Back in late March, the odds of Ross Video extending its remarkable growth streak seemed about as likely as the chance of a baseball fan witnessing a full 162-game major-league season.
The Ottawa firm – which specializes in video technology and makes a significant portion of its money from producing sports broadcasts and other live events, including the Super Bowl and the Oscars – suddenly had nowhere for its mobile trucks to go. With virtually every major public gathering on the planet scrapped due the COVID-19 pandemic, revenue from its mobile production division cratered overnight.
All of the firm’s 850 or so employees were put in the “Ross lifeboat,” agreeing to work four-day weeks for 80 per cent of their full pay. The company – which starts its fiscal year in November and was on a record-setting revenue pace as it neared halftime of fiscal 2020 – was suddenly bracing for the worst.
Anyone could be forgiven for assuming Ross Video’s string of 28 consecutive years of revenue growth was about to come to an end.
“All of our sales forecasts went out the window,” CEO David Ross says. “We didn't know whether this is the apocalypse and sales are going to go down to one per cent.”
Fortunately for Ross and his employees, that didn’t happen. Although revenues did drop 30 per cent once the pandemic hit, Ross Video’s expenses fell by an even greater proportion.
“We didn’t see that coming,” Ross says.
The firm’s global sales and marketing staff – which normally attends between 80 and 100 trade shows a year and racks up frequent flyer miles by the thousands – was suddenly grounded, saving major money on airline and hotel expenses. Meanwhile, expensive in-person product demos with customers in the 100 countries where the firm does business were shelved in favour of virtual show-and-tells that were often just as effective, Ross says.
“It might cost $20,000 or $50,000 before we even get ... to prove to (customers) that it works,” he says of the company’s traditional approach. “With COVID, you go, ‘We’re doing this online.’ We often can even set up their equipment remotely instead of having a person physically there.”
As a result, Ross is back on track to keep its heady streak alive.
“We were up 30 per cent for the first half of the year,” Ross says. “You even it out and we’re going to be pretty close to last year’s numbers. If we’re going to miss, it’s going to be by a couple of per cent, from what we’ve seen so far. It’s too close to call, but we’re still pushing for growth.”
China is ‘back with a vengeance’
OBJ’s CEO of the Year in 2016 says sales in China are “coming back with a vengeance,” while the European market is also rebounding. With most major professional sports leagues, including the NBA and Major League Baseball, poised to resume play soon, Ross’s mobile production trucks are ready to get back in gear.
Ross Video equipment will help broadcast more than 130 WNBA games once that league hits the court in late July, and its trucks are also on site at tennis events. The mobile division, at a complete standstill just a couple of months ago, is roaring full speed ahead toward hitting its annual targets.
“They are now the team that looks most likely to hit quota for the end of the year,” Ross says. “Who knew?”
In some ways, the veteran executive says, the 46-year-old company has been preparing for a crisis like this for years.
He notes that the company’s products continue to improve as market demand evolves, making it difficult for the competition to keep up. In addition to constantly developing and refining its own technology, Ross Video has judiciously acquired smaller firms with complementary offerings to help broaden its product and customer base into new verticals.
So as the company was preparing to get back into live sports production over the past few weeks, it was also lending its state-of-the-art augmented reality technology to help show designer Luz Studio and production partner Rec4Box jazz up this year’s virtual Canada Day celebrations that were broadcast on major networks from coast to coast.
The result, Ross says, is a company that’s virtually “recession-proof.” The company’s entire workforce is back drawing full salaries, and the CEO proudly notes that no one had to be furloughed.
“We had a strategy, which was to be resilient,” he explains. “This is one of the reasons that we’re doing as well as we are – we had that in place for a decade beforehand.
“We’re getting most of our business at the expense of our competitors. That hasn’t stopped. It’s not that the industry is doing great – it’s just that Ross had so much upward momentum (it) hasn't stopped.”