It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes or Woodward and Bernstein to notice that something is up with Kramer.
The AV solutions manufacturer appears restless and ambitious.
It’s not just that Kramer, which had done little more than dabble in automation, launched at InfoComm 2016 Kramer Control aiming to virtually eliminate the need for programming with the cloud-based solution’s drag-and-drop features. A lot can be read into the reasons Kramer seemed particularly excited about Kramer Control.
Then VP of marketing Clint Hoffman seemed most excited about the solution’s ability to capture data that he says can provide tremendous value to customers while creating value-add opportunities for integrators.
“It literally captures everything that happens in the control aspect of your system 100 percent of the time automatically and you can immediately get reports on it,” he said.
Hoffman also teased an interest in selling Kramer solutions in an as-a-service model and building solutions around customers’ IT managers’ needs.
There was a sense that when it comes to rethinking traditional AV integration products, services and business models, nothing was off the table.
Meanwhile, longtime, beloved Kramer president and CEO Dave Bright stepped downfrom those roles as he eases into retirement at the end of 2016 and in came former Belden executive Steve Biegacki to take the helm.
Next, Hoffman was promoted to VP of operations, and Kramer announced an expansion of its U.S. sales team with several new appointees and positioned it as a “restructuring” of its U.S. business to provide more customer focus.
One thing is clear: Kramer is moving aggressively.
I talked to Biegacki and Hoffman to try to get a better idea of the direction it’s heading.
Kramer recently announced a handful of sales team moves and the announcement referred not just to the personnel but to U.S. business restructuring. What’s the greater goal?
Biegacki: The greater goal really is —our business has gone forward and grown since Dave [Bright] started the business 20 years ago, but I think we’re at a transition point now, specifically as it relates to the conversion of AV and IT space and as it relates to our product portfolio.
I think our portfolio is becoming more complete. We’re moving more into the control space in a bigger way than ever before. We obviously have an outstanding collaboration line. Both play across AV and IT spaces.
For years people probably thought of Kramer as a box maker or an add-on product, but as we go forward we’re going to be able to do the whole system. Everything from control to signal management to collaboration. I think we’ll be a full line supplier of AV solutions.
Can you talk about the differences between Kramer’s brand awareness and market penetration in the U.S. versus other regions in the world?
Hoffman: It’s more of a historical factor. Companies like Crestron and Extron grew up in the U.S. Kramer being Israel-based actually got its start in western Europe. In Europe there is a perception that Kramer is one of the founders [of AV] and in the U.S. there are other companies that have that.
Biegacki: There is an opportunity to leverage customer relationships we have that start outside the U.S. and have U.S. operations. We are leveraging that shift to drive our business and as a result we’ve also kind of changed the way we do business. It’s forced us to be more customer-centric in our approach with the actual end users in North America leveraging what we have coming out of Western Europe.
Hoffman: Steve used the term “relationship.” People develop relationships with brands over a certain amount of time and people buy from people they’re comfortable with and that they trust. Part of the restructure is putting more resources on that front line.
As Steve mentioned we made boxes and in an analog world that’s fine, but there are a whole bunch of things that go beyond that in a converged world. We’re still going to have boxes which are part of the solution but we’re very focused on software and cloud based solutions. We see that future and we adopted [tagline] AV beyond the box.
We used to focus on educational training but now we offer complete end-to-end solutions and we’ll have to focus more training on our solutions and it will take a greater front line in the future. We as a company are evolving.
New solutions such as Kramer Control seem very targeted at customers’ IT departments. Meanwhile, Steve, your background at Belden points to Kramer potentially making a greater focus on IT selling strategies. Is that the case?
Biegacki: We are focused on that, and I guess that’s a bit of a change for us. Having said that, for this to work right this has to be an and function. We still like what’s going on in the AV space and we see an opportunity to do more in the IT space.
We’re trying to take advantage of an opportunity that’s out there to call on more IT-type influencers within accounts. I think we’re well positioned to do both. We come out of the AV world but I have a lot of experience in the IT space.
We’re changing, No. 1, being aware of who we’re calling on in accounts to make sure we have the right [Kramer] personnel. The other thing is we’re also talking to a number of what I’ll call more traditional IT type distributors and integrators. These are folks who through the years have been involved in voice and data communications and they see that AV is coming in their space and want to learn more about it, and we see an opportunity there.
I think it’s [about] focusing on those folks, the IT folks at the customer, and making them more of a part of the conversation.
Will Kramer’s distribution strategy shift in any way that will impact CI readers?
Biegacki: One of the things we’re doing now is redoing and creating a number of our channel programs. To me there is also a distributor piece in addition to dealer or integrator. When I say channel programs we’re updating to provide more education around how to solve these application opportunities that are out there. What types of solution sets would we have at Kramer to solve what’s going on when we’re talking about an IT? I’m saying that we’re going to try to train some of the AV guys to explain how to work better in this IT world. We’re not going to leave them behind. We’re going to take them with us.
Plus, the flip side is for IT guys that don’t’ know AV. I’m pretty confident there is enough business to go around for all of them. Our plan is not to abandon any of them but to bring them along.
Is everything on track for Kramer Control. When will it be released?
Hoffman: We had hoped at InfoComm [2016 in June] to roll out in October, and that is now February. I don’t think there is a box for which you don’t have an optimistic goal and it turns out to be a realistic goal. It still reps everything we talked about at Infocomm. We built it to provide data. Rather than figuring out how to get data out of the legacy system we built it to provide data. All those things are 100 percent still in place, nothing has changed.
Kramer’s renewed focus on control makes me wonder if there are other categories you’ll be entering or big products to be released. Anything you want to tease?
Hoffman: I tend to oversimplify things by saying that in an AV-IT converged world I see all those little boxes and proprietary systems and dedicated highways we did for so long, I see time boiling down to three categories; wireless presentation; control; and AV over IP.
I think the days of bringing in a giant box and signal highways and a putting in a closed system are getting more and more limited. That’s one of the key elements of Kramer Network, an enterprise management solution.
Biegacki: I think you’ll see more of a move toward software to enable things, and along that line more software-as-a-service offerings where you’ll pay more of a subscription fee with less of a capital outlay up front. I think you’ll see some changes in the pricing models and the way we’re driving capability by more of a software enablement.
Hoffman: The term recurring revenue—historically integrators have had to live in a project world with lots of spikes and keeping people employed has been a challenge given that nature. If we can create more of these as-a-service solutions we can create more a consistent revenue that can only help those folks.