In the Field with Stuart Tickle of AWE Europe
Stuart Tickle of custom integration distribution company AWE Europe in Epsom, UK.
Epsom, Surrey, UK
Specialises in: AWE is the leading UK distributor to some of the custom installation trade’s highest quality brands
When was AWE Europe founded? What was the impetus for starting this AV distribution firm?
The company was founded by my great-grandfather over 80 years ago. Originally called Radio Menders Ltd, we were a sales and repair agent of premium audio equipment, although in those days they were a wireless, rather than being wireless!
However, World War II demanded a change of direction and the company evolved to become a manufacturer of wound components for radar and so on, and then in the ‘70s, cassette-based background music equipment for pubs and shops. When multi--disc CD players came about, we started selling them to both retail and trade, which was the nucleus of how AWE came back to its roots selling and supporting audio-visual equipment.
What was your inspiration for developing a career in AV integration?
As part of the business, my father opened a small hi-fi shop in Thornton Heath and I was a ‘Saturday Boy’. This is just when Pro-logic, laserdisc and rear-projection TVs were emerging and I thought that was much more appealing then manufacturing in an age where China was starting to dominate. So, once I left school I joined the firm full time and set about growing that part of the company.
What challenges did you initially face? How did you overcome them?
Recessions and budgets were small. Our stock room was a bedsit above the shop, and myself and Paul Mott (who still works at AWE today) specified, ordered, sold, packed and labeled every box we sold. The biggest challenges in recent times have been more related to lack of supply or product withdrawal of major lines. To succeed, you have to evolve and be determined to out-perform others in all areas. I believe we punch well above our weight as a result.
As AWE gained a foot hold in the industry, how did your approach to promoting, packaging and selling AV products change? Were there any industry trends that influenced these changes?
A trade promotional campaign for us was faxing a ‘Hot List’ through one by one to people we found in the Yellow Pages! It took ages, but was effective. Whilst the methods may have changed, the basic concept we stick to is that you have to add value, not just sell a box. We now have a very strong range of complementary brands that make AWE an essential company to deal with. We have building blocks of products, ensuring we have products that form very simple systems, up to premium whole-house integrated solutions.
It’s no secret that residential AV integration is currently undergoing changes. How does the evolving market, moving into IoT and establishing certain building and technology standards, affect your business?
We launched the Smart Home Academy (pictured above) to provide training for newcomers and advanced technicians. We also set up an industry-leading facility incorporating a show apartment and the AWE Cinema, and we have a new initiative due for full launch in a few months too. It’s business as usual as far as we are concerned—nothing stays still and we will always aim to be at the leading edge.
How can integrators go about choosing the right distribution dealer for their business? What factors should they consider?
Just deal with AWE – simples! Seriously though, not that I wasn’t being serious, but you have to look at what value the distributor is adding other than a supply route of products. It is a fast-evolving market and it is essential that you trust who you are dealing with and get to speak to real people who can add value throughout the process from training to sales and support.
What do you anticipate will be the next industry game changer? How and why?
Successful mass-interoperability of mainstream devices. There are thousands of new “smart” products being launched, but most currently live on their own ecosystem. I am very interested to see how and when these mass market (so-called IoT) devices become a viable solution. To be clear, I do not believe it is a problem for our industry, it’s part of the continued evolution.