Why Expand to Germany? AVI-SPL’s John Zettel Explains

Published: September 29, 2016

From its Reinheitsgebot standards for filling beer steins to its extremely competitive national soccer team, Germany has a lot going for it.

Still, a lot of folks in the AV industry would like some insight into why North America’s largest integration firm AVI-SPL chose to make Frankfurt its second European location after opening a U.K. office a couple of years ago.

Related: Achtung! AVI-SPL Is Expanding to Germany

During a stop in Brussels en route from finalizing the launch of its new office in Germany to visiting with its U.K. employees, AVI-SPL CEO John Zettel took a break to chat on the phone with Commercial Integrator.

Zettel explained the strategy behind launching a Frankfurt office, the impact of being acquired by a private equity firm and AVI-SPL’s global strategy.

For us, global is a key piece because most of our customers are looking for somebody to go worldwide with and we aim to be that company.

Why Germany specifically?

Zettel: There were two factors that we balanced out.

One is the amount of work we were currently doing in Europe as a whole from our London office. We really felt there was a need to provide another location to geographically serve our customers that we already had. So we knew we had to go somewhere on the Continent to be able to facilitate projects from multiple points within Europe.

Why Germany specifically? Germany has a very stable if not somewhat growing – usually growing—economy and that’s a lot better than some of the other markets [in Europe] that have a lot more volatility in them. Germany also has some very defined verticals that we felt matched up well [with AVI-SPL’s offerings], the biggest being financial services and banking with Germany being the capital of Europe for banking.

We do think we can serve all of Germany from the Frankfurt office. We are focused on multiple verticals not just banking but we felt that would give us the quickest opportunity for success.

Talk about how this helps you serve Europe in general.

Zettel: The last 18 months we’ve done projects in 101 countries. If you look at the map it basically covers every country in Europe and we were doing that from our London office. [Given] the size of the office [and] the number of employees they have, [there are] some capacity constraints. So we wanted to be able to go [on the] Continent. In Europe the geography is somewhat favorable because [it’s relatively easy to drive from country to country]. We’re not assigning specific countries to the Frankfurt office but [between that and the London office we think it allows us to serve Europe.]

The general manager of AVI-SPL Germany is Johannes Stehr who brings industry experience from Crestron. How will the rest of the office be staffed?

Zettel: Quickly.

The office will quickly have sales and technical resources in place. We’ve set a date of Nov. 1 to have an operational team and a sales team in place. We’ve already identified the candidates … We’ll have a fully functional office within a month.

One of the things that stems from the acquisition by H.I.G. is that it seems to provide AVI-SPL with more ability to make strategic moves in pursuit of potential areas of growth. Is this an example of that?

I think you’re looking at the first of several moves to drive home the strategy.

Zettel: We were in discussion with H.I.G. long before the closing date of the transaction. So in that process we did talk about our goals. H.I.G. was obviously aligned with those because they bought the company.

Germany was part of those discussions at an early stage as well as other areas that we have identified. What I can say that H.I.G. has brought is a strong amount of enthusiasm and support for our vision for the company, and they have brought the resources as well.

I think you’re looking at the first of several moves to drive home the strategy. 

You guys opened your U.K. office a couple of years ago. Now Germany. The obvious question is what’s the next step in your global strategy?

Zettel: What’s next is we will continue to match our strategy with where we think our industry needs to go and our customers need us to go to serve them. We feel like we have a global strategy evidenced by the 101 countries [AVI-SPL did projects in over the past 18 months] but as we continue to grow our strategy we’re going to have to find new markets where we can create a geographic presence. We can do it like we did in Frankfurt where we started up an office or like we did in Canada where we acquired a company. It will be driven my local market conditions and customer demands.

In general, does AVI-SPL see it as very important to grow internationally?

Zettel: It’s very important.

Based on the customers that AVI-SPL has and the needs that they have, we pride ourselves on having a very high percentage of Fortune 500 or 100 customers that generally are multi-present and multi-national. We believe our customers see value in being consistent in their design and innovation decisions and more importantly tying them into our services platform.

For us, we’re really not looking to grow for growth’s sake. We’re not a public company focused on forecasts and earnings, but I do believe we need to provide the right solutions for our customers. That need for consistency has changed a lot over the last few years. For us, global is a key piece because most of our customers are looking for somebody to go worldwide with and we aim to be that company.

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