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La Presse Interview with Martin Tremblay

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In-depth interview with Solotech CEO Martin Tremblay

While waiting for Céline and The Rolling Stones, a beneficial tech shift.

 

Montreal, April 7, 2021 –  Groupe Solotech, which has handled sound and stage equipment for the tours of many artists, including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga and Céline Dion, took a hard hit when the entire events sector worldwide was suspended. Despite this setback, the sound and stage equipment supplier has made the most of the hiatus by setting up two new divisions in broadcasting and e-commerce. CEO Martin Tremblay outlines the company’s journey and transformation.

Like all companies in the live performance and touring realm, you’ve had to stop your event-related activities for over a year now. How did you absorb the shock?

Solotech is a very resilient company. It’s true that the suspension of live shows meant that we had to repatriate all our teams that were on tour around the world. It also meant the suspension of all the event activities, such as conventions, trade shows and conferences, where we provided lighting, sound and stage dressing.

These activities accounted for 45% of our revenues, so we fell back on our most significant sector of activity: audiovisual system integration. We continued to work in stadiums, arenas, hospitals and anywhere audiovisual equipment is installed. This activity has started up again alongside new construction in Quebec but never stopped in the United States, where we are very active.

Our revenues, which were 450 million in 2019, fell to 250 million in 2020, but we managed to stabilize the company. Before the pandemic, we had 1,500 employees worldwide, including 600 in Montreal. Today, our numbers are back to 1,200 employees, with 530 in Montreal, where we are starting to hire again.

What’s next? Do you expect performances and touring to start up again soon?

Yes, there will be a recovery, which will be dependent on Public Health advisories. We can already see that things are starting up again in the United States, particularly in Nashville, where we just made a major acquisition, and in Florida, where we are also well established.

In Great Britain, public health authorities have announced that all show activity could resume as of June 21 and, according to what our industry partners tell us, be twice as strong as before. Even though we have four offices in England, we’ve had to ship equipment from Quebec to meet the demand.

Your roots are in the video game industry; you helped develop Ubisoft’s Montreal studio and Warner’s Games Division before joining Solotech in 2017. What was the exact nature of your mandate?

Solotech’s shareholders – the Claridge Investment Fund, Investissement Québec and Desjardins Capital – who acquired the company from its founders in 2013, wanted us to develop the American market. My mandate was to take our know-how and operations to the world stage. We made our first acquisition in 2018 and continued on the same track, up to and including our acquisition of Morris Light &Sound two weeks ago in the US. We now have 18 offices in Canada, the US and the UK, and in 2019 our US business accounted for 47% of our revenues, compared to 38% in Canada and 15% in the UK.

Will the Covid-19 crisis slow down your expansion plans, or do you still plan to continue this consolidation initiative?

In fact, the crisis has generated new activities. We’ve created two new divisions besides equipment supply and audiovisual systems integration services.

Solotech has over 350 million pieces of equipment in stock and sells and installs these new and used. When the crisis hit, we set up a new e-business division, which generated close to 20 million dollars in sales. We “professionalized” this activity and plan on expanding it to each of our 18 offices worldwide.

As soon as the pandemic began, many of our clients needed help with online events. We set up a Media and Entertainment Technologies division to help clients host online events in virtual environments.

We put our production tools, like LED panels and recording studios, at our clients’ disposal. We understand that future events will be of a hybrid type, partly in-person, partly virtual. We also want to serve large online broadcasters such as Amazon, Netflix and film studios such as Mels, which will make greater use of virtual environments in their productions. Our online broadcasting and e-business activities will complement and strengthen our traditional activities.

How do you see Solotech evolving in the next five years?

With the resumption of shows and events activities, we expect our yearly revenues to reach the billion-dollar mark within three to five years. Our online broadcasting business is expected to yield $100 million in revenue; our e-business, $200 million; and our touring and systems integration business, $700 million.

We want to continue consolidating the industry in the United States, as well as in Europe, from our base of activities in the United Kingdom. Our business had been growing at a rate of 40% for the last three years. We want to get back on track, and the diversification of our activities means that we can eventually consider a stock market listing.

We were able to absorb the shock of the pandemic and stabilize the business through our systems integration activities and technology shift. Information technology now lies at the core of our operations.

 

Reference : Décarie, J.-P., (April 6, 2021). En attendant Céline et les Rolling Stones, un virage techno bénéfique [While waiting for Céline and The rolling Stones, A Beneficial tech shift]. La Presse.

Find out more at www.solotech.com

 

Contact

Héloïse Meunier

Advisor, Corporate Communications

[email protected]

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