Display Systems International

The medium is the message

One of the North America’s largest providers of scrolling cable television listings is coming home. After tremendous success in the American market, Display Systems International (DSI) is breaking into the Canadian market, growing the company to include Canadian sales and market share. In business since 1983, DSI’s main market is cable and private television companies with 94 per cent of its sales within the United States.

Television listings

They are ubiquitous now. But 27 years ago, the idea of a channel with scrolling television listings was novel.  A North Dakota native, Dale Lemke, CEO and Founder of DSI, was the owner of a Computer Land franchise in Grand Forks, N.D. when he was approached to create a way to use microcomputers to create a channel of information for a local cable television company. “This had never really been done before, but I thought it was a really good idea because computers were relatively inexpensive at that point, especially compared to what stations were paying for their proprietary equipment to do that,” says Lemke.

From there, Lemke developed software on the Apple II (one of the first highly successful mass-produced microcomputer products) and sold it to the inquiring cable station, and two others. Sensing an untapped market, it was a year later that Lemke sold his franchise and moved back to Saskatoon to start a software development company for microcomputers in the cable industry. The product’s versatility soon became evident, when schools, hotels, restaurants and sporting arenas all sought out the company, looking for the product to display their information. “For our first product for DSI we developed the product on an Atari computer. It made for a reasonably priced, but yet powerful, tool for cable TV companies. We sold somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 Ataris to cable TV companies, schools, hotels and all over the U.S. and even a few in Canada.”

After its auspicious beginning, DSI has gone through a number of iterations of products, for the last number of years relying on Windows under the IBM compatible personal computer. DSI offers software products as well as an upgraded software/hardware package which comes configured, tested and up and running for the client. “Now, we see monitors popping up in retail stores, conventions, business displays, advertising for all purposes.” There is no doubt these products lend themselves toward those new markets. DSI has sold products that have gone into large corporations that are used as a means of electronic information distribution within the company. “You might put a few monitors in the cafeteria, or by the water cooler, wherever people congregate, and people can see the monitor and see what is happening within the company,” continues Lemke.

Acquisitions and expansion into Canadian market

The past five years have seen DSI kick into higher gear. The company’s expansion and acquisition focus has reaped a growth rate of over 32 per cent a year for the past five years. Florida-based TeleGuide was recently purchased by DSI, and a large contract to Access Communications in Regina has contributed to DSI’s extraordinary growth. According to Lemke, the contract with Access Communication will put DSI products into 220 cable TV locations in Saskatchewan.  “We developed a product for them that will provide multi-region screens where they can display information such as public service announcements, current weather and road conditions for the community and a few other things and put on community service programming, like messages from the local SPCA or local kinsmen club,” he says.  “We are currently deploying those to Access Communication’s communities across Saskatchewan.” And the nice thing is, all of DSI’s products come with a gratis lifetime updates to the latest version.

Despite an economic landscape that is challenging the strongest of companies, DSI is thriving. Lemke believes this can be credited to the fact that people continue to watch television when times are tough, perhaps even more so in lieu of going to shows or movies.

Lemke and DSI are significant players in the thriving Saskatchewan business community. A previous chairman of the board for the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, member of the board of STEP, up for the board for the North Saskatoon Business Association, Lemke takes the time to contribute to his community. “One of the nice things about being in Saskatchewan is it’s been a steady economy for a number of years but right now it’s been a strong and steady community. Saskatchewan has been doing very well and all indications are that it is going to continue to do well. It’s been interesting and fun to be located in Saskatchewan.”

DSI’s contributions have been rewarded by its peers, and have won many awards, such as the Saskatchewan Achievement Business Excellence Award for Exports and for Retail Products and Services from the Better Business Bureau. DSI also won 2 SABEX (Saskatoon) awards for Small Business of the Year (2010) and for Customer Service. DSI tends to win awards for export, as 94 per cent of its sales over course of its 27-year history have been outside of the country. Of course, this is fitting for a company in a province whose GDP is comprised of 60 to 70 per cent exports.

Canadians can sit back and see DSI grow. Every time one watches a Shaw cable listing, read a company memo on a screen or see and advertisement in a sporting event, they will know that one of North America’s largest electronic display providers has come home.