In the Field with Michael Sherman, managing director of HENRI

Following on from multiple award wins at this year’s CEDIA EMEA Awards, Charlotte Ashley chats with HENRI’s Michael Sherman about how passion for custom installation runs in the family, and the opportunities and challenges of working in France.

HENRI is very much a family business. Tell us about the company’s origins and how you personally came to work in the custom installation business? Did you have an interest in technology from a young age?

The company was founded by my grandfather in 1961. He started simply – on his own as an electrician artisan. After a few years, the care he put into his work and the service he gave his clients made his small company grow and he was able to hire some more workers.

Headshot of Michael Sherman, managing director of HENRI

My father joined him in 1982 and also worked as an electrician for about ten years before running the company. He was the one who became interested in bringing more services and more comfort through technology to his clients. Thanks to the CEDIA association, he discovered some American brands such as Lutron and was the first in France to import those products and to install them on his projects.

I’ve always been interested in technology and I got the chance to discover the company growing up, working during holidays for example. I never felt forced to join the family business, but after my engineering studies I really felt like it was what I wanted to do. I got the chance to combine my passion for high-tech with my appeal to entrepreneurship, and I still do.

How much of your work is currently taking place locally compared to the rest of Europe and further afield? Do you see any new markets emerging for HENRI in the near future?

We mainly work in France out of two offices in Paris and Cannes on the French Riviera. These are our two core regions of work, but we cover the whole country. In the past few years we delivered a five stars hotel in Courchevel, a wine Chateau next to Bordeaux and a Villa in Normandy, for example.

We also work regularly in the bordering countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, etc. Clients here are willing to pay extra in order to have us work over there. These projects have given us our export know-how which now means we could work even further afield if the opportunity should arise.

I think the market in France is still emerging. There is a realisation of the importance of certain technologies in the residential industry but we still have about 10 times less properties equipped with intelligent systems than in the UK. There is a long way to go, therefore it’s important for CI companies to work together in order to inform and educate the decision makers.

What is the split for commercial and residential work at the moment? Has this changed at all in recent times?

Our two main markets are private residential and luxury hotels. We occasionally work for shops and showrooms as well such as Mercedes Champs-Elysées, Van-Cleef Place Vendôme or Ralph-Lauren Saint-Germain.

Our main market remains the private residential, but we have worked more and more with hotels these past few years. There are two reasons for that: firstly, because it’s an active market currently with a lot of luxury hotels being fully or partially renovated. The other reason is because our recent growth as a company allowed us to reach the critical size to deliver those huge projects in a short period of time, with the same level of quality.

What are the key changes have you seen and had to adapt to in the residential industry in you time working at HENRI?

In terms of technical aspects of projects, technologies have evolved a lot during the few years I worked at HENRI. I remember about 8 years ago installing a mobile touchscreen, about 2 kilos, and a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels – and now we have the iPad with Retina screen. A lot of the products that used to be controlled trough infrared or RS232 are now IP controllable. This has allowed us to get more skills in the network domain, hire experts and get trained ourselves.

“Clients are better informed and know more than before, therefore we can go deeper in understanding their needs and requirements and be closer to the delivering the result they expect.”

Another change I have witnessed is the technical knowledge of our clients. They are better informed and know more than before, therefore we can go deeper in understanding their needs and requirements and be closer to delivering the result they expect. But sometimes, the amount of information they have get them lost in the different solution than the market has to offer. It is our responsibility to act as experts and be able to advise them on the best technology to meet their needs.

What challenges do you currently face as an integrator (i.e. educating clients? recruiting staff? other factors?)

I was very lucky to start in a company that was already renowned for its quality of work and its technical knowledge, which had already achieved some wonderful projects and references. Yet the challenge we continue to face is developing our business and growing while maintaining the same level of high quality.

Recruiting staff is a challenge of course, and we have a policy to educate and train people internally and welcome interns and apprentices. Most of our staff started their work life at HENRI and are in the company for a long time now – it’s a long but worthwhile process.

We also had to develop and put in place new processes, tools and methodologies allowing us to work efficiently, even to cover having more staff. This organisation-wide transformation has been critical to allowing us today to deliver more projects and bigger installations with the same outcome.

Tell us about one of HENRI’s most interesting recent projects. What were some of the challenges you had to overcome, and how did you do so?

We recently delivered a private villa of 3,500 square-metres (37,500 square-feet). The villa is fully equipped with the latest technologies in terms of lighting and shading control, audio and video distribution, private cinema and a total control of any equipment of the property through ergonomic and intuitive user interfaces.

There are 285 lighting circuits and 30 indoor roller shades controlled from 80 keypads, 23 video sources broadcasted on 8 televisions and 2 mirror screens, 29 music zones equipped with high-end speakers, one high-fidelity room and one Dolby Atmos Cinema room, with Trinnov processing, Classé amplification, 15 B&W speakers, 4 subwoofers and a professional Christie projector. Finally, a Crestron centralised system linked to 13 wall touchscreens, 6 remote controls and 8 iPads in wall docking stations.

swimming pool and living room in crestron automated home isntalled by Henri

Henri cinema room with lights in France home

The main difficulty we faced on that project was to meet the client’s requirement in terms of “total home control.” There is not ONE electronic system of this house that isn’t integrated with other automation systems: lighting, shades, audio, video, HVAC, CCTV, BMS, watering-pump, weather-station, sauna, hammam, swimming pool, elevator, cars elevator, cars turntable, telephony, intercom, letter-box, fireplace and even the electronic piano!

This was challenging to deliver in many ways: the long engineering process in order to check the feasibility, get the adequate protocols, test the products in our workshop in order to validate the complete functioning – even before installation. Then, the coordination with the other companies, (i.e. the individual specialist for network, HVAC, swimming pool, elevator, fire-place, security and so on). Finally, the challenge was then to make all these complex technical features disappear when the client is there, improving their wellbeing at home.

We are grateful that we had an exceptional relationship with the client. We got along from the beginning and had the chance to work closely with him throughout the project. Through this relationship we got to design and to improve this project to the best of our ability, and ensure every element of the project fit his needs.

What is the most popular request you currently receive from clients? Why do you believe this service is so in-demand?

Most of our clients now want to be able to control their home from their smartphones and tablets. Those products are very popular of course as they should be, but it’s not always the optimal user interface in every situation. We still recommend to have some fixed wall touchscreens in some specific areas or even get a programmable remote control allowing you to access hard buttons quickly when watching TV when we think it’s necessary for having the best and simplest experience at home.

What do you think is most important for attracting and securing the business from high net worth individuals?

It is all about the service! It’s not about the products, and it’s not (entirely) about the price. Those demanding clients and interior designers expect from us the best service possible, as they get in any luxury hotel, for instance. You have to be able to advise them, to accompany them during their project and even after, and to offer them a very high quality of work. This quality has to be the essence of any part of the job, from engineering design, through installation, to programming and commissioning. It can only be achieved when the team members all have that philosophy and approach.

“As a family business I think we were able to maintain the values my grandfather has passed down: the taste for quality work, the dedication and respect of clients.”

As a family business I think we were able to maintain the values my grandfather has passed down: the taste for quality work, the dedication and respect of clients. These values bring that high quality of service and work which have built the excellent reputation we know have, and it’s the most important when it comes to attracting and getting trust from HNW clients.

integrator HENRI's Showroom in Cannes 'La Maison Henri'

Looking to the industry on the whole, do you believe the design, architecture and building communities has enough interaction with the CI industry? If not, what needs to be done to bridge this gap?

I can’t speak for the industry as a whole, because I believe each country is different. In France the gap is quite big, and the market is less developed than in the UK. It’s our task to bring information to the people who make the projects specifications. We are an ensemble of small businesses and none of us has the power to make this happen on its own. This is why at HENRI we’ve always been involved in the CEDIA from the beginning – the association can help to promote our industry and make the link between the CI and the specifiers.

What do you anticipate will be the next big integration trend in your market in the next 5 years? What is driving it and how can installers benefit?

It’s always a tricky question, and it’s difficult to predict the future. I’m sure a few years ago some CI professionals would have reply that 3D was the next big thing! The most important is to always keep up to date with the new technologies and products, get information and test them so we can advise our clients whether to follow the trend or let it pass.

I think it’s imperative to find an equilibrium between latest high technology and mature products. Our clients for the most part are not tech-savvy people – the technology is just here to bring them comfort, entertainment and security. It needs to be qualitative, reliable and upgradable, and our engineers monitor technological advancements with this in mind.

Michael Sherman is managing director of HENRI