Sydney’s DJW Projects Sold
David Coxon talks about his time in tech
By Julius Grafton
Marrickville firm Buzz AV Projects Pty Ltd have taken over DJW Projects, a successful mid-scale integrator that delivered large turn-key systems for hospitality venues across Sydney. A few days after stepping down, DJW principal David Coxon sat with Julius to talk about how it all came about.
“I’m not big at thinking forward”, Dave declared over a long black. “I decided to quit 3 years ago, business was growing and we couldn’t find enough qualified staff. So we scaled back the installations – and having done it 16 years I’m over it. At peak we had 14 fulltime and 8 casual staff”.
DJW specialises in hospitality. It has clients who operate chains of venues and hotels, and did large jobs like at Barangaroo House, Caringbah Hotel, and the Prince at Kirrawee recently. These are typically worth 300 to 400 thousand and they were knocking one of those off every 3 or 4 weeks.
“Putting my finger on a turning point, we jumped through hoops to get 457 visa staff and we spent $100,000 on getting approved. We started advertising overseas and then the Government changed the 457 rules. It was too hard. Just too hard.”
“Back in time we won work because our systems sounded good. But increasingly we were working on legislation in this nanny state.” (NSW is known as the most regressive jurisdiction for entertainment venues in Australia).
“Under the latest interpretations of legislations, noise emanating from the venue now includes people leaving, walking on the councils footpath, this now counts towards venue noise. This is with the new drive from Sydney Council to keep Sydney open! Now the legislation is contradictory, a licensed-premises has several different noise conditions imposed. Yet now the new Development Consent Plan for Sydney has an emphasis on revitalising the nightlife! Yet it has no noise controls that are sane, reasonable, or enforceable. I have clients who have barristers working through this now.”
“Club owners say they’d rather have someone shot in their venue, than have a noise complaint. There are instances over the decade where a council appears to use noise rules to shut venues. There is a misunderstanding of how noise intrusion works throughout Australia. The Fortitude Valley plan in Brisbane has it right, it says ‘this is an entertainment precinct, you’re not going to have a quiet life’.
“Sydney’s nightlife scene has seen the demise of entertainment venues; little bars are now popular. It’s quite hard to build an entertainment venue in the city, more get built out on the suburbs catering to families. The dance scene is all but dead, not a lot of nightclub venues and nothing is banging on until 6 in the morning. Sydney’s lockout laws shifted the economy. I don’t know where it is going.”
A.V. VERSES I.T.
“Audio Visual has a huge Information Technology component but those IT guys are jumping on the wagon faster so we don’t have skillsets in place for the Internet of Things – that’s an area of growth. Anyone wanting to get in needs to understand IT before audio.”
“There are 4 DSP tier one brands – Symmetrix, Biamp, QSC/QSys and BSS. They are open architecture; it requires a fairly decent understanding of audio to put things together and make things work. My view of AV is a lot of people get into hire and use that as a learning platform. They get good at bands and stadiums, but not a lot of people specialise in hospitality audio, which runs from 6pm until 6am.”
“I try to understand all the technology we install – I have to have all the skills in house to programme, commission, repair and modify any product we sell. So I maintained a fairly small line of product. Keeping venue to the same specification also reduces the amount of spare parts we carry”.
DJW’s preferred brands are AMX, Symmetrix, Powersoft, EAW, Audac, cBus, and Dynalight.
“When I started the point was to stay on top and use the technology to the best ability, but I spent less time on that and more time managing the business. That’s a daily grind. (Wife) Mary did financial control and human resources. She’s very clever.”
“Audio you don’t mess up – if the speakers go off in entertainment, you got 15 minutes to fix it or you lose all the patrons. It’s no fun in a club with no music!”
“Now days after hours calls involve rebooting. All our systems have remote access – you can see the amplifier loads for example. 99 percent of the problems are operator error. We have AMX TP cloud, but 99% of the time if there is a problem they are simply not connected to the building wifi. Most service calls come at the start of a shift. They pull out their mobile and can’t connect to the venue system. So they call us.”
“What we do first is have them reboot their phone, so there are no apps running in the background. We have them connect to wifi, and go to Google to make sure they actually are on the internet, and then ask them to reboot the app. And it usually all then works!”
“The service call I’ll always remember was a nightclub in Kings Cross where an electrician on a Friday afternoon cut some concrete out of a wall and sawed thru a 50mm conduit with all the speaker cables in it. I sat on the floor for two hours trying to figure out what went where and extending and reconnecting it all. They opened one hour late, and I had 90 percent of it going. I had a 9v battery and a multi-meter and did a lot of tracing. It’s a logic problem and a time problem. Not hard to fix.”
I didn’t know a lot about David’s background, despite knowing him through his company’s work for the past 15 years or so. I was surprised to learn that after leaving his native New Zealand, he was employed by my old firm, Graftons.
“I came to Sydney to work for Graftons in 1989 – Rod McKinnon gave me the job. It was owned by Lionel (Krupp) and Hymie (Meyerson). A pleasant and unpleasant experience. It was horrifying when dining with them and they show you photos of their mansions and slaves in South Africa.”
For background, I sold Graftons and Australian Monitor to them in late 1988 and left the staff behind to deal with the crazy. (Many of them still speak to me, which is humbling!) How a pair of ageing Jewish South Africans came to run an audio business in Sydney is another story altogether, but David and I shared a few off the record anecdotes.
“It was an interesting introduction to Australian audio visual”, Dave continues. “Graftons gave me an introduction to the who’s who – and hands on experience playing with some pretty good equipment back then. I learned a lot about speaker box design when I went to work with Greg Hicks at Australian Monitor.”
“The bottom line now is that you don’t find experienced 20 or 30 year olds with well rounded technical skills. They’re all mentored and managed by older people and us older people are moving along eventually”.
“I’ll let know know what I do next. Right now I have no idea!”