Global Expansion Strategies: An Integrators’ Guide to World Domination

Integrators are finding unique opportunities by following their customers beyond North America and around the world. There are challenges, but the allure is captivating.

For years, one of the hottest topics in the integration business was the convergence between AV and IT, which has been discussed nonstop for so long that many people still don’t seem to realize that the shift had already been occurring for much of that time.

The idea of “globalization” finds itself in a similar spot these days, with many of the most successful and largest integration firms firmly entrenched well beyond the North American borders and others wondering how they can get involved — and what will happen to them if they don’t.

With Integrated Systems Europe likely to break 60,000 in attendance this month after setting attendance records for the past several years, it’s obvious the industry has already gone global in a major way. While many manufacturers used to wait until June to roll out new products at InfoComm‘s largest show, these days those products are more regularly released at ISE — a combined effort between InfoComm and CEDIA — where the eyes of the world are on them.

InfoComm International expects the global AV industry to reach $114 billion in 2016, the culmination of 11 percent compound annual growth in demand for AV products and services between 2012 and 2016. ISE, InfoComm 2015 and InfoComm India 2015 were among the industry events that set attendance records in 2015, as the association continues its global outreach as part of its most recent strategic plan.

InfoComm has reported its membership is climbing outside North America, moving from about 25 percent international members in late 2012-early 2013 to about 30 percent by the end of 2015. About 70 percent of the global AV market is outside North America, according to InfoComm research.

Calling to Assist International Clients

What’s interesting in talking to integrators about their approach to going global is that there’s no surefire formula for how to do it, but there does seem to be a consistent reason why companies spread their wings and try their hands outside familiar territory. As large and as prominent as AVI-SPL is in the U.S., for example, the move to add more territories to its portfolio meant helping those outside the space learn the brand.

“We recognized there were some of our customers with global delivery needs,” says AVI-SPL CEO John Zettel. “The demand upon us was growing quickly and we felt there was a need and opportunity to create a better way to meet the needs of our customer base.

“Our standardized process is pretty homogenous in our operations. The biggest thing is understanding how to work through the differences we encounter,” he says.

“Most customers are already going global with their information services. We realized, if we didn’t have a way to serve global customers, someone else would, probably someone in IT.”  —Julian Phillips, Whitlock

AVI-SPL opened an office in London in June 2013, giving the company a presence in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and acquired three offices to serve Canada. It will soon launch an Asia Pacific office that will focus largely on project management, says Zettel.

In its first year in London, about 70 percent of the work came from U.S.-based companies with work overseas. The revenue has grown from about $22 million to $54 million since the effort launched, with most of the revenue being generated in-country these days.

Among the projects, AVI-SPL has scored are an $8 million deal in Canada and a $5 million package in EMEA. AVI-SPL is planning future expansion, says Zettel, but he isn’t ready to discuss it just yet.

“It’s been a great success for us,” says Zettel, noting AVI-SPL has secured about 1,000 projects in 49 countries in the past three years.

CI‘s 2015 Integrator of the Year, Yorktel, is among the companies that’s essentially become a global integration firm almost by accident. CEO Ron Gaboury says the Eatontown, N.J.-based company started a program dubbed Operation Backyard in 2004 as a way to expand its portfolio outside the federal government and capitalize on some large companies in the New York area, with the goal of attracting about 25 percent of the revenue in the area.

After going global initially through partnerships and other companies wanting its services outside the U.S., Yorktel was able to land deals with several large pharmaceutical companies, which took them around the world. Yorktel is finalizing a deal with another large international managed service customer, adding to its portfolio of global accounts, says Gaboury.