16 Oct 2020

Crestron: Who is in Control Here?

by John O’Brien

When I first came across the Crestron brand in 1995, I didn’t yet fully understand the integration game and it was all a bit heady. Little did I know then that I’d end up working for them a decade or so later!

A History lesson
Crestron started in 1972, formed and led by Mr George Feldstein – a truer New Jersey-ite there’s rarely been. Tinkerer, inventor and general eccentric, he led the company until his passing in 2014. I met him a couple of times and could see his mind working away as he talked.

This smart guy was also smart enough to surround himself with other bright sparks. Long-time VP and now CEO, Randy Klein, is a very sharp operator, well paired with VP & CTO Fred Bargetzi, an inquisitive engineer with personality to boot.


Together, they’ve helped Crestron continually grow in size, scope and market share over many years.

To this day, it’s still a private company that is growing year on year and they always invest a large component of revenue into R&D rather than acquiring companies to fill gaps.

This development focus has helped them enable continual innovation and evolution of products and market approaches. Many of their solutions are now deployed and managed from the cloud.

From AV to Smart Space IoT
Historically, the company started with AV controllers but have gradually added more parts to complete a full solution. Audio distribution and structured lighting were early additions, but the first big breakthrough was adding Ethernet interfacing (eControl) in the days when AV & IT didn’t mix.

This moment was surpassed with the introduction of their Digital Media suite – transmitting digitised AV over IP. It has been taken up widely and is a major part in the last decade of successful expansion for the brand, now reputedly turning over US$1.5Bn annually.

Teams and Zoom integration in their Unified Communications solutions like Flex have been particularly successful during the recent WFH revolution.

From a distance, it seems that they have evolved from boutique bits and pieces that joined the dots between 3rd party gear towards full and scalable end to end solutions.

Crestron Flex

Antipodean vs worldwide – why so slow here?
In spite of great success elsewhere in the world, it took a long time for Crestron to really kick off in the Pacific region.

Until 2004, they were distributed by a variety of companies that struggled to break the AVT/AMX stranglehold on the commercial and institutional integration sectors.

That all changed when Audio Telex took the brand on. I met General Manager at the time, Stuart Craig, and was impressed with his vision for growing the marque. I became their first tech and trainer, having recently finished two years working for the previous agent.

When Stuart’s father Rod retired, the company was bought by Hills and SVL was formed. Business boomed until the GFC, where I took a redundancy, but Stuart stayed on a while longer before pursuing other opportunities.

About six years ago, Crestron moved their global distribution model to direct regional offices and Stuart was appointed to head Crestron ANZ. I talked to him recently to see where the brand is going and how they are faring amongst the great upheaval.

“Since then [forming Crestron ANZ] the local team has gone from strength to strength and they are really good people that I am enormously proud of,” said Stuart.

Having worked with many of them, I have to concur. Ironically, their last face to face get together in January was at Quarantine Bay!

20 years back, Crestron’s major market in ANZ was residential. They were into a few universities and corporate spaces but did not have the reach that AMX saw at the time. How things change. Over the last 15 years, Crestron has been doing increasingly well in the commercial sector.

From Stuart – “On the commercial side, our major markets are enterprise, education and government. Currently, all three are growing as we continue a very successful, extended period.”

Stuart Craig

That growth has allowed the company to expand their scope beyond supporting dealers and system integrators. He continues – “In recent years we have focused heavily on spending time with end users to drive demand and that has been appreciated by our dealer base.”

Not that the residential market has been forgotten – “The residential business is also growing and much of that is on the back of a relatively new platform called HOME. It has been quite the game changer.”

High end approach
I always thought of Crestron as the Rolls Royce of AV gear. I certainly saw more than a few Rollers in the drives of some of the establishments where the gear was installed. But Stuart insists that – “I’m not sure you pay a premium these days as we have held prices for over five years, but I believe we are premium in terms of the sophistication of our solution and our support.”

He elaborates – “We still offer free phone, email and on-site tech support and that is a service that is truly appreciated and valued by dealers and end customers. That ‘care’ makes us premium for sure.”

You can’t buy this stuff at a box store. There’s a good reason for that – Crestron have such a wide range and depth of gear and solutions that they have always put value on ensuring that their product is deployed well.

It’s generally made well and keeping their dealer base supported and up to date has served everyone involved.

Training & support
A broad and deep gamut of hardware and software offerings necessitates ongoing education and assistance.

Stuart says that – “We focus on driving demand to help [dealers] grow their businesses and we put a lot of money and time in training and support to make sure we can help their next project be a big success.”

Crestron team at Integrate 2019

In light of the broader predicament we all face, Crestron ANZ are opening up some of that training beyond their dealer base.

“We welcome anyone from the events/pub/club side of the industry who is looking to use the time to retrain in the video and control side of the business: we will put on extra classes and help where we can.”

Stuart adds – “If you are doing it tough today, I firmly believe your time will come and using this downtime to do some Microsoft or Crestron IT and Teams focused courses will help your prospects. Again, our door is open.”

I sure hope some of you take this offer up.

2020 vision
Crestron are affected by the current turmoil like everyone else. “For everyone this has been tough. In the AV industry we install systems into workplaces and education facilities.

“A vast majority of those facilities are empty. However, this is a period of accelerated digitisation and we are all a part of that.” – wise words from Stuart.

Crestron have also been long term Microsoft partners and this alliance has been another big part of recent successes. As the whole world suddenly started working remotely, Teams and Zoom platforms have been in high demand.

“When we all got sent home in March there should have been a huge workplace disconnect and some serious chaos but there wasn’t.

“We have all adapted to video and got on with it; that will be with us forever and will certainly feature heavily in everyone’s workplaces moving forward.”

Long term organic evolution with a keen eye on the future puts this company in a strong position. This approach is particularly pertinent in the rapidly changing environment we find ourselves in –

“There is a lot of work being done around new technologies and new applications of existing technologies for this Covid world. This will be the time we see digitisation in our industry accelerate.”

Crestron stand at Integrate 2019

We then went on to talk about what was up next. Never resting on their laurels, Crestron are bringing out new models of some flagship gear this year.

Strategically, they are expanding beyond just hardware and Stuart elaborates on selling services – “In a bigger picture, you will see more Cloud and Virtual Control developments as we look to further enable the SLA for our dealers.

“Room based subscription models for Cloud have started at Crestron.”

48 years in the making
The world has changed considerably since 1972 and Crestron has evolved along with it. They’ve grown from geeky slide projector control to a massive and sophisticated presence in the AV world.

I reckon George would be proud of where his project has ended up and excited to see where they go next.

CCS-UC-1 Crestron Mercury Tabletop UC Audio Conference Console

CX Magazine – October 2020   

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