March 1, 2022 - Senior Director of Marketing for Crestron Europe Philip Sempels and his team had an idea for a "Crestron-On-Tour" road trip years ago. They had envisioned a "trade show stand on wheels," a vehicle full of Crestron displays that would travel the EU and Britain, stopping at dealers across the region. "It would act as a temporary showroom, and dealers could make an event out of it with their end users," he explains. For a variety of reasons, the idea was shelved for a few years.
Then the pandemic arrived.
The uncertainties of a global health emergency resurrected the notion, and Sempels and his colleagues went to work making the exhibition truck a reality. An agency that specializes in just these kinds of touring, mobile displays was brought into the mix to help with logistics. The schedule is ambitious: Beginning on March 14, 2022, the Crestron Next Road Trip Europe will stop at 38 locations in 19 countries, with 47 "show days" over 16 weeks.
The stops have become "neutral ground," with sports stadiums (specifically football, or "soccer" as it's known in the U.S.) serving as preferred destinations wherever possible. Sempels explains: "Football stadiums have really good logistics. We needed a big enough space where we can park the truck, but also for visitors to park their cars. Beyond that, all the football stadiums in Europe are public transit hubs." In the few places where stadiums aren't available, other sites with similar amenities are in the works.
The vehicle that will carry the gear from place to place is outfitted with sliding segments that pull out to expand the footprint of a standard semi rig. Because space is at a premium, the team had to be very intentional about what technology went along for the ride. "We focused on the commercial products that seem to be having the greatest impact right now," says Annelies Kampert, vice president and general manager of Crestron Europe. "Crestron uses its extensive experience in AV and UC technology to answer the huge demand for workplace technology that offers meeting equity. In the wake of COVID-19, hybrid work environments became more and more commonplace, and we have been developing new products to create a whole ecosystem of solutions for a hybrid workplace." (Additionally, events designed specifically for residential dealers — including training events and demos — are being set up in nine locations across Europe.)
The on-board displays include:
1. Crestron Flex video conferencing solutions with Microsoft Teams® and Zoom Rooms® applications,
2. Intelligent video solutions,
3. Intelligent audio solutions with Shure® audio products,
4. Room scheduling including Microsoft Teams Scheduling Panels,
5. AirMedia® wireless presentation and conferencing, and,
6. The Crestron XiO Cloud® technology operations management platform.
Fortunately, Crestron's hardware has already shown to be reliable in environments where road motion and other vibrations are a factor. After having seen installations on everything from yachts to the tour buses of traveling musicians, the gear has proven its mettle. "Quality is one of our big commitments — on par with our commitment to security," explains Stijn Ooms, director of product strategy (for AV and the digital workplace). "We invest massively in quality control. For instance, we inspect every component and its soldering joints with 3D optical inspections, robotic probe inspections, and even X-rays. We break our products over and over again to find potential weaknesses and correct them. And we replicate years of use (and abuse) via sophisticated vibration machines, thermal shock chambers, and drop simulations. So yes, we are confident that our technology can withstand a long drive over the road. I even remember one engineer in Germany — who was a former special forces member of the armed services — jumped out of a plane with Crestron gear so that a military field command post could test if it could handle just such an operation. That was, of course, successful."
Crestron's partners in the field of workplace technology will also be represented on the truck: "We are proud to be partnering with industry leaders such as Microsoft, NETGEAR, Zoom, Intel, Philips, Shure, Appspace, and Ashton Bentley for this series of events," says Kampert.
Sempels notes that while there will be a consistent driver/operator that transports the display to each locale, Regional Sales Managers will staff the stops and welcome guests. "We needed people in each location who understand the local markets, know the dealers, and, of course, speak the language," he says. The drivers, fortunately, are guided by protocols that are much like those adhered to by pilots — since their interaction with the public is limited, they need not spend days of quarantine between cities.
After two years of virtual trade shows, the touring display and its attendant face-to-face interactions are very, very welcome. "It's not as effective virtually to demonstrate the products," says Kampert. "We do need people to actually feel and interact with the devices, see how the different applications work, and that can only come in a live environment — it's not just pretty graphics on a wall."
A trip such as this uncovers regional differences. "All our products function in all regions, of course, but in different locations, some businesses are stronger than others," says Sempels. "And even within countries, there are differences. I always use Germany as an example: In the Munich area it's the automotive industry, so end users there are from BMW or Audi. If you go to Frankfurt, that's the banking sector. If you go to Hamburg, it's much more about hospitality, travel, and that sort of thing." That's why it's important to have the local sales managers in attendance. The actual specifier changes from region to region as well, he adds: "If you look at Germany, half of the business is drawn through consultants. If you go to Belgium, it's the dealer who is directly in contact with the end user."
Ultimately, Sempels is most excited about the intimate nature of the rolling display. "We can come to the customer, not vice-versa. We have some fixed experience centers in the bigger countries, and we head to ISE every year, but this will really heighten the one-to-one experience with our customers that's so important for them."