DYNAMIC AV :THE SOUND OF SRI LANKA’S FUTURE

THE AUDIO VISUAL SOLUTIONS BUSINESS IN SRI LANKA HAS HUGE POTENTIAL, BUT GETTING IT RIGHT IS THE CHALLENGE

For over a decade, Dynamic AV has been providing Professional audiovisual (AV) solutions to all segments of the Sri Lankan market. Here, the company’s four founders, Mohan Abeyasinghe, Managing Director, Naomal Abeyesekere, Director Operations, Dhanushka Fernando, Director Sales and Marketing and Malik Fernando, Director Finance share Dynamic AV’s journey to innovation and market leadership.

Dynamic AV was founded in 2008. What unique experiences and expertise did the founding team bring to the company?

Mohan: Dhanushka, Naomal and I were working together in the same field for over ten years before we decided to set up a company of our own. We had a lot of experience and we saw potential in the market; at that time, companies were selling products but we wanted to create a business that marketed solutions, that was the key differentiator. We teamed up with Mr Manilal Fernando (our Chairman) and started this entity. We had the knowledge of the industry and business… but the challenge was that as a new company we didn’t have manufacturers to represent. We used this knowledge of the industry and business as a means of leverage and over time built strong relationships with international manufacturers.

Consistent business growth enabled us to gain total confidence with them which led to Dynamic AV gaining exclusivity or preference status with most of the manufacturers we represent. Our expertise meant the business developed quickly – within the first year we tripled our growth projections. Our rapport with our customers, together with a “solutions” based approach enabled us to achieve exceptional growth during the first 5 years of business. Our portfolio of products still evolves today as we continue to bring state-of-the-art equipment into Sri Lanka. The diversity of products is one of our key strengths; we are able to offer customers solutions, from something affordable to high end.

 The company focused on providing Audio Visual Solutions, how was your approach to the market as a new entity in this business?

Malik: In 2008 when the company started it was the last stages of the war and the entertainment and projects business opportunities in the country were limited. We believed that whilst it was dormant then, it would grow again, and we simply positioned ourselves for this growth. At that time the business was focused on just selling products. We felt that we should adopt the total solutions approach and this should be how we can differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

Dhanushka: When we started, people viewed all speakers as the same and thought loudness equaled quality. Changing this mind-set was quite a difficult task but through workshops, product launches, training and one to one customer visits we’ve been able to establish differentiation between quality vs price as well as clarity vs loudness.

We also adopted a consultative approach in our marketing efforts, advising on projects, sharing our knowledge and educating people. It used to be that engineers from manufacturers and foreign consultants were called in for major projects, but Dynamic AV has been able to provide that international level of service and solutions in-country. Through our education process customers understood the difference between a normal speaker system and a line-array speaker system. In 2010 we launched open air the first line array system in the country offering them an opportunity to experience the system.

Line-arrays systems today is a standard in projects such as auditoriums, houses of worship and the music industry. Our line array installations are now in almost 50 sites such as The University of Colombo, Ave Maria Convent, Mercedes Benz Centre, District SecretariatAnuradhapura, NSBM, Ministry of Megapolis & Western Development, Elphinstone Theatre to mention a few.

How have the types of projects that Dynamic AV has worked on evolved?

Naomal: Our projects are very diverse; from the tallest building in Sri Lanka (the Lotus Tower) to the largest project (with the Ministry of Defence). We have provided solutions to airports, houses of worship, the education sector and of course entertainment venues such as hotels and cinemas. Rental companies in Sri Lanka are also our clients, while that may seem counterintuitive, it gives audience visibility to our brands and increases the exposure to high quality systems, which benefits everyone.

We are proud of our total dominance in the conferencing and interpretation market segment. Our installation of such systems are in the Presidential Secretariat, Western Provincial Council, Temple Trees, Universities, and the Ministry of Finance Another area of dominance is the Public Address System market segment where, in the hospitality industry, our customers include: The Colombo Hilton, Shangri La Hambantota, Cinnamon Grand, Cinnamon Lakeside, Cinnamon Red, OZO Colombo & Kandy, Heritance Negombo, Heritance Ahungalla, Heritance Kandalama, Hilton Weerawila, Heritance Aarah-Maldives. We are also proud of our association with the largest AV project in the country – The Cinnamon Life Project, where we have partnered with Spectrum Singapore. You partner with some of the largest international brands like TOA, Harman, JBL, Sennheiser and Epson.

 What was your strategic thinking behind entering into these partnerships?

 Mohan: During the early years, particularly on the audio side we represented many international brands of repute. The limitations with these brands were the range of products available, so we set our sights on the Harman Group who have an extremely wide range of products and brands such as JBL, Soundcraft, Crown, Amx. This enabled us to expand our solutions offered to various segments of the market all from one single manufacturer.

One could say we went up the food chain in this respect. Today in our product arsenal we have Sennheiser, Behringer and TOA. The latter is a brand that had a very low presence in Sri Lanka, and today it is the clear leader in public address market segment. While Sri Lanka is a small market for TOA, our consistent year-in year-out growth has made Sri Lanka a case study for this manufacturer. The partnerships with manufacturers has allowed us to expand into different sectors such as broadcasting. Our sister company Soheto Colombo has the franchise for Sony professional cameras. This is a joint venture with Soheto Singapore. The partnership began two years ago and now these products are used by over 90% of local broadcasters. Sennheiser too is a preferred product in the broadcast industry.

At Dynamic AV we put the same level of effort and service into a Rs100,000 project as we do for a 100 million rupee project. There are no armchair generals amongst our directors, we all are very hands on with our clients and we take time to understand exactly what they want and often play a consultative role and offer them what they actually need. The solutions we plan for them are very detailed and consist of technical and other information so that a non-technical person can understand our solution. Today there are very few competitors who can offer a total solution from high end to affordable. The competition we face most often is from those in the Audio or Video part of the business, and rarely in totality. We carry a large inventory of products, which is costly to the company but this enables us to demonstrate our offerings more often and has proved to be an extremely effective strategy. One can sell sound equipment only through a customer experience. This has been our key success factor in auditoriums and houses of worship.

As a professional Audio Visual company in Sri Lanka, what are the threats that you face?

Naomal: The real threats we face today are from those importing duplicate products and from those who do not pay the full customs duty. To tackle both of these issues would be time consuming and costly. We accept the fact this is part of the competitive environment and deal with each issue on a case by case basis or most often let it go.

In the recent past, what new areas has the company ventured into?

Naomal: A key new product is the paperless conference system. Everybody is familiar with the traditional conference and interpretation systems, but in paperless system everything is done via the cloud, with individual conferencing equipment including a touchscreen to read, write and email. We’ve done several installations and it’s been well received. The biggest installation so far is the Western Provincial Council. Digitalisation is the future and the technology to do it is getting more affordable. Every customer wants the latest equipment, the best auditorium and conferencing system. We’re excited about collective paperless solutions and all sorts of new IP based solutions that provide services on demand. We take time to understand our clients and advise on the best solutions for them.

Dhanushka: We also aim to offer something different to the customer. Brandix, one of our clients, is going for a total green concept. They’ve upgraded several of their factories to using sound as a way to entertain and motivate their employees. We’ve installed a speaker system, they have musicians coming to perform and the sound is amazing. It really helps motivate the staff and boost morale in the workplace.

How have you created a culture of innovation within the company?

Dhanushka: We have 140 employees and 50% of them are on the technical side. We have given our technical staff the freedom to come up with their own ideas, to interact with our suppliers and to find solutions by themselves. I’ll give you an example: we had a project from the General Hospital, they wanted to interconnect all their PA system in such a way that they could select a particular building and give a message. Our manufacturer said there would be limitations with this, but our technical team went to the site, drew up a plan for all the 90 buildings, studied the problem and came up with a solution; now everything is working fine. Our supplier was so impressed they shared the learnings with their other partners.

How is technology changing what you do, and what areas of innovation are you most excited about?

Naomal: There are so many developments and they’re so diverse. As an example, for libraries we can install a small magnetic strip in the spine of the books that automatically monitors when they are taken out, replacing the barcode system. We’ve installed this in about 10 libraries so far, it makes security and inventory checking so much easier. The same supplier is developing ways of digitizing libraries to increase accessibility for readers. Another example is Building Management Systems (BMS) that connect together all the elements in a building, such as the PA system, the projectors, the AC systems, the doors, the screens, and controls all the elements together.

E-learning and smart classrooms are another area of innovation. Now lectures can be transmitted from another location, even in a different country, to students through a TV or screen. There’s vast potential for this type of technology, it can also be used for military communications and so many things.

Where does your Rental and Events business add value to Dynamic AV?

Our Rentals and Event Management company uses only brands that we market. Apart being a good revenue earner this gives a great deal of brand exposure to our products. This value addition is significant. We have done a great deal of work in this area of business and in particular are proud of being the official sound supplier to 2011 ICC World Cup Cricket Tournament, and in 2012, to be official sound supplier to the T20 ICC tournament as well. In 2013, we supplied the conference systems to the CHOGM commonwealth heads forum and in 2014 we event managed the Lionel Richie show. The event business now is very competitive with numerous players mushrooming on a monthly basis and price is the key factor. The only way we combat this is by the quality of the service and products we use for our events and rentals.

What plans does Dynamic AV have for future diversification or expansion?

 Mohan: As a company, there are lots of areas that we could be looking at, but for now we are consolidating our existing avenues of business. We have some big projects coming up and are training our staff for such projects. I think our journey has come to a stage where we are have a bigger role to play in the development of Sri Lanka. Dynamic AV wants to maintain our leadership in this industry and are positioning ourselves to be ready for the opportunities, and the challenges that such opportunities will throw at us. The next five years will be very interesting for sure.