Today, when digital technologies are at their height, the market of LED displays is a dynamic, competitive space that features all kinds of product offerings. With its history dating back a little more than two decades, it is quite young yet develops in giant leaps, especially recently. Among the abundance of companies that the market is burgeoning with, there are those that have been maneuvering through its turbulent waters over twenty years, facing challenges, living through ups and downs yet inexorably moving to success.
In 1980 Mitsubishi Electric unveiled the world’s first large-scale LED screen at America's Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Yet the appearance of the first conventional LED displays took place a decade later and is related to the invention of cheap blue diodes by a group of Japanese scientists. Tripled with green and red, blue diodes produced energy-efficient white light that enabled the high-volume production of LED-based products. Among the companies that pioneered manufacturing of LED video displays, were Hibino Chromatek, Mitsubishi Electric, and Panasonic. The companies like Barco, Daktronics, AOTO, QSTech, Planar, EKTA that joined the competition shortly after, today could be also referred as industry veterans.
The majority of industry old-timers grew out from engineering companies that leveraged their existing expertise as a foothold to start LED displays development. These days their brand names are synonymous with quality and expertise. We tried to analyze the factors and principles that drove these companies to success and industry-wide credit.
Founded in 1934 as a radio assembling company and eventually evolved into one of the leaders in the market of visual and collaborative solutions. Acquisition of smaller specialized companies helped Barco strengthen positions across several markets that the company outlined as the most promising for the development. Nowadays, having focused attention on entertainment, enterprise, and healthcare business areas, Barco comes up with award-winning products including projectors, wireless collaboration tools, various display technologies, etc. When asked about the rank of LED displays in the hierarchy of Barco products Paul Matthijs, SVP Retail and Advertising, VP Corporate Technology for the company, explained:
“Barco is a company that has many technologies. What we try to do is to serve the customer with what fits best in their application. We don’t push forward anything, we just want to propose what is more suited for their application. LED is one solution next to projection, next to rear projection cubes and so on. And I always want to emphasize, we are not particularly an LED company we are a solutions’ company”.
According to Matthijs, Barco is always focused on solving the customers’ problem. This customer-driven approach led the company to design a few disruptive technologies, including the ClickShare family of solutions and flexible, ultra lightweight R-series of LED displays. The former appeared as a response for the customers’ complaining about the time-consuming assembling of LED displays and the weight of supporting structures that often exceeded the weight of a screen.
Defining success is a combination of factors, the number one for Barco is their peoples’ expertise and passion, opines Matthijs. “I think, to begin with, it’s the brain of our people and our passion. And in addition to that, I think the capability of Barco’s marketing team to be able to guide and target that passion. And what we try to do is to solve the customer’s problem, that is where it all starts. We try to differentiate ourselves by really coming up with the solution. So it’s not just technology for technology”.
Founded in 1968 by professors of electrical engineering Aelred Kurtenbach and Duane Sander. The company started as a manufacturer of electronic voting systems for state legislatures. Nowadays, being on the market for almost fifty years, it is a full-service company that provides integrated video systems for a variety of applications.
Approach to the customers is the primary factor behind the company’s success, says Jason Melby, International Marketing at Daktronics. “As a culture, we come from a middle part of the US, we work hard, we really try to focus on our customers, and that really led to success”, – explained Melby. “We don’t look at a customer as just another display that goes up, we really look at each customer individually and try to find the solution that’s the best solution for them. And that has driven a lot of innovation in our products over the years. Our focus is always on the customer. Taking care of them, standing behind their product and their product’s longevity is really what our company has been built on”.
As for the company’s success, the facts speak for themselves. Since 2001 Daktronics has been holding 30 percent of the entire worldwide LED video display market share, according to the research and advisory iSuppli Corp. The company has been featured on the Forbes list of “America's 100 Most Trustworthy Companies” for the four successive years, namely in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Aelred J. Kurtenbach, Co-founder, Chairman of the Board, points out that the company is founded on the principles of honesty, helpfulness, and humility: “As far as Daktronics core values are concerned, we never really set out to establish them. We didn't have any task to decide what our core values should be. We just tried to treat people in a manner that we would like to be treated”.
Being one of the oldest companies in the industry, Daktronics has built up a lot of financial stability along the way. However, investing annually 4% of its revenues into R&D, the company is safe from the pitfalls of success trap. Always looking forward and being one step ahead of the competition is something that helped Daktronics stay relevant to the market, believes Melby:
“We are really doing a lot of refining of our products. We try to do revisions and clearing things up to make things incrementally better as we go along. But the industry is changing so quickly that you really also need to be consistently dedicated to exploring the new opportunities. And if you don’t start those processes early that closed window of opportunity leaves before you ever get a chance to really play in the field”.
Planar, a Leyard Company, was founded in 1983 by Jim Hurd, Chris King, and John Laney who decided to break away from Tektronix and embark on their own course. Having started from the developing of Electroluminescent (EL) display technology, Planar’s portfolio currently includes LCDs, LED and OLED displays, rear-projection video walls, and touchscreens.
In 2015, Planar became a subsidiary of Leyard Optoelectronic Co., Ltd. According to Steve Seminario, Vice President of Product Marketing at Planar Systems Inc., a Leyard Company, the synergy of merging made a lot of sense from several different perspectives. First and foremost, both sides benefited from sharing their established market access and exchanging engineering expertise.
“What I have been very happy about is that Leyard has been very open to hearing from us, to exchanging ideas,” – says Seminario. “In the terms of integration, we have a very strong engineering organization from the Planar headquarters in the US and of course Leyard in Beijing and Shenzhen. Those teams have been working very very closely since really before the merger. And it’s really great to see that cooperation so we are just stronger in terms of R&D and innovation than we were before”.
Among the factors that paved Planar’s way to success, Seminario emphasizes high quality, differentiated products that set the company apart from the competition.
“One of the things that Planar had a particular focus on by necessity was differentiated products. As a US-based display manufacturer, we would not win on cost. So we always had to do things different, better, offer capabilities to customers for particular applications that would make their lives easier and that would serve the integrator better as well. And I think that thinking continues. As part of Leyard now we also have the power of a very large manufacturer of LED. Still, we don’t want to lose our roots in very differentiated products”.
When asked about the role of passion in doing business, Igor Pastukh, EKTA’s Founder and currently Adviser Director General, zestfully explains: “My work is what I get inspiration from. I believe that being genuinely passionate about your business helps your company to thrive. Luckily enough, I have been surrounded by like-minded people all these years”.
Back in 1992 Pastukh together with a group of engineers founded ЕКТА as a manufacturer of large plasma screens and displays. Having accumulated significant groundwork in active matrix displays the company produced its first LED video display in 2000.
“Back then, the market required sharp changes, and we understood that the next step in module displays development should be based on the more efficient luminous elements”, – explained Pastukh. “Efficiency output of the LED displays was significantly higher than the gas-plasma ones. The power consumption of LEDs was much lower, even at the more extreme brightness. Furthermore, low speed and complexity of plasma cell control triggered a further extensive LED application”.
Over twenty-five years of market presence EKTA has expanded their product portfolio to include LED video displays, LED lighting fixtures and variable message signs. One of the company’s top priorities is also the development of ERMAC video processing system. In 2011 the company has been featured in the Guinness Book of Records as a manufacturer of the world’s largest 3D LED TV.
“Right place, right time, right people equals success. This is a combination of persevering work, highly-experienced tech-savvy team, current demand for the product, and just good fortune. We took advantages of our opportunities with deep involvement in the working process and high level of responsibility.”
Needless to say, success is never an accident. Based on the accumulated experience and matured practices it is a complex concoction with a number of ingredients. With all of them being essentially important, however, each company develops its own formula of success. Be it a customer-centric approach, strong R&D, lifelong passion or humble perseverance in work, these factors make for a good reputation in the industry. Today, when the market is flooded with products of questionable quality from third-tier manufacturers, it is a matter of particular importance.