THE ONLY WAY IS ESSEX AV

Experienced installer Vincent McAtamney, founder of Essex AV (EAV), took on our tantalising ‘Comment From The Coalface‘ quiz in a recent issue of Essential Install Magazine. Want to get involved? Get in touch! dan@essentialinstall.com

Essex AV

Essex AV (EAV) began trading in 2020 during the lockdown largely due to the rise in sales of large screen TVs with few installers to fit them. It’s true to say that we Essex folk do love a larger-than-life TV!

I began the business alone, not necessarily expecting this to become a longer-term venture. However, with my 30-year AV career under the belt and a passion for all things residential, EAV quickly acquired glowing reviews and delivered some of the more challenging projects out there.

We offer three main service categories: TV Installation, Smart Homes, Home Cinema, this seems to simplify what for many consumers can be a complicated sales journey. The company has organically grown and serves throughout Essex and North London. The team includes three additional AV/ build engineers and an NIC Electrician. We often collaborate with trusted industry friends such as Cliff Stammers of CleverRooms and our friends at Sevenoaks Sound & Vision, whom we regularly install for.

A whole house system comprising of 120in ALR screen, 75in TV screen behind media wall, Lutron lighting throughout, Unifi network, C4 control, Lilin CCTV and Entry Access systems; this project is scheduled for completion mid-summer 2024. We are also working on several media walls range from 65 to 85in screens. We design and visualise these and then install using our own build engineers.

We are also currently fitting a 150in day-light screen with a Christie high brightness projector to a North London premises used by a Hollywood actress. To date we have fitted Crestron control throughout, Hik CCTV, BPT Entry Access, Lutron and Unifi Network. We manage the entire AV and control tech in the property along with two additional oversees properties belonging to the homeowner.

Essex AV

I don’t feel particularly close to the AV industry – nothing sinister, I just have my own flair and style which seems to differ from the norm, (drives my wife mad!) so you won’t see us at awards bashes and the like. We prefer stealth ‘cool’. Therefore, I’m not sure how business performance varies from other AV companies and expect there may be some inflated statements out there. We are often welcomed by new clients who describe less than pleasant experiences from some AV professionals.

I just think that basic courtesy, transparency and honesty are owed to every client regardless of budget. My team are trained to work with passion, enthusiasm and dare I say a bit of flair and humour. This model seems to work as our order books remain full and pre-booked with referrals and repeat business along with a steady flow of new orders which just seem to appear.

I hope this is the case for many other AV companies. I believe that people have changed since the pandemic days and are now more discerning and selective on whom they invite to work within their homes. I also have an open conversation beforehand with each new client as it is vital to me that each new project is ‘the right fit’ for all parties involved. This model is working and I enjoy regular business which my team and I deliver mostly with a smile upon our faces.

AV distribution companies. I’ll be honest and in no way use this platform to launch an attack but must say that AV wholesaler/ distributors are the ones who on a weekly basis cause us the most frustration. Typically, most are quick to process orders, bank funds and then go on to break promises regarding stock-holdings and availability. I hear of similar experiences with other sectors such as home furnishings and it makes me wonder if the ‘distributor’ model should change. Perhaps one of your entrepreneurial readers might disrupt this market, maybe an organised buying group of respected installers; you have my fullest support!

Also, there is and always has been a ‘superior attitude’ worn by many in the industry. Clients don’t like this, however. I’m not too keen to change this as it makes our offering something of a fresh breath of air, so, thanks guys.

Essex AV

I think our industry does provide some good training, particularly the CEDIA model. I would like though to see some formal legislation in order to filter out the amateurs of which there are still a frightening amount of. I have recently been speaking with local authorities and schools in my area with a personal interest in raising awareness of our industry to appeal to the next generation. It would be good if our industry made it possible and engaging for those with a few decades experience to engage in such programs.

Ocean Pearl – smarthome. I worked this project with my long-time industry friend Cliff Stammers. Together we designed, supplied and installed mostly Crestron AV/Control and lighting throughout the property which was used by a growing family including a young son with severe disabilities. This project made a difference to him, his family and carers. It made us work with passion and great desire to exceed expectations and has led to a friendship rarely found between client and contractor. Cliff and I have laughed together, pulled hair together, screamed, cried and rejoiced. It’s a great project and one we will always be fond of.

I’m pleased that in today’s marketplace there are few poor products, reliability and build quality is good even at relatively low cost and operating systems are now user friendly, led by the app driven market. We do have some favoured solutions and I’d suggest that where possible some consistency between projects is important. For example, we use Unifi IT networks, each one with cloud key access which we maintain remotely with failover backups where feasible. We’ve used most of the usual in-ceiling/in-wall solutions, most quite vanilla but recently used the Dali Audio upper end products and were smitten.

Sonos is hard to beat in terms of reliability, UI and ease of installation though we do like installing ports via a managed switch into a high-quality digital power amp per zone, thus enjoying audio performance with ease. We moved away from Crestron last year due to supply chain issues and are currently exploring other control solutions and are mid-way through a number of Control4 projects all going well. We should mention the advancement in home projection systems and have installed ALR screen and short throw systems from Hisense and LG, making 100/ 120in screens possible to a wider home audience which is fantastic.

Essex AV

Best: We recently re-built into a new property (converted barn) a client’s existing Artcoustic system. We built a media wall, new projector and lighting system. The client, quite typically cash rich but time poor came to me the following week on-site, face beaming as he opened up on really needing to gain quality time with his family. They adjusted the rooms’ lighting to a ‘cool pink’ and watched the Barbie movie with wife and daughters – “the best family time in ages” were his words. A reminder that we sell more than ‘AV stuff’, we sell experiences.

Worst: Yo Cliff, it’s a quarter to five on Friday afternoon, let’s do an update on that processor…… We’ve all been there, won’t do that again!

I’m guessing you want a printable answer. Well, I did recently climb a customer’s tree to free up a bird-scaring drone the daft chap had been trying to invent! Lovely guy but I’m always wondering what’s next!

It’s known that I have a passion for the immersive technologies, in particular interactive content, the kind where the viewer chooses what’s next, which camera angle for sports etc. I expect XR will overlay the physical installation with enhanced digital experience. I’ve used VR to aid visualisation of the ‘unbuilt’. My belief is that we are still somewhat behind in the use of XR. These technologies will explode with the likes of Apple producing lighter, smarter, cooler user equipment and just as most AV engineers have by default become IT experts, anyone with knowledge of the immersive technologies will have something of a head start as AV/IT/XR all become a ‘one roof’ solution.

Speaking honestly, my journey in the AV industry has been bumpy at times and as such I haven’t formed close friendships or looked to mentors or individuals for inspiration. I’ve not modelled us on other company patterns and I’m not entirely convinced our industry is a beacon of goodness. However, there are good people amongst us and what I endeavour to do with whatever time remains of my career is to be focussed, work hard, enjoy the ride and in turn hopefully inspire one or two others.

I will select a name, though not an individual I know but know of: Ian Morrish with his Together for Cinema project has to stand out as someone to take an example from. In a similar vein to the Ocean Pearl project, there is another level of satisfaction an inner worth that comes from giving to others. Ian, I do salute all of your work.

My interests outside of work include playing guitar and piano (badly… but hey). I also kayak and live close to the sea. If I go for more than a few weeks without seeing a body of water I get twitchy so won’t be moving to mid-state US anytime soon. Another interest which keeps me in good shape is Kung Fu, or at least flying… as often I’m faced against a huge plumber who likes to see how far he can throw me!

My greatest achievements though are not work related. I have four children I am immensely proud of and am now a grandfather to two boys and enjoy being the cool albeit naughty granddad who has so many tricks to teach these young’uns!

Essex AV

This links to an earlier answer and its ‘better content, particularly interactive’. This would raise the game amongst AV installers as it might lend itself to a more immersive and engaging experience, moving us away from selling kit and into selling experience. Extended displays, enhanced lighting, motion /eye tracking. Imagine content dependent on these technologies becoming something we need to build into our solutions, cool!

Just seen Civil War directed by Alex Garland. The first in a while of movies that provoked thought and some anxiety as it seems not too far from possibility along with a few jump out of skin moments – a fantastic soundtrack too. Typically, my choice of films as I’ve grown older is not the ‘crash bang wallop’ usually demo’d in dealer showrooms, though Dune II should be included here as a great film and awesome AV performance. I enjoy intimate storytelling and some notable movies of late I’ve enjoyed include One Life with Anthony Hopkins and Empire of Light, Olivia Coleman. Music wise, oh so much but as Radiohead have always been a huge inspiration I’ve been enjoying the new material from Johnny and Thom as The Smile – check them out.

Prince. He’d sign my guitar and show us a few new tricks. I can’t think of anyone in recent centuries with as much in-born unfiltered musicality. A huge loss but what a legacy he’s left.

Stanley Kubrick, just to get a glimmer into what ran through that great mind of his, plus he’d probably scare the other guests which is a bonus!

Jimmy Carr, that’s my wildcard. I’ve always loved his humour but until recent podcasts hadn’t realised the depth of his intelligence and positive outlook. It’s been very helpful to me and I would love a chance to pick that brain of his. I reckon I’d make him laugh too!

We’d go to a shabby Wetherspoons, Jimmy could get a tax receipt, Kubrick would take inspiration from some odd-ball for a movie, Prince would cr@p himself – would be a night to remember!

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