, Belgium, Holland’. We have been helping them in all these regions build one of the most impressive collections of stores around. Working abroad of course can present headaches – the paperwork, health and safety and so on – is a big challenge. However, once you know your way around the forms and the different approaches, you can start to streamline the work and make sure all the details are covered.”
Support is of course crucial and a recent example just shows that no matter how careful and diligent you are, in a retail environment, there are things out of an integrator’s control that can cause issues.
Aubrey explains: “We had put a very large display in a store in Dusseldorf. Again this was a Primark job and it had been working well; really making an impression. However, suddenly it started giving trouble. Naturally we went out to take a look and discovered that the air con in that part of the stores was faulty and the display was getting too hot. The air-con was fixed and so we thought, happy days. However, the screen was still going down. It was not until a probe was put into one of the power cables that it was discovered that the air con engineers had managed to change the power going into the screen from single phase to three phase! A mistake that could have been really dangerous.”
Another key partnership that Handy AV is able to leverage is with Telefonica, offering a wide range of multi-channel sales and customer service applications as well as digital marketing tools.
Aubrey says: “Right from the very beginning when the IoT was first being talked about, way back in the early 90s, I had thought: wouldn’t it be great to combine music, signage and NFC technologies, all working together so they could create really powerful and intelligent experiences?
“These days even basic recognition of whether a person is a man, woman or a child can trigger all sorts of useful stuff. A display can switch its PoS to suite a man or a woman, or if it sees a child, switch to a fun interactive digital experience.”
Telefonica’s music platforms are great: based around a box rental service, the system has over 500 different playlists to suit different environments, we can also create bespoke ones as well. There is also a software-only version which can be run on a local PC and amp.”
The Telefonica offers goes up in stages taking in products like Spotsign at the entry level which offers internally stored intelligence and can take in content direct from a stick drive.
Through Telefonica’s partnership with Unify, things start to get really interesting as the company can deliver unified communication solutions plugged into a network which don’t just automate the signage and communications, clients can start to collect info that is useful to them.
Aubrey explains: “Once a customer has given permission for their mobile device to partner with the store’s system and their IMSI code is stored, the fun can really start. When the customer returns, the store knows who they are, maybe what they purchased last time and real interaction with the store’s system and the user’s mobile can occur.”
Tablets that are linked to these systems can also become powerful – not just as mobile sales points – but to take shoppers through the whole range of what the store has, accessories matching what they have picked out and so on.”
So in the age of Internet shopping, why do stores like Adidas and Primark place such importance and invest so heavily in their physical presence?
Aubrey argues: “You have to remember that a lot these brands target groups of younger shoppers who have grown up with Internet shopping; it’s not a novelty to them, in fact if anything it’s a bit boring. It’s a cultural thing. Primark have a phenomenon called Primania – young people meet up, go shopping and share on social media – it’s what they like doing. That store experience, especially when it’s enhanced with AV and the systems we provide, is exciting to them. Shoppers do things like when a store is the first to open, they compete to see who can post videos online first of the interior.”
It is not only in-store however that the systems Handy AV delivers can be of use. Adidas for example has ‘virtualised’ its trade hubs where buyers from retail brands visit to choose and order their stock. This means the company can more effectively manage its stock, centralising much of it, so the various buying points do not need to carry all the choices in all the ranges. Buyers can come in and use the system to explore the choices, styles, colours etc, and place their order without the physical stock needing to be there. Pretty clever right? But Aubrey explains that this is where it gets really clever. When the buyer places their order, the system can also package up all the digital signage collateral that goes with those products. So, when the products actually get delivered to the store, the signage system in that shop gets all the digital PoS automatically.
Aubrey is one of those characters that has the industry he works in running through his blood; his level of knowledge is obvious from the first minute we meet and in fact right throughout our talk, staff are checking with him to get his input on on-going projects and issues in the field. This is clearly a man and a company that clients can rely on.
As for the future, there will be challenges – Brexit for example. Aubrey argues: “It’s the uncertainty that is the worry. Markets and companies hate uncertainty. However, we are prepared if things should change dramatically; we have partnerships with local contractors in lots of countries and so can continue to deliver the same service we do now.”
Aubrey concludes: “We have a really powerful set of products and brands to match our knowledge and our HQ is a great tool for showing all that off. We have always wanted to be able to deliver complete packages to clients for all their needs and these days we can do that by creating experiences that impress the client and shoppers alike.”