18 Jan 2023

Merivale Group take AV seriously

by Jenny Barrett

In-house AV team and d&b audiotechnik deliver on ambience and aesthetics

Merivale is a pioneer of the Australian hospitality industry and its in-house AV department has been an integral part of that journey, with the help of distributor NAS and d&b audiotechnik. We get a look inside the multimillion dollar business with Group Technical Manager Glenn Rayner.

The story starts…

Born of the 1950s and becoming an iconic house of fashion in the 60s and 70s, Merivale pivoted before pivoting was a thing. Founders Merivale and John Hemmes foresaw a shift in the retail sector and building on the success of a few café and restaurant venues, they turned their attention to hospitality. The early 90s saw the opening of a Merivale restaurant in Potts Point’s Macleay Street, Sydney and by 1996 the last Merivale fashion retail store closed.

Under son Justin’s leadership as CEO since the late 1990s, Merivale is now a multimillion-dollar hospitality, entertainment and development business with a growing portfolio of more than seventy restaurants, bars, pubs, hotels and function spaces, as well as the hospitality rights for two of Sydney’s premier stadia, and over five thousand staff. Renowned venues include Sydney nightclub ivy, and many wonderful and varied restaurants across Sydney’s CBD and suburbs, going as far north as Byron Bay where there is a property in the pipeline, as well as the Lorne Hotel on Great Ocean Road, Victoria and a number of venues in coastal Narooma, NSW.

Justin targets the very best in ambience and customer experience, be that lighting or audio, for every seat in a venue no matter the event – dining, live music, speech. AV is such a priority that under the technical leadership of Glenn Rayner, there has been a shift away from contractors to the formation of an in-house AV team who design, install and service across the company.

Managing AV across seventy- plus venues

Glenn started as a Lighting Operator for Tank nightclub underneath Sydney’s spectacular Establishment Bar. When Tank was renovated in 2011 to become Mr Wong’s Restaurant, Glenn moved into HQ and began to look after the AV systems across the group, “Back then we used contractors, but we have now taken over a lot of that responsibility, designing, installing and maintaining our own systems. I’ve been lucky to pioneer it across the Group and it has been a great success.”

Glenn was motivated by the way Justin works, “He’s very particular about the standard of our installations, very hands-on across every speaker and every light, and he likes lots of detail. With contractors, we can’t afford to have them standing around waiting for directions and instructions, so it made it a lot easier for us to use our own people who know and understand our expectations for a venue.”

Justin and Glenn have high standards for maintenance too, “We want real-time support across the business and can’t wait on availability. The team jumps on things straight away and the expectation is that everything works at every service, so if a speaker malfunctions one evening, someone is out to get it fixed by the following evening’s service.”

In terms of workflow, they take a hybrid approach, “Justin doesn’t like too much advance planning in lieu of seeing the building, so Justin and I look at the venue’s plans and we select speakers based on our experience of venues, knowing what we do about achieving the coverage and quality we need. Then during the build we’ll go onsite and look at where the speakers are going and at that point we might add or subtract to make sure that we’ve got the perfect solution. I guess the methodology we use is that there shouldn’t be a seat in a venue that doesn’t have an experience attached to it, be it lighting or audio. Our experience of walking around venues and restaurants informs our decisions.”

Merivale and d&b audiotechnik – quality and aesthetics

To achieve Justin’s high expectations, especially at the higher-end venues, Merivale relies on d&b audiotechnik with a partnership going all the way back to the fitting out of ivy prior to its opening in 2007/8, “Back then, ivy had hundreds of d&b speakers including E0s and Ci80s. After that d&b became our solution for anything higher end so it then went into Papi Chulo in Manly in 2012 and we haven’t looked back.”

Both Justin and Glenn are d&b enthusiasts, “It is fifty-fifty Justin and I and it’s about selecting the right product for the job. I don’t want to take away from the other manufacturers, but d&b are a really aesthetically pleasing box. The d&b speakers are beautiful to look at, the sound is great, and you don’t have to do a lot to make it work well in a venue. You also get the same voicing across the products, so whether you are using a V-Series line array, V-Series point source, or even the smaller install boxes, when you put it all together it sounds remarkably good.”

Back at ivy in 2017, Glenn led a further upgrade of the nightclub experience and installed d&b’s V Point Source range, and in 2021 whilst renovating the club and removing the dining element, they opted for V-Series line arrays and used the V Point Source boxes as the fill around the room, “Now ivy has V-Series line arrays with four V8s either side, eight V-Subs flown and four B22s under the stage. An additional six V7Ps do the fill on the main dance floor with V7Ps, V10Ps, 10S and 8S boxes filling in the VIP booths and bar areas. We operate an Allen & Heath dLive CDM32/ C1500 console for live events with everything else going through Q-SYS.”

For signal distribution and amplification they use d&b amps and Q-SYS processing on a Dante backbone. “We just use analogue outputs of the Q-SYS into the d&b amps and generally have a really high channel count with no more than two speakers on a channel of an amp. This provides lots of flexibility in zoning and allows us to create different ambiences and feelings throughout the room.”

For the luxurious restaurants, such as Berts at The Newport and Mimis in Coogee Pavilion, they use a lot of d&b 5S, 8S and 12S subs with a few 4S boxes in the bathrooms.

Glenn is mainly catering for BGM but with the capability to plug in a mic or DJ for private events requiring speeches and live music, “You’d be surprised, but even with one event a month we make sure that every space in every venue is flexible and multipurpose. For example, at Mimis we have three spaces, each with stereo local inputs and a Nightlife player for each zone and the processing to support an anything to anywhere approach.”

The BGM is curated by Merivale’s Head of Entertainment, who creates a playlist for each venue, appropriate to the time of day and the ambience. It’s always all about the little things, “As a company we put so much effort into the detail, from the interior design to the atmosphere, and it is our role to support that from the AV side.”

NAS and the supply chain

With so many venues to service, supply is critical, and Glenn relies on NAS Solutions “NAS are our distributor. Shane Bailey (their director) is an incredibly lovely guy, so easy to deal with and helpful. He gets what we need, when we need it, and we’ve worked together for many years.”

The supply chain issues stemming from the pandemic have put a strain on availability, “We struggled a bit to get amps and speakers over the past couple of years, but Shane has really looked after us. It has just been hard getting stuff to Australia. Shane had over a hundred amps on back order at one stage and I’m sure it is still ongoing. I think it will take a few years to get back to pre-pandemic normal.”

Up next for Merivale and d&b

Glenn can’t give too much away about Merivale’s future projects except to say there are plans underway, “Just keep an eye on Tomasetti House in Melbourne. We have recently purchased an old multi story building and are doing a complex redevelopment from top to bottom, and I would imagine it will be d&b that goes in!”


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