Some three decades later he is still at it, as the owner of Audio Visual Gallery in East London, specialists in high-end audio-visual equipment and home automation. Today, the fast-changing, cutting edge industry in which he was destined to shape his career remains just as exciting to Brendan as all that time ago when he managed to turn his tiny PC into an automatic light controller.
Brendan has passed on his passion for electronics, sound and automation to his team of specialists who put together custom home-theatre, sound- and home-automation networks for high-end clients in East London. AVG, as the business is known, is based in a house converted to a high-end show-room in the suburb of Vincent.
In its 28 years, the business has seen the rise and demise of video cameras, cordless phones, cell phones the size of bricks, the advent of high-tech security systems, and the automation of everything from lights, curtains and doors to heating systems, and is more ready than ever for the brave new world of the internet of things.
All of this was still in the realm of science fiction when Brendan found work at a camera shop while still at school in East London in the ‘80s. After completing his studies in photography in Port Elizabeth, one of the partners in the camera business wanted to focus on the rise of video cameras and asked Brendan to join him as a junior partner in a new venture which they called Audio Video Gallery.
The shop did well, making a name for itself in a local mall before moving to a stand-alone building custom-made for showcasing their products. AVG was never a discount store, but rather focused on personal service and custom-made solutions, and the new building gave them the space to create proper showrooms, including a sound room and a movie room.
As cell phones were taking off, Brendan was asked by his senior partner to branch off into a stand-alone cell phone shop. Being both technically minded as well as a people person, Brendan was able to start up the business and run it successfully for a number of years. But his heart was always in the audio-visual trade.
Brendan explains that the feel of the cellphone industry differs a lot from the audio-visual sector because cell phone customers often tend to be an unhappy lot. As cell phones became more integrated into people’s lives, faults and repairs to handsets increasingly became more urgent. Telling a cell-phone owner that his handset was going to take three or four days to repair was not always a pleasant experience.
In contrast, the sound systems and home-theatres sold by an audio-visual shop are pure pleasure purchases, done with enthusiasm. Brendan longed to return to the trade that made people so happy.
His chance came in 2008 when the senior partner in the business, who was running the audio-visual shop, wanted to retire. A plan was hatched that he would take over the cell phone shop which was ticking over nicely, and Brendan would buy out his stake in Audio Video Gallery.
Brendan was able to finance the buy-out by extending the bond on his home. Within a year or two after taking over, the Hemingways Mall opened in East London, and offered AVG an excellent lease. Brendan used the move to the centre as an opportunity to rebrand to Audio-Video Gallery to Audio-Visual Gallery.
The business did well in the mall, and managed to survive the effects of the financial crash, mainly because of its position at the higher end of the market. But Brendan was concerned that perpetual rental escalations would become unsustainable in the long term.
He therefore set about looking for premises to buy outside the mall, but within the same geographical area so that the business would not lose its landline number - it was the days before number porting.
He found just the right spot - a residential house with business rights that he could convert into a high-end show-room with a homely feel.
Brendan knew that he would have trouble financing it through the banks. He did not have the cash in the business for a deposit, nor for an expensive make-over. Fortunately, his accountants introduced Brendan to the local team from Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), who not only provided a 100% bond, but also agreed to finance the renovation.
As part of the deal, BUSINESS/PARTNERS took a minority stake in the premises, which Brendan has just managed to buy out. Today, seven years after the deal, he is firmly in charge of AVG’s destiny as the sole owner of the property.
Brendan says the technological changes in his industry are now moving so fast that there is a certain level of confusion in the market. But he sees it as an opportunity rather than a threat.
The challenge is to always stay abreast of the latest developments, which he does through a combination of internet research, supplier intelligence, tech conferences and travel.
With the increasing integration of information technology and automation, Brendan sees himself making people happy for a long time to come.