Adre’ Pansegrouw is the managing director of Frog AV, one of the leading AV integration specialists in South Africa. AV Integration spoke with Adre’ about her professional and personal journey – from her start as a sales representative for an AV company more than 20 years ago, to her current position as a highly respected industry leader and innovator in the field.

Frog AV, based in Centurion, Gauteng, is a leading audiovisual solutions expert that provides a wide range of professional AV services and products to resellers and the corporate market. Over the past 20 years, the company has grown from a small start-up specialising in the distribution of projectors, to one of the most trusted and innovative companies in the pro-AV market in South Africa.

Frog AV boasts an impressive portfolio of clients and projects. They have been responsible for the design, implementation and on-going support of installed AV technology at the Tshwane University of Technology for more than six years, and delivered a state-of-the-art video wall and video conferencing solution for the country’s State Security Agency. Most recently, Frog AV was contracted by EXXARO, one of South Africa’s largest resource management firms, to implement state-of-the-art video conferencing and collaboration solutions at their head office in Pretoria, which is to be extended to EXXARO’s mining operations in Limpopo and Mpumalanga in the coming year.

HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED IN THE AV INDUSTRY?

When I was in my early 20s and looking for employment opportunities as a general administrator, I came across an advert for a sales position at an AV installation company. The advert continued to appear, week after week until I decided to apply and was offered the job.

I started working for ETA Audiovisual in their internal sales department and quickly fell in love with the AV industry and realised that sales is my calling. Within six months, I had reached a point where I was ready to take the next step in my career. While waiting for a position to open in ETA’s off-site sales team, I took a job in Rivonia that had me commuting for more than four hours a day. The time spent travelling had a profound effect on my productivity, which was very frustrating. To my enormous relief, ETA called me a few months later to let me know that a position had opened up for me in their external sales division. I leapt at the opportunity – and have never looked back.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that my early employers gave me because it set me on the road to a career in an industry that I remain deeply passionate about.

WHEN DID YOU START YOUR OWN BUSINESS?

My husband and I started Frog AV at the end of the year 2000. A representative from LG approached me at one of the local AV tradeshows and mentioned that they were looking for a local distributor for LG projectors. My MD at the time decided that it was not the right opportunity for him and I decided to give the contact to my husband who was freelancing at the time, and encouraged him to follow up on the opportunity, which he did. A few months later, we registered Frog AV, and I decided to resign from my position at ETA to take on the business full-time.

We developed a very strong relationship with LG and started to demo and sell LG projectors, one unit at a time. We worked very hard to overcome the challenges that many start-ups face, such as not being able to establish a line of credit as we had no collateral and little support from the formal banking sector. Our business model was fairly simple; we would take a few projectors, demo them, sell them, and wait for payment before being able to pay for the stock. Soon we were selling hundreds of units in this manner until we reached a point where LG decided that it would be in their best interests to formalise the relationship. They offered Frog AV a national distributorship deal; however, we still did not have the collateral needed to take it on by ourselves. One of my clients stepped in and signed a 10 million rand surety to enable us to take on the contract. We were so successful that we found ourselves in a position to buy them out in a year.

I am extremely proud of how we have grown, and while our current team is smaller than ever, we continue to grow our turnover despite the current trying economic climate.

What sets Frog AV apart from its competitors?

Frog AV has established a reputation for being extremely detail-oriented. We set the highest possible standards and work towards not only meeting but surpassing expectations. One particular client accused us of being ‘anal-retentive’ about our rack work,’ which is the highest praise in my books. My team and I have always remained focused on being highly responsive to developments in technology and our client’s changing needs while maintaining the highest quality standards, our integrity and our identity as a family-run business.

I am a big-picture thinker, and I have built Frog AV on the principle that projects are long-term investments rather than opportunities for short-term cash flow. I believe in building relationships with our clients and walking a long road with them. I enjoy working with my clients to develop the best AV solutions and implementation strategies to suit their specific needs and am always looking for ways to improve our designs, respond to changing conditions on-site, and adding value. I always ensure that any solution that we propose is future-proofed through quality, flexibility and scalability and that all of the products that we install are backed by solid warranties and aftersales support.

 Clients want technology that works consistently, improves business operations, and adds value to their lives. We are in the business of delivering AV solutions that serve our clients’ needs and comply with the highest industry standards, no matter how big or small the project. Our business development strategy is driven by this client-centred ethos, which is a huge differentiating factor in our highly competitive market.

WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR FROG AV MOVING FORWARD?

Frog AV is a small company by design, as we have found that keeping the team leaner allows for more agile decision-making processes.

 A few years ago, we opened a second operation in Cape Town. However, it didn’t really work for me, and we sold the branch a year later. I am a very hands-on manager, and I found that splitting my time between the two offices did not add value to the business and diluted my efficacy as a manager and business leader. It was, however, a great learning experience, because it confirmed my belief in a compact business model, with hands-on management overseeing a highly cohesive team.

I do envision growth for Frog AV, but I will not jeopardise our highly successful formula by opening new branches or taking on more than we can comfortably deliver on, or by compromising on our standards and service levels in the name of growth. Our current model continues to give us an edge over some of our larger competitors, and I strongly believe in growing the business upon this foundation.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE LEADING TRENDS IN AV TECHNOLOGY IN SA?

The pro-AV industry has grown in leaps and bounds in the twenty years since we opened our doors. When we started, projectors with pull-down screens were the order of the day – a model that is quickly becoming redundant with the emergence of AV over IP-based technologies.

Much like in the rest of the world, South African businesses are under enormous pressure to adapt to a rapidly digitising world. Increasingly, South African corporates are getting wise to the enormous potential of the Smart Office to boost productivity and reduce overheads. We are seeing a lot of companies investing in digital displays, video conferencing infrastructure and collaboration tools for their boardrooms, meeting rooms and huddle spaces. When implemented correctly, incorporating these technologies supports higher productivity levels and more positive working experiences for staff.

 WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT YOU FACE AS AN AV SERVICE PROVIDER?

In South Africa, price is always an issue, and we are always conscious of our client’s budgetary constraints.  That being said, I make a point not to specify solutions or products that undermine our commitment to quality and long-term return on investment. If a client asks for a cheaper solution, I would rather walk away from the deal than deliver a product that I do not believe in.

 WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENTS?

Frog AV started as the most humble of start-ups and has grown into an organisation of which I am extremely proud. The company is, essentially, a family business, and we have remained true to the values of dependability, loyalty, honesty and commitment that I founded the company on almost 20 years ago.

While we have built up an impressive portfolio of highly successful projects over the years, I don’t see this as the most accurate measure of our success. In my view, our achievements are best reflected in the relationships that we have with our suppliers and clients. I have been working with some clients for well over a decade, and I am privileged to call many of them my friends.       

I am also extremely proud of the team that we have built at Frog AV. Every member of the team has internalised our commitment to quality, value and client relationships, which is reflected in all that they do. When we deploy an installation team on site, I am always confident that they will represent our company and our brand to our credit, and foster a relationship of trust.

Our technical manager, Gustav Pansegrouw, is deeply passionate about teaching and training and takes every possible opportunity to develop his teams’ skill level, driving both professional and personal growth. We have, therefore, not only fostered talent as an internal resource, but we are also contributing to developing a professional skills base for the industry as a whole.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT YOU HAVE HAD TO OVERCOME TO REACH THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER?

One of the most interesting challenges that I have overcome has been establishing my reputation as a respected technical authority in a male-dominated industry.

I am one of only two women in the country who own successful AV integration companies, which demonstrates how much gender bias remains in the industry. I have specialised in system design since Frog AV started to work as a system integration company. As a highly innovative person, I find system design an interesting way to express my creativity, and I love the technical aspects of my work. As a very hand-on manager, I enjoy spending time onsite with my team and am deeply involved with the technical side of the business. I have had to work very hard to overcome gender stereotypes that are not particularly kind to women in technical fields, especially when in leadership roles.

WHAT ARE YOUR PASSIONS AND INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF YOUR CAREER?

One of the greatest lessons that I have had to learn as a business owner and a person is the importance of living a balanced life.

There have been times in my career where I have done nothing but work, to the detriment of my physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. A few years ago, I realised that investing in myself is as critical to my success as investing in the business. I decided to start eating a healthier diet, began exercising regularly, and set some boundaries to manage my time more effectively. One of the most important changes that I made was acknowledging my need for spiritual enrichment and worked consciously to develop my relationship with God, and started going to church more regularly. I have experienced enormous personal growth through this process, which has not only improved my life but my relationships with others and the business as a whole. I now work hard to fill all of my tanks, be it my physical health, mental and emotional wellbeing, or my spiritual life. I am in optimal condition to perform once all of my tanks are full, and the people around me feed off this energy, which sets the whole team up for success.