Sharp’s AV

Sharp's AV Audio Visual Visionary

Sharp’s Audio Visual has come a long way in its 88 years in business. What began as a company showing Laurel and Hardy movies across small town Alberta grew into an Audio Visual giant with multi-million dollar installation projects. This month, CBJ sits down with President Jeff Faber and Vice-President of Sales and Marketing Tim St. Louis to discuss the business and its recent success.

Sharp’s AV sells, rents and installs AV equipment for events, meetings, conferences and other venues. The business model is comprised of two components: about 10 per cent of the business comes from its rentals and staging group and 90 per cent of revenue comes from its sales and installation group. “We have a very broad client-base,” explains Faber. “We do a lot of work in education, both K-12 and post-secondary. We also work in government, military, and do a fair amount of work in corporate Canada.” This diverse client base is perhaps one of the reasons that the company has been quite successful is cornering the market.

The merger

A major moment for the business came in 2008, when Sharp’s AV merged with Apex AVSI, another major AV company in Calgary, subsequently garnering the dominant market share in the city. It was this merger that brought both Faber and St. Louis into the operation from Apex AVSI. “Tim and I bought [Apex] and later merged it with Sharp’s,” explains Faber. “The merger was a very important part of growth and success.”

And growth and success it undoubtedly has experienced. Today the company has locations all across Canada—in Calgary, Banff, Edmonton, Halifax, Lethbridge, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, and Whistler. The size and reach of the company, according to Faber, is part of what keeps it competitive. “We are one of the largest, if not the largest, AV integrators in Canada, so we are able to take on a lot of bigger projects.” Faber explains that the scope of the AV industry has changed, resulting in bigger budgets and more extensive projects. “Even five years ago, a $100,000 job was a nice size job—and today that is still is a nice size job—but we are starting to play in million-dollar or multi-million dollar size projects. We are currently working on a $4.5 million project.”

“These big projects never used to exist. Technology is becoming much more important to the business enterprise. Whether it is an oil company, a manufacturing company, education or higher education, visual technology is being used and relied upon more and more…it is becoming like the TV or the computer in that it is an important business tool, a necessity.”

Current projects

St. Louis speaks excitedly of a number of
current projects underway. One in particular with the University of Calgary involves the Taylor Family Digital Library. “We are outfitting the entire digital library with AV equipment, both in the common areas and all other areas…as well as [installing] meeting room technology. It will be a state-of-the-art facility—as far as I know there is nothing like it in Alberta or anywhere else in the rest of Western Canada.”

Sharp’s AV is also one of the largest distributors of SMART board technology—an interactive whiteboard used heavily in education and increasingly in business. “You walk up to it and your finger becomes the mouse,” St. Louis explains. “We have an ongoing project with the Calgary Board of Education where we are supplying and installing a large percentage of classrooms with SMART board technology.” By project completion, August 2011, Sharp’s AV will have installed several thousand SMART boards into Calgary classrooms.

The company has experienced a very successful period of growth since 2008, despite an economic downturn. Last year it opened offices in Montreal and Quebec City and, the year prior, in Halifax. “What we have done is taken advantage of business opportunities in those markets and then leveraged those opportunities to open up operations in those locations,” explains Faber. Expansion during the recent economic downturn is without a doubt a testament to the strength of the business.

“We kind of lagged the downturn,” says Faber. “We stayed strong during the first part of [the recession] and weakened slightly during the second part, but that is definitely over and behind us and business levels are back very strongly again.” Sharp’s AV has its eye on expansion into several key markets where it does not yet have a presence, notably Regina and Ottawa.

Green initiatives

Sharp’s AV also has plans to increase its green initiatives and recently established a green committee to investigate further how the business could engage in more green practices. “We are trying to take that initiative to the next level,” states St. Louis, using the example of the promotion of video conferencing. “We are a large proponent of video conferencing, not only to help consumers reduce their carbon emissions but also [to help reduce] ours. We communicate with our offices very efficiently using video conference.”

Sharp’s AV has a long history in the Audio Visual sector. From the early days of small town theatres to the complex presentation systems of today, the company has consistently proven itself to be a smart, strategic market leader. In a world where presentation technology is becoming the everyday, Sharp’s AV is surely set for a bright and prosperous future.