Helen Twose 's Opinion

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Success: Hard wired for quality

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Pair find niche in high-tech marine and residential automation jobs.

The Dotcom mansion was one of Stephen Goodhue and Bruce Cox's higher-profile jobs. Photo / Greg Bowker
The Dotcom mansion was one of Stephen Goodhue and Bruce Cox's higher-profile jobs. Photo / Greg Bowker

Meeting the technology demands of the super-rich and fabulously wealthy is all in a day's work for North Shore firm Liquid Automation.

The company is riding a wave of success as the go-to guys for audiovisual equipment and installation in luxury yachts and high-end homes.

And it's not just about banging in sound systems and wide-screen TVs.

Liquid Automation co-founders Stephan Goodhue, 38, and Bruce Cox, 48, say they can wire up anything from the sprinklers in the garden and bedroom blinds through to security cameras and access gates, all controlled by a touchpad or smartphone app.

A top-of-the-line automation system on the 67m superyacht Vertigo, built by West Auckland's Alloy Yachts, has netted Liquid Automation two international industry gongs this year - a Global CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design Installation Association) award for best technical design and an Australasian AVIA (Audio Visual Industry Awards) for best audiovisual application in a commercial or government installation over $500,000.

Vertigo's owner was a techno music fan so he specified a boat-wide sound system that goes from a background murmur to full nightclub volume.

Guests sit in the cockpit lounge to watch a movie on a big screen or swivel it around 180 degrees to view it from the 15-person hot tub on the deck.

Speakers and the TV in the master bedroom reorient when the owner moves from the bed to the couch.

"That sounds easy, but technically it's quite a challenge and it took a lot of programming and modelling," says Cox.

The pair started Liquid Automation, which now employs 10 people, in 2004, leaving behind careers in the marine industry to focus on providing audiovisual systems for the residential market.

Each chipped in $2000, bought a bunch of business cards and a couple of mobile phones and set about following up on some work leads.

"It was really naive to think we could just step into the residential market but through Stephan's contacts we were able to sub-contract," says Cox.

The residential market was tougher going than they imagined, and the pair often found themselves having to install equipment that wasn't right for the job. "We were trying to make a silk purse out of a pig's ear," Cox says.

After a month or two in business it was their old contacts in the boat building industry who were calling with offers of work.

Since then the firm's core business has been fitting out locally built superyachts, upgrading existing yacht systems and sorting out problems with poorly installed equipment.

The company prides itself on getting the right equipment, making sure it is thoroughly tested and installing it properly.

This care and attention means Liquid Automation has been labelled expensive but Cox makes no apologies for taking the time to ensure a pricey automation system works as it should.

The key to a successful job is the company's award winning documentation, says Cox, which covers the blueprint design for the job, itemises component orders, provides the detail for the programmer and tells the installer exactly where every plug and connector will go.

"We will always be more expensive but we know why. You've got to do it the right way and it takes time and money," he says.

The focus on overall value for a client rather than a cut-price option has seen Liquid Automation miss out on commercial work, which is typically tendered.

Cox says a rare exception was a law firm who took them on even though the quote for a boardroom fit-out came in as the most expensive.

"They've had the cheaper systems and what's the point in having a boardroom that people won't use the AV part of it because they can't, they don't know how or it doesn't work all the time. Where's the value in that?" he says.

While the focus for the company until last year has been on superyacht work, the closure of several boatyards has meant a change in focus.

Inquiries from residential clients prepared to pay $100,000-plus for an automation system in their multimillion-dollar homes have seen a switch back to more installations on dry land.

The company counts Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom among its clients.

Goodhue says the work for Dotcom on his New Zealand and overseas properties has been his most interesting job to date, purely for the amount of equipment controlled.

With a push of a button on one of 18 iPads, iPod touch devices or iPhones, Dotcom can power up the security system, access control, CCTV, audiovisual, lighting, heating, air conditioning and even lock off an entire wing of the house, says Goodhue.

Recruitment for a business development manager is in progress to help smooth the path into the residential market.

Cox admits neither of them is a good salesman and jobs tend to be done for those who hound them. He says the new manager will be responsible, in part, for fielding inquiries properly and ensuring clients get the service they deserve.

- NZ Herald

Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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