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30 years and still flying high: Interview with AED’s Glenn Roggeman

CEO Glenn Roggeman on how he created one of the most significant pro-audio players businesses in Europe

It’s 30 years ago since 16-year-old Glenn Roggeman started a professional rental company. “The roots of AED (originally Acoustic and Electronic Development) date back to 1977 – a small pro-audio and hi-fi retail shop named Eglantier. Four years later, in 1981, Eglantier was renamed AED Ltd and started import and distribution of Richard Allen and Beyma loudspeakers and AEQ amplifiers,” remembers Roggeman, who joined the company in 1985.

One year later, in 1986, QSC named AED as distributor – a commitment still standing today. “And by investing in 32 QSC 1700 amplifiers we could support clients who bought four amps with us, but needed extra gear for a festival,” he explains. “We wanted to grow in professional sales and so established a unique formula where we could assist our clients in their business. That’s why, in 1987, we actually started up AED Rent because we wanted to help our customers when they had a major assignment coming up. Rental to support sales…” Roggeman explains.

With Beyma and Richard Allen components, Roggeman designed over 200 types of speaker enclosures – in total over 20,000 units were sold in the Benelux as AED Bassbins, Touring Compact, and B218, C215, C2215, C318 cabinets. Under the AK brand (Acoustical Kits) AED sold DIY kits for rental companies and supplied the enclosures, speakers and crossovers.

“Few people in the business know that we supplied thousands of Beyma speakers and crossovers for fairground attractions in Benelux, Germany and France. Those activities where the roots of AED Rent: supporting the sales of Beyma and QSC gear,” underlines Roggeman. “And that’s when we invented the term ‘Rental Support’.”

From 1987 onwards, with the addition of professional light equipment, AED Rent continued its expansion both in Belgium and abroad with France (1993) and the Netherlands (1995) establishing AED Rent subsidiaries.

Throughout AED’s history, the company has proven itself to be a trendsetter. Alongside its continuously expanding range of audio and lighting equipment, AED Rent also invested time and money in optimising the workflow. “Driven by a constant quest for efficiency, AED was the first to standardise rigging gear and trolleys,” continues Roggeman. “In doing so we started the industrialisation of our business. All the equipment on the rental list had to be tested, ‘spick and span’-clean and in demo-condition. Idem for our warehouses and trucks – this was unique in the trade and put us where we are today.”

Another innovation on the market was AED Rent’s price list – first issued in 1986, the list has been generally accepted and serves as a reference guide for professionals worldwide.

Take it to the bank

In 2003, four years after AED Rent moved to new 5,600sqm warehouses in Willebroek, Roggeman decided to stop doing production assignments and to become a fully-fledged ‘material banker’: to become an asset-based all-in partner for professional AV companies without competing with them on the market. AED would let the market decide – organically – whether to buy, rent, sell, or lease their kit. “At that point, our dry-hire rental really gained momentum. It took us 10 years to break the concept to the professional users and, by 2003, we counted some 200 clients for equipment rental jobs. From then onwards we concentrated on the further development of AED,” comments Roggeman.

He admits that, with a continuous growing turnover since day one, AED suffered a decline of some 50% in business figure in the years 2003-2005, as a result of the new strategy of focusing on dry-hire instead of taking on production assignments themselves. But Roggeman survived the revolution, both inside his own company and with his clients, making his vision of material banker come true.

“We had to break a new business model, unknown until then, while facing some scepticism.”

A familiar story in every country where AED sets up a subsidiary – the company had to overcome quite some resistance but, in the end, the market reactions were very positive. “The first reaction in the UK was typical: ‘What are your plans here?’,” remembers Roggeman. “Today, with AED Rent UK on the market for five years, the majority of the top 10 ranked rental companies make use of our support.”

While continuously expanding and upgrading its audio, light and video inventory, AED added new activities like the AED Cases factory, AED Store, AED Second Hand, the demohall for equipment shootouts, training and demo’s and their in-house repair service AED Repair.

In 2011, Glenn Roggeman launched AED Lease, a unique formula allowing audio-visual companies to innovate while creating or maintaining a healthy cash-flow.

“Today, AED Lease is our biggest grower in the group,” enthuses Roggeman. “This unique asset/banking formula where clients, after four years, have the option to decide whether to buy the equipment (opening new fiscal opportunities while debiting investments) or return it to our secondhand fleet network and buy new kit is a key activity in our group. Since 2011, we have dealt with €120 million worth in leasing contracts.”

A second stronghold for the AED group is the company’s Master Distribution division, where AED’s successful business 1985 model was exported abroad. “Equipment rental is supported via distribution – with extra inventory and trade-in campaigns, we support the local brand distributors by giving them unique tools,” continues Roggeman. “If someone wants to trade in his old line array, let’s say in Germany, we can, thanks to our pan-European structure, provide new kit within 24 hours.”

In 2013, the AED group acquired the former Alfacam Media Centre estate: a 55,000sqm industrial site offering room for 16 film and TV studios, rehearsal rooms, offices, 120 backstage rooms, wood-, prop- and clothing shops, a helicopter port, casting rooms and restaurant facilities. “When we took over the studios, they had an occupation rate of some 4%. I’m happy to say that today, we’re looking at an annual average occupation of 36% – the last four months, 80% of our studios was booked up solid,” says Roggeman. “The site was refurbished to become the most complete production facility in the world. We’ve built 3,000sqm office space with 2,000sqm extra to come in 2016. AED Studios’s activity also attracted some 20 TV or movie related companies to the site.”

Looking ahead, Glenn Roggeman expects much from the newly released ‘Budget Solutions’ price list, revealed on the occasion of AED’s 30th anniversary. “By issuing this ‘alternative’ price quotation list, we want to avoid our business to degrade into price-undercutting,” he explains. “By going cheaper and cheaper, we don’t leave too much a business for the next generations.”

Roggeman says that whereas 25 years ago, a 3.5% return on investment on festivals was the average, today companies have to do with a mere 1%. “Technology has become eight times more expensive, requiring much more capital invested in audio, lights and video.”

With the Budget Solutions price list, AED Rent is creating an ‘economy class’ inventory, allowing rental companies to enter budget-friendly but profitable offers to their clients. “In order to offer first-class tickets, we need economy-class tickets as well,” says Roggeman, with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 30th anniversary’s airline theme (pictured above).

The AED group’s 2015 turnover noted a 14% growth compared to 2014 – despite a downward audiovisual market in sales and rental. The company’s sales division posted a growth of 50% in 2015, thanks to their Master Distribution concept. Prospects for 2016 show another 30% increase.

Wherease fifteen years ago, Belgian business accounted for 75% of the group’s turnover, the company’s foreign subsidiaries in France, Germany, The Netherlands and the fast growing UK take on 60% of the business today. Audio accounts for some 25% of the turnover, preceded by video (40%) and lighting (35%).

With some €120 million of leasing contracts under the belt, over 50,000 rental assignments per annum, another €120 million invested in new equipment and a staff of over 300 people working for AED group, the company’s future looks promising.

“Am I a trendsetter? Yes – and a visionary game-changer? OK – but I wouldn’t call myself a powerful man,” opines Roggeman. “There’s a lot of creative people staging concerts, events and festivals with a unequalled passion and energy and my goal is to professionalise our industry allowing us to leave a beautiful story behind us for the next generations.”