EI spoke with Mark Schafle, respected and experienced CEO of James Loudspeaker to get the story behind the man and the brand.
Tell us how you got into the AV install business?
In 1989, I was approached by Harman International regarding the Director of Operations position at Infinity (speaker brand). At the time, I was at Hewlett Packard’s Scientific Instruments Division responsible for production, control, purchasing, and three production lines. After running Infinity’s operations for three years, I took over the enclosure division for Harman, overseeing the manufacture of 25,000 cabinet pieces daily for all of the Harman brands.
The one accomplishment I was most proud of was reducing lead times from 90 days to 3 days. This was accomplished through a $1.9m capital expenditure used to optimise efficient operation, utilising every inch of the 200,000 square foot site. After dedicating three years to rebuilding the enclosure division, I took over as VP of Operations at JBL Professional.
My role there was to re-imagine the staff and processes. In 1996, I joined a group that was purchasing Acoustic Research, again responsible for all operations. We grew AR from $300k revenues to $18m in two years and in 1998 we took over Advent, Jensen, and NHT while giving up our controlling interest in AR. In 2000, I became uncomfortable with the leadership at Recoton and sold my interest in the company.
What led you to be involved with James Loudspeaker? How has your role changed over time?
In late 2002, I was approached by James’ management to assist in solving some of their ongoing operational issues. Spending a week with the team led me to believe they were not heading in the right direction with products, production, engineering or administration. Through this process, I had been introduced to the owner of the company, Mr. Art Martori, who at the time was considering closing the operation.
Through this chance meeting, we discussed taking the brand in a completely different direction and agreed to a six month plan, ending at CEDIA 2003, where we’d make the mutual decision to go forward or not.
Needless to say, that six month stretch was successful enough to point to a bright future and market opportunity, giving new life to the James Loudspeaker brand as a truly custom, manufacturing and engineering-driven company. I remember attending St. James that Sunday for Mass, the booth being located under esteemed NFL player Edgarinn James’ banner in the RCA dome at the goal line.
The stars just lined up for us and we moved forward. Over the years, James Loudspeaker has stayed true to our mission; treat people fairly, be responsive, do the right thing. Engineer products we’d put in our own homes, be an industry leader in USA-based custom manufacturing and include our employees in the direction and success of the company.
My role has always been to build the company; grow sales, engineer creative products, expand our USA manufacturing capabilities and do not jeopardise our integrity for quick profits.
What are some of the most exciting milestones that have taken place during your time at the company?
Becoming a viable speaker company in a very crowded field and introducing new categories and innovative concepts into our industry including fast-to-market custom solutions. Some product and functionality highlights include PowerPipe hidden subwoofers, highend landscape products (sat-sub systems), our ultra-slim sound bars and small aperture architectural speakers.
Operational achievements have included engineering 1.97 custom designs per day, tripling our production capacity, purchasing a building and becoming debt free and working with 48 dedicated people who make this a truly unique and interesting place to be!
James Loudspeaker is known for real innovation in design, how does the company achieve this in terms of the look and install flexibility delivered across the ranges?
Hire intelligent, driven young engineers out of very good colleges, mix these college grads with experienced industry veterans who are willing to teach and also learn at the same time and give our team the opportunity to design, build, make mistakes and correct their mistakes in a positive environment.
We also listen to our dealers, never say no, challenge ourselves to create better solutions both in performance and design. We take risks to achieve future success and never make short term decisions.
How influential are installers in helping shape the products?
100% of our ideas come from our customers. We listen!
What is ‘hydro-dipping’?
An exotic custom finishing process that further differentiates our brand, allowing us to create unique designs matching almost any environment.
Exterior audio has developed in UK/Northern Europe a lot recently, do you see this as big potential growth area for your brand?
We introduced the first USA high-end stereo custom exterior solutions in 2005 and have been shipping these same products internationally. We’ve enhanced these solutions over the past 13 years with hundreds of custom solutions, high quality products: planters, buried subwoofers, wedge series, under-eave products, satellite/ subwoofer systems, and just about anything else our customers have been able to dream up. The outdoor entertainment segment is growing and will continue to be a huge part of James’ success.
What changes/improvements will be delivered being part of the Sonance family?
Sonance is an incredible organisation. Ari (CEO Ari Supran) has built a solid team of professional, intelligent, aggressive, and creative people. He leads in a hands-off yet peripherally involved manner, always encouraging his staff.
James’ staff will focus on our strengths: manufacturing and engineering, the marketing and sales teams are phenomenal. This is an area that will enable James to grow. Sonance sees the value in what James is all about; manufacturing and engineering, creativity and efficiencies. We also think alike and share a passion for our products.
Tell us something we might not know about James Loudspeaker?
James ran under the radar for many years, surpassing our number 1 competitor in 2009, without notice. James has 1000’s of custom products on our database enabling us to quickly turn new concepts into reality in an average of two weeks! James turns custom sound bars in two and a half days. James has added hydrodipping, automotive custom finishes, spectrachrome finishes, doubled our powder coating capacity and we continue to expand our finishing horizons.
James is a flat organisation – there are no middle managers and only one level in total. James product catalogue is the result of dealer demand. Our marketing has always been a pull system; they ask, we deliver. James has a larger engineering staff, 10+, than many competitors many times larger.
What are your interests outside of work?
Four daughters. All college graduates, well balanced people, with a strong work ethic and desire to contribute to the betterment of our world. My family is the key to my success and push me to excel.
Wife of 35 years, in a marriage still growing stronger each year, with whom I share a love for many outdoor activities; hiking, golf, swimming, fishing, and sports in general.
What is the best thing about working at James Loudspeaker?
Quite simply, the people I’ve been lucky enough to hire and work side by side with. They are the company, and I have been so fortunate to attract all of this outstanding talent, and I have been smart enough to stay out of the way and let them excel.
James Loudspeaker is distributed in the UK by Pulse Cinemas
This article first appeared in the pages of Essential Install Magazine, subscribe here.