Electrosonic SA has come a long way (to say the least) since its inception in 1991: One office, two computers and three individuals is a far cry from the audio-visual giant that we know and love today. Theirs is a story of hard-work, persistence and a true indicator that starting from the bottom and working your way up is an honourable and sure way to succeed.
Martin Professional, Crestron, Kramer, Green Hippo and Elite Screens, just to name a few, are all distributed in South Africa solely by Electrosonic SA, as you may already know. What you may not know is exactly how much blood, sweat and tears went into building this enviable AV empire, and that’s where we come in…
Starting at the bottom
Electrosonic SA was the brainchild of current Managing Member, Bruce Genricks, and former partner Lourie Coetzee, who met in 1985. Genricks did his apprenticeship through the railways as a telecommunications technician, and got his first gig as a technician in the AV industry working at a company called Twin Imports, which was owned by Coetzee.
“Lourie was running Twin Imports which was a very small AV company,’ explains Genricks. “I joined with him as a technician, he was distributing different products including Electrosonic Ltd equipment, for which he was the South African distributor at that stage. Coetzee was also an integrator, as back then there was no such thing as control systems that you could buy in a box, they were all custom-made. We would design and build the boxes to control the boardroom or the training room or the museum or whatever it was. It wasn’t a case of programming it, it was a case of making it, and so we were custom manufacturers of control equipment.’
Around 1989 the economy was suffering and Twin Imports encountered some rocky terrain, Coetzee took the decision to sell his company to Selected Audio Visual into which it became incorporated. Both Coetzee and Genricks continued their work in the AV industry with Selected Audio Visual, however shortly after, Coetzee left the company and the industry as a whole and Genricks was retrenched a few years later. “It was in November before Christmas, they just paid me and said goodbye, I was devastated,’ he comments.
It was then that Genricks decided to start a business of his own, working as a technician from his own garage. His first client, funnily enough, was Selected Audio Visual, the very same company that previously let him go, the irony! Genricks explains: “I realised that they (Selected Audio Visual) were still carrying on as a business but now that their technical staff had been retrenched, they had a problem. So I called them up and said “you’ve got a problem that I can fix, just send the stuff to me and I will repair it and charge you’ and that was it!’
Slowly but surely customers started working directly with Genricks who christened his first solo endeavour, Basic Electronic Devices, “BED for short,’ he laughs.
It didn’t take too long before Selected Audio Visual closed down, which meant Electrosonic UK were looking for a new South African distributor. Coetzee took this opportunity to re-join the AV industry and start a business of his own, also from his house, distributing Electrosonic equipment. Genricks and Coetzee began to work together more often, which ultimately led to the birth of Electrosonic SA. “We were doing more and more business together, I was doing the technical side of it, the installations, the servicing, the repairs, and Lourie was doing the importation, the sales and the distribution of the product,’ explains Genricks.
“One day we just got together and decided to start a business and that’s exactly what happened. With the permission of Electrosonic UK, we used their name and we opened up a partnership.’
The company, which opened in 1991, started out rather modestly – in one small office, with one technician, two desks and two computers – but that wasn’t for too long…
In 1994 Electrosonic SA won their first major tender to supply the AV and lighting for the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Durban, directly resulting in the acquisition of the Crestron and Kramer agencies which are still valued suppliers of the company today: “That was a huge breakthrough for us, what happened is we put in our tender bid, there were three bidders and we were the most expensive of the three, so we were very lucky to get the job…I had to recruit an installation team in Durban and the company here in Johannesburg assisted with procurement and all the rest and 18 months later, it was very successful.’
“It was a massive project in that it was one of the first projects where widespread use of touch panels were implemented, but the ICC installation also signalled a bit of a turnaround for us in that way. We took on the Kramer agency as we realised that for this project we needed distribution amps and switchers and so on, and Kramer was a product that we knew about, so we contacted them and we became their distributors as a result, and Crestron was also an agency that came through that,’ concludes Genricks.
That ICC installation marked a turning point for Electrosonic SA, giving the company additional deserved credibility and access to other large-scale projects and agencies. Business was moving forward at a quick and steady pace, with turnover doubling each year, Electrosonic SA soon outgrew their humble abode, forcing them to move to larger office spaces every couple of years until finally settling into their current premises in Northcliff in 2001.
Adapting the business model
Electrosonic SA started out in the industry as an importer, distributor and integrator, which was more or less the business model of most South African AV companies of the time. “We imported and did the integration. We would sell to other companies but that was limited, mostly we would be selling to end-users. And that was our business model for the next 12 years or so,’ explains Genricks.
After many years playing a balancing act between dealers and end users, Electrosonic SA realised that they needed to make the long-debated decision to become distributors only, enabling them to focus their energies more on dealer and product support, and thereby showing their existing dealers that their interests would go uncompromised.
“We would be selling to our dealers and the next thing we would go to a tender meeting and quote against them and we just realised that it wasn’t fair and it didn’t make any sense. So then we took the decision to change our whole business model and we decided that we are distributors, we are not integrators and we’ll protect our dealers in that way. That was a good thing for us and I think it worked very well for us. Our dealers saw that we weren’t a threat to them anymore and we built up good relationships with our clients in that way.’
Memories and milestones
Over the years Electrosonic SA added a number of product ranges and agencies to their stable, always keeping in mind their foremost objective – to house a complete range of complementary products and services for the audio visual and entertainment lighting industries.
Some of the major agencies that were acquired over the years were, Martin Professional (1992), Seleco/Sim2 (1994), Crestron (1995), Kramer (1997), Strand Lighting (2000), Helvar (2000), Compulite (2001), Euroscreen/Screen International (2003), Electron (2004), Robert Juliat (2007), Selecon (2007), Litec (2008), Elite Screens (2008), CM Lodestar (2009) and ADB (2010).
Their current lighting agencies are Martin Professional, CMET Entertainment Technology, Green Hippo, Kinesys, Milos Structural Systems, Litec, ADB Lighting Technologies, Electron, Compulite and Elite Screens.
On the AV systems side Electrosonic SA are currently responsible for Crestron, Kramer, Sierra Video, Elite Screens, NEC, GALAXY and Ceymsa Audiovisual.
In addition to the ICC installation, the company has been involved in some other highly impressive projects, such as; Vodaworld, Canal Walk Shopping Centre, Multichoice command centre, the Playhouse Theatre, Moses Mabhida Stadium and the Saxon Hotel to name a few.
Regarding the industry as a whole Genricks says that he would like to see more skills and more diversity, it’s all about up-skilling and becoming more proficient. “I don’t think there is enough diversity, we need more young people and more people of colour in the industry.’
“One of the things we have been speaking about at the Southern African Communications Industries Association (SACIA), and we’ve recently spoken about here within the company, is that we need to try and develop some sort of career guidance programme at schools regarding the AV and lighting industries as it’s never a career that anyone thinks of,’ he comments.
For Electrosonic SA the outlook for the future is simple – to provide their dealers with the best value in whatever capacity they can, this includes making provisions for the ever-evolving exchange rate. “The plans are to make things easier for people to do business with us. It’s about adding value to what we do; we recognise that our dealers are our livelihood. From an exchange rate point of view we are trying to assist by buying forward to average out the exchange rate so that even if there is an increase on a quote from our side, it’ s very slight,’ concludes Genricks.
It’s certainly clear that Electrosonic SA, at the risk of sounding cliche, is a force to be reckoned with. Their approach to business in this cut throat industry is nothing short of admirable. If their track record is anything to go by, this is a company that can and will continue to withstand the “ups and downs’ that are inherent in an industry that is constantly in a state of flux. Cheers to that!