Now 10 years old, Essex-based distributor Audiologic is continuing to gain ground in the UK market at a steady pace. We met up with the management team recently to discuss their impressive progress...
For something that began as a two-man business just a decade ago, Audiologic has come a long way in a short space of time. Thanks largely to its attitude towards service and brand strategy, the award-winning firm has developed into a well-respected provider of audio and commercial sound equipment for the UK’s pro-AV and install contractors.
Set up by MD Simon Stoll (pictured, right) and financial director Matt Boland (left), Audiologic had a fairly eventful 2014, taking on four exclusive brands and hiring key new staff.
Despite tough market conditions, business at the company has remained strong over the past 12 months. To find out the reasons behind this, and discover what might lie ahead for the team, Audio Media International caught up with Stoll (SS) and sales and marketing manager Andy Lewis (AL) at their Harlow headquarters.
How did the company get started?
SS: Audiologic has progressed from being two guys working from a living room, doing everything, to a team of excellent individuals committed to making us the best AV solutions provider in the industry.
AL: Quite early on in the life of the business we picked up some exclusive brands, a key determinant in our success.
ARX was the first exclusive brand, quickly followed by AMC.
These deals were secured after visits to major trade shows in Frankfurt and Amsterdam and began to propel us towards wider industry awareness.
In the 10 years we’ve been in existence, we’ve increased our turnover tenfold – a growth trajectory that we aim to continue. Given the tough market conditions during that time, it’s safe to say that we take a lot of satisfaction from our strong position.
What do you believe sets you apart from the competition?
SS: Customer service is the key and our main goal has always been to improve efficiency and the scope of our offering in line with our customers’ needs. This is illustrated by the expansion of our portfolio from just audio to include cabling, racking and now video and control products.
We are labelled a distributor but I really see us as a service provider. It’s that emphasis on customer service, which comes in so many forms, that makes us different from our competitors. In our view the harder they find it to categorise us the better.
AL: The fact that as individuals we all possess a high degree of technical competency in respect of the products that we stock is fundamental to our operation. The contents of the warehouse are a well-understood means to an end for us, not simply a collection of kit.
We also have some AV customers, whose focus is more towards the ‘V’ of AV, who don’t have internal audio specialists and so they use us as their audio department. That is the case with a number of our customers – we look to help them integrate the audio into their visual area of expertise. It’s an arrangement that works really well.
What do you think are the other reasons for your recent success?
SS: Our main strengths have always been the ability to communicate effectively with our customers, understand their needs exactly and provide a solution that fully meets their requirements. Customer testimonials have consistently shown that we achieve that, but we are always striving to maintain and further improve that ethos.
We have always put a huge emphasis on our technical know-how and are in the process of enhancing that capability significantly by growing our team. Our medium-term aim is to offer a more complete solution to a wider range of markets.
AL: It’s the added value we offer. We provide a level of support that is maybe compartmentalised at other distributors.
We are not straitjacketed in our roles by being either ‘commercial’ or ‘technical’ because while that might be neat and tidy, it’s no bad thing to visit a site and be able to take a simultaneous overview of what will work commercially and technically.
We are now at the point where we’re able to cater for every aspect of a project apart from the installation itself. We are able offer a service to our customers whereby we communicate with their end users, attend a site visit on their behalf and specify the right solution. Our customers can thus concentrate on winning the job, undertaking the installation and then rely on our assistance when it comes to commissioning.
We’ve grown and we’ll continue to do so. We’re still a team of just 10 people.
What application sectors do you feel you’re strongest in at the moment, and are there any that you’re looking to target specifically?
AL: Education is always going to be the mainstay of what we do, certainly in the short to mid-term. We want to establish ourselves in retail spaces and hospitality. Some of our brands are well recognised in retail across mainland Europe, but not necessarily in the UK and that’s something we have to tackle. Undoubtedly our biggest challenge over the next two to three years is to become established in more vertical markets.
We’ve had our first big retail project in the last year which took us outside our comfort zone, completing a rollout of over 800 stores.
You seem to prefer to do business as a small team, but you were clearly pleased when you took on business development manager Dave Smith last summer. Why was that such a coup for you?
AL: Dave has exposed us to new markets and his commitment and enthusiasm is already starting to pay dividends.
Dave comes from a consumer background, so he’s putting us in front of companies who we didn’t necessarily know had a commercial install arm. We are now, for example, in talks with a brand that is undertaking a 660-store refurb. Dave was able to initiate a conversation which has led to a fruitful relationship with this new client.
Have you got any future plans that we should know about?
AL: We have an exciting new venture coming soon – Audiologic Connect. A sister brand to Audiologic, Audiologic Connect will promote the ancillary side of our business. We own a cable brand, Quartex, and as part of our Audac distribution we also distribute Procab cables and the Caymon rack brand. These brands form the main thrust of Audiologic Connect. While these products could never be considered ‘sexy’ they are absolutely fundamental to everything audio – after all speakers don’t work without cables. Customers will be able to buy direct from the Audiologic Connect website, at list price, and obviously our trade customers will benefit from their usual discount.
Quite a few exclusive brands joined your portfolio last year too. Has this become a priority?
AL: You can leave yourself exposed if your focus is entirely on third-party brands. Our mixed model of third-party and exclusive brands allows us to provide the best possible choice and solution for our customers and gives us security.
The exclusive brand line-up grew in 2014 with Phoenix, Nexo (as a semi-exclusive), Xilica and Aurora Multimedia.
Our strategy is to take quality brands that are sometimes under-represented within a territory. We then promote and support them, which enables us to provide our customers with quality products that suit their budget and their project specifications.
We play the long game and we have the patience and the expertise to build our brands responsibly.
Finally, what can you tell us about Aurora Multimedia? Why are you so excited about that one?
AL: Aurora Multimedia has a fantastic offer. They are the manufacturer of the industry’s first non-proprietary web-standards-based IP control systems, as well as advanced HD video distribution and processing and a whole lot more.
We have a catalogue of products that require controlling. Previously we had to look for solutions from third-party providers because we had nothing in-house. Now we can offer a comprehensive solution.
If the Holy Grail of this business is to be able to offer installers a one-stop shop for all their requirements for a particular job, then by securing this deal, we’re well on the way towards that situation. These products offer a genuine alternative to proprietary IP control systems and can be integrated with a whole raft of products that we provide, enabling us to move to a whole new level in supplying complete solutions for our customers.
There is really only one audio manufacturer who can confidently say that they have an end-to-end audio solution from microphone to speaker and everything in between. Other companies dabble in it a little but there is always one or more links in the chain missing. Our short-term goal is to be able to achieve that Holy Grail from a commercial audio perspective.