Automall West, Australia

Automall West represents an evolution of retail spaces where AV technology and content come together to create a new customer journey. Hurrairah bin Sohail reports.

Automall West is a 2,400 sq m retail store in the shopping mall precinct of AMP Indooroopilly Shopping Centre, taking up a significant section of retail space on level 3. The AV deployment at the space won the Retail category at the Inavate APAC Awards 2022.

Robin McCarthy from Technically Art was the consultant for the Automall West project and he talks about how he came onboard: “Eagers Automotive Group is the biggest private car dealership is Australia with a strong base in Brisbane. Panasonic, who were engaged with them for various parts of the project, put me forward to the client and I started to have a conversation with the brand consultant who was doing the concept design for the interior of Automall West and handling everything from branding to the logos to the imaging and how these would be presented in the space.”

From the get-go McCarthy communicated the value a considered approach to AV could deliver. He says: “One of the things that I very quickly identified from their designs was the inclusion of large LED screens and one of the first questions that sprung into my mind was that those [LEDs] are really impressive but does the client know the costs associated with them and the reality of making these designs work. So, my initial conversations were around what I could do for them from a cost audit and design perspective.”

He continues: “From there I started to look at the shape the LED displays were taking which were all non-traditional formats and non-traditional formats come with challenges, namely in the form of content. What’s the content going on the screens? This question had been vaguely considered, but considering the importance of these LED screens we shifted towards understanding what the content was going to be which is when we knew we needed to engage a content expert.”

With content being considered, the parties involved reached out to multiple firms and reviewed their pitches after interviews and workshops. After the evaluation process, Habitat Digital was selected as the party responsible for content.

McCarthy talks about the approach taken towards content with Habitat Digital: “Together we kept driving towards an answer for the question ‘what content is going onto the screen?’. It was early in terms of the project’s progression, we were still designing the equipment and designing the shape, look, and feel of the LED screens so we had some breathing room to really home in on how the content and the screens would work together. We locked in the 16:9 ratio to firstly improve the efficiency of the content delivery and to not have to scale content up or down and having to deal with marketing departments after falling foul of branding guidelines for our non-traditional screens. The screens had to not only look beautiful and lift the aesthetics of the space, but they had a job to do. They needed to be able to show adverts and specific messaging for the cars that are being sold!”

Lee Michaels, sales & marketing director, Habitat Digital, details how the content was created: “Eagers Automotive wanted a shift in the buyer behaviour associated with purchasing a car. There’s a negative connotation with that and it is perceived as a high-pressure sales scenario. The spaces and the content were about flipping that. It was about creating an atmosphere where the buyer could be relaxed. The key to achieving this was the soundscape and the visuals.”

Inspiration for content direction came from an obvious source. Michaels from Habitat Digital says: “Drawing on the location of Automall West, in Southeast Queensland, we took inspiration from the subtropical and tropical landscape of the region, and this is where we came up with the ‘Butterfly’ concept. The butterfly flapping its wings gently adds vibrancy and colour to the space. And we have kept the theme of nature consistent with the soundscape as well. In the central concourse the nature soundscape is relaxing. And as you walk across the various spaces and different car brands, the soundscape is augmented with birds chirping, rumbles, and thunder. This helps to set the spaces apart but also helps us leverage audio bleed because all the soundscapes are holistic and go together. The same can be said for the visuals, and they are designed to work with all the displays as one canvas. The end result is that there is a relaxed feeling for the person as they journey through the space and there is a story being told that is a continuation of the narrative that we present at the start. The content is all connected.”

The Corporate Initiatives [CI] Group was appointed as the integrator for the project after an evaluation process. Simon Whipps, state manager for Queensland at The CI Group, talks about why the integrator was excited to be part of the Automall West deployment: “The project stood out to us because it was a good fit. We had just finished a similar high-end automotive retail project in Brisbane, and we felt that what we learned on that project would translate to this one as well. We reviewed the documentation, and it was a very well-designed project, the specifications were easy to read and understand and they told the story of what the client was trying to achieve. Lastly, we specialise in LED. We install LED videowalls in-house and we have the expertise to handle curved and non-traditional formats.”

The LED videowall displays are the most eye-catching technology feature at Automall West. Pixon 2.5mm pixel pitch LED tiles are used to create two hero LED displays measuring 5.4m by 3.03m at the entrance, four column LED screens measuring 3.5m by 1m are created using Pixon 3.9mm pixel pitch LED tiles and a 9.6m by 2.7m curved LED screen comprising Pixon 2.5mm pixel pitch LED tiles can be found at the rear of the space. The LED videowalls are powered by Novastar processors and Brightsign media players are used for ingest.

Andy Anderson, Queensland operations manager from The CI Group, talks about how the integrator approached the task: “In terms of retail projects, it was always going to be a quick turnaround and it was important for us to get going as soon as the project was awarded. We teamed up with the consultants, the client and the builder and started work on the coordination required for the project across the board. We knew there was a lot of LED, and a lot of cable runs followed by programming plus the need to ensure that the content looked good. We also knew that we didn’t have a lot of time.”

He continues: “Having the early engagement with the builder, consultants and clients meant that we knew early on what the curvature radius of the LED was going to be and what the scope of the LED installation would be. So, we could start planning on how to execute it. We created the custom bracketry required for the job and then it was just a matter of bolting the tiles in and populating the videowall. We have the expertise in-house to manage LED installation and setup with ease.”

Whipps from The CI Group details why Pixon LED tiles were selected: “We had just finished installing it for a large lobby where the LED wrapped around different elements of the space. So, when it came to handling and installing these LED cabinets and tiles, our team was already experienced. We knew we could install the LED displays efficiently and accurately. What we were most interested in was ensuring that the experience that had been envisioned for the Automall West space was realised.”

Despite The CI Group’s familiarity and proficiency with LED installation, there were obstacles to overcome during the project. Whipps elaborates: “There was a late project design change to the LED columns where the bottom of the screen on the rear columns would need to follow the raise in floor pitch, while the top edge would need to be adjusted in the opposite direction. This change involved collaboration with the architect, air mech contractor (to maintain sufficient airflow), a joinery contractor (to correct adjustments required for reinforcement), and an electrical contractor as there was also a reduction in power consumption sought for the LED columns.”

The LED videowalls are augmented with flat panel videowalls comprising Samsung panels. McCarthy from Technically Art says: “The design of the flat panel videowalls was driven by the different architectural groups linked with the particular car manufacturer so that the design and brand guidelines were followed. We went with Samsung flat panels specifically because of MagicInfo. We found that it was a key component that allowed us to navigate the deployment with regards to licences.”

Samsung’s MagicInfo is used for signal transmission from the flat panels to the centralised rack at the back of the house that manages the entire deployment. There is no active hardware deployed in the field apart from the endpoints.

The flat panel videowalls presented a challenge and Anderson says: “While the displays were an important part of the space at Automall West, the cars themselves take centre stage. There was a case where we had to get a 98-in screen above a car and that was one of the unique challenges we had to overcome for this project.”

The QSC Q-Sys Core 110f DSP forms the heart of the audio system. Yamaha amplifiers and a range of QSC speakers and Martin Audio speakers have been deployed at Automall West. Shure wireless microphones are used for audio pickup.

Regarding the decision to go with Q-Sys, McCarthy from Technically Art says: “I tend to stick with the Q-Sys Core 110f where I can. They are really reliable, and they interface really well with other devices which was needed here because we were using the Yamaha amplifiers.”

McCarthy also sheds light on the selection of the speakers: “We wanted ceiling speakers for the different car manufacturers and the different dealership sections. The audio has been zoned very specifically and we can isolate the volume control and really tune the audio to the space. With Martin Audio, I’ve used this product on various projects and I was really impressed with the quality of output for such a small box. I really wanted a trapezoidal box with a soft dome tweeter that gave us the accentuation of sound that we needed for the soundscape and the Martin Audio speakers also fit very well with the aesthetics of the space.”

The CI Group has been engaged to provide ongoing support and maintenance while Habitat Digital is managing the content and assets for Automall West. McCarthy from Technically Art shares his thoughts about working on the project and how it encapsulates an evolution of retail spaces. He says: “The client was leading the charge, they understood that they couldn’t just be a dealership on the side of the highway with glass windows and large signage and expect customers to come in. The problem with that model of business is that the moment a customer walks into the building, the expectation from the sales rep is that it is an easy sale because why would a customer bring themselves all the way to a dealership to just walk around. The customer is deliberately committing to coming to the store. The client understood that this old model is not working anymore and that they need to do something really different. What really impressed me was their commitment to AV technology as a key storytelling piece for the retail space. They trusted us to not just do giant TVs and radio, they trusted us to deliver something that has a strong vision connected to it and that is exactly what we have done.”

Antoinette Banwell, retail project manager – property, Eagers Automotive, concludes: “Our focus was to provide a memorable and ever-changing guest experience designed to capture the attention of the high-density traffic mall of Indooroopilly Shopping Centre whilst supporting our automotive brand partners and business directives. To achieve this, we needed to engage partners that were competitive, understanding of our budget and brief, could provide a total package and were able to be engaged early to allow their input throughout a complicated design process. The team at CI Group ensured the delivery of the audio and visual components met our project team’s high expectations and as such, we have been very pleased with the final outcome and post installation service.”

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