'The stars aligned': Ross Video rides record October to 29th straight year of growth

Ross Video
Ross Video CEO David Ross. (File photo)

As major U.S. networks covered the closing days of a fiercely contested U.S. presidential election campaign with the help of Ross Video technology, the Ottawa firm was embroiled in a down-to-the-wire race of its own.

The company’s streak of nearly three decades of continuous revenue growth was in serious jeopardy as the days counted down to its fiscal year end of Oct. 31. Dealt a heavy blow during the summer due to the COVID-19 downturn, Ross Video was forced to pull out all the stops in a last-ditch effort to extend its run of growth to 29 straight years.

The company got there thanks to a terrific stretch run, recording the highest single monthly sales total in its 48-year history in October en route to posting revenue growth of 3.9 per cent for fiscal 2020.  

“At the start of the month, my sales team was saying, ‘I don’t know if we can pull it off. It’s going to be tight.’ I was like, ‘OK, sell everything that’s not nailed down,’” CEO David Ross said with a chuckle. “Somehow, all the stars aligned. It was absolutely a fantastic month ​– a great cap to an interesting year.”

That’s putting it mildly. 

Ross Video – a privately held company that does not publicly reveal financial data – exploded out of the blocks in the first six months, generating revenues at a rate 30 per cent ahead of the previous year’s pace through the end of March.

Then COVID-19 changed everything. The company makes much of its money from producing live sports broadcasts and other events such as the Oscars, and revenues at its mobile production division cratered when the pandemic halted virtually every major public gathering on the planet.

Ross credits his video production engineers and other staffers for brainstorming “really interesting cloud solutions” that let behind-the-scenes talent do its work remotely as live sports and other events restarted over the summer. Using innovative hardware and software, Ross Video helped stage broadcasts of WNBA games and ESPN’s college game day coverage without a hitch.

In the end, production revenues from both live sports and other stadium events ended up growing faster than the company average, something Ross never would have imagined early in the pandemic.

More acquisitions in the works

“There were moments where I had to emotionally get myself ready for ‘This is now out of our control and we can’t pull (the streak) off,’” the CEO said. “But then I’d switch and go, ‘How can we? What can we do?’ It turned out that the positive thinking really helped.”

With another growth year in the books, don’t expect Ross Video to stand still.

The company has managed to add 50 employees even in a pandemic year, boosting its total to about 900. After making the 15th acquisition in its history this spring when it bought California-based graphics app maker Coiron, the Ottawa firm is poised to announce the purchase of a Canadian company next week and already has acquisitions No. 17 and 18 in the works.

Meanwhile, a massive expansion of its main manufacturing plant in Iroquois that was shelved earlier this year due to the pandemic is expected to go ahead next spring. The $15-million project will add 56,000 square feet of space to the facility in the small town south of Ottawa on the St. Lawrence River, nearly doubling its production capacity.

“It’s getting to the point where we have to start thinking about what sort of companies we can buy that aren't going to (strain our manufacturing capacity),” said Ross, who’s projecting the firm’s revenues to grow by 15 to 20 per cent in fiscal 2021. “And that’s not the way I want to think. I want to have a little bit more flexibility than that.”

Indeed, the expansion plan is welcome news for a company that’s aiming to boost its payroll by another 200 employees over the next 12 months or so. Nearly half of those hires are expected to be in R&D as Ross Video continues to reinvest its profits in pushing the boundaries of what its technology can do.

Ross said his developers “gave us their wish list and we said yes to 98 per cent of what they asked for. It’s in every area that you can imagine.”