Robe acquires Avolites

Representatives from Robe and Avolites speak exclusively to TPi about one of this year’s most talked about business deals.

In late June, a statement came through the wires that Robe had agreed to acquire Avolites. Although it had been common knowledge that Avolites had been looking to sell the company, it was a rather shrewd move to announce the deal prior to everything being signed. According to Avolites Chairman, Richard Salzedo, this was a purposeful decision. 

“Too often when it comes to deals of this nature, things are kept under wraps which inevitably leads to numerous leaks and people making assumptions,” stated Salzedo. “We wanted to make it clear from the beginning what this deal means for both companies.” 

Speaking at the time of the announcement, Robe Lighting CEO, Josef Valchar, commented: “This is a great acquisition for Robe. Avolites has always been at the pinnacle of lighting control with products that complement our lighting fixtures; this will add significant value to sales made throughout the global distribution networks of both companies.”

The move marks a significant milestone in Avolites history. For those unfamiliar with the company’s background, Avolites underwent a significant reshuffle with a management buyout in 1991, leading to a time that the company refers to internally as Avolites 2.0. 

“You always have to think of the future,” Salzedo stated. “Maintaining the culture of the company has been at the forefront of our concern since the early ’90s.” This inevitably led to another big move in 2018 with the appointment of Paul Wong as Managing Director. “One of my key remits was to prepare the company for acquisition,” stated Wong, plainly. “With this sale, some key points had to be satisfied. The deal would not just be a cut and dry ‘sale’, but a negotiation that would add value to the company.” 

According to Wong and Salzedo, Avolites had spoken to several companies about a possible acquisition, but Robe was the one that ticked all the boxes. 

“Robe has bought into this plan which included the management team, our customer base and distribution network,” noted Wong, “Robe will help us achieve these plans.” 

Wong continued to explain some of the ways he foresees Robe aiding these ambitions. “I’m hoping that the pace of our R&D will increase notably. We know what we are trying to achieve but we need extra resources which will, in turn, aid our customers by getting products developed in a shorter time frame.” 

Salzedo points out that these “resources” are not just money, but the support of a large company. “Robe has enormous buying power – a resource you simply can’t buy. This was something that became evident in the past few years and one thing that held us back when it came to getting parts for manufacturing in 2020/21.” Since the announcement, Wong reported that the response from customers and the wider industry has been positive. 

“The only concern expressed is a worry that Avolites might ‘lose its identity’,” which the MD is keen to assure will not be the case. “We are still going to be made up of the same people and we’re staying at our headquarters in west London. We’ll just have access to more resources than ever before.” 

Wong also noted that the famous Avolites logo will remain: “We redesigned the logo in 2021 and it was a ‘line in the sand’ moment for us. The logo is bolder and more confident to reflect our direction and energy.” 

Robe’s decision to acquire a lighting desk manufacturer does highlight a growing market trend with multiple desk brands now falling under the wider umbrella of a lighting manufacturing company. “As industries mature and organisations become bigger and less ‘boutique’, it is inevitable that as manufacturers continue to grow, they will want to have a slice of every bit of the pie,” stated Wong. 

“What was favourable about Robe is that from the beginning their team expressed the wish to keep the Avolites branding which does provide some general separation. Their philosophy is that the company needs to survive on its own two feet. It’s for that reason that this deal will certainly not mean we sever ties with other lighting brands. The simple fact is that without those relationships, we don’t have a business.” 

Speaking of the acquisition, TPi took the time to speak to some of Avolites’ long-standing employees and hear what they thought about the deal and what it could bring to the company. 

“For a long time, we’ve enjoyed a close working relationship with Robe,” stated Peter Budd, Avolites’ Software Testing Engineer. “They often use our consoles at tradeshows and demos, and have very much been part of the Avo story so I think it’s going to be a very natural fit.” 

Avolites’ longest-serving employee, Adam Proffitt, who has been with the company for 36 years, shared his thoughts on the deal: “There are so many lighting companies out there, it could be tricky to know which would be the best fit for us. Robe certainly seems like an ideal partner, all the way down to how the company is structured, and that it was started by individual owners just like Avolites,” the Senior Firmware Engineer said.  

“I think in many ways when the deal was announced there was a sense of relief,” mused Olie Waits, Titan Lead Developer and 20-year veteran of Avolites. “We’ve known the company was up for sale for a while and there was always a risk it might go to an organisation that was not sympathetic to lighting. All of us at Avolites are passionate about lighting and we want to aid designers in making great shows. To have an owner that thinks exactly the same is a relief.”    

Waits believes it’s vital to have the backing of a bigger company to make strides in this field of lighting control. 

“The complexity of software and the cost of developing these solutions is increasing. There are not many programming jobs that have to deal with the challenges that we face, while also needing a product that is sensibly priced. Our solutions encompass lighting design and previsualisation rather than simply lighting a live show, so having access to a wider range of Robe products and tools will be beneficial for end users.”

The greater “complexity” of products inevitably means the need for more customer support – from hardware manufacturing to delivering products with advanced software capabilities. “This means providing more support to our growing customer base which we are hoping this deal will allow us to achieve,” commented Avolites Marketing Director, Andrew McKinlay.

This article originally appeared in issue #276 of TPi, which you can read here.

Words: Stew Hume

Photos:Loo Stickland