Heritage in Hertfordshire: A look at the history of Northcott Electronics

API speaks to Bob Latter about his career in the industry
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It was back in the late 1970’s when Bob Latter, as a salesman for Eardley Electronics, and specifically for the then fledgling range of Neutrik connectors, began a relationship with the pro audio industry, which now stretches well over 30 years.

When Latter formed Northcott Electronics in 1987, the pro audio industry was still foremost in his thoughts. “When I sat down to work out my business plan, I decided that I’d need to start by finding the right components from the right suppliers. Then, with a great amount of hard work, hopefully the customers would follow,” Latter explains. “I needed to make the correct choices, and as a small company back then, I felt I had to be able to offer something new; new products from a company with a new way of looking at business.”

Latter has had a relationship for some years with the Kaimei Electronic Corporation in Taiwan. He liked its range of competitive, high-quality Jamicon Aluminium Capacitors. Jamicon had not been seen by the pro audio market as the great alternative to the approved manufacturers popular at that time. One by one the prime console, amplifier and loudspeaker manufacturers in the UK saw the benefits of using the reliable Jamicon capacitors, and were confident in knowing that Northcott would service their accounts in the way they needed. New designs incorporating Jamicon were continually springing up. “We’re now at a point where Jamicon can be rightly considered in the same way as Neutrik connectors, that is as the component of choice, as the by-word for Capacitors in Audio,” Latter states.

While pushing hard on the Jamicon front, global component players such as Thomson CSF, (now AVX- Kyocera) also saw Northcott as a fresh, innovative and tenacious distributor who could bring them into areas of the market, which had been previously ignored. As a result of this partnership, large amounts of Thomson’s polyester, ceramic and tantalum capacitors found their way onto pro audio PCBs where almost none had been before.

During Northcott’s formative years, Latter forged bonds with several new suppliers, mainly in the emerging Taiwanese manufacturing sector, which manufactured products that many of the pro audio firms were not previously aware of. Today, names such as Universe Condenser Company and PDC- Ezentek can be found on the AVLs of some of the biggest and best products within the industry. “What I found were a handful of really good, real quality companies,” he comments. “I developed great relationships based on honesty and trust as I moved their products bit by bit into the audio industry.”

Latter states that maintaining good relationships with suppliers, customers and the industry at large is Northcotts’ principle driving force. The firm’s mission statement is that a good business is one that is always striving to make contacts, to meet with people wherever they are and to try to express the Northcott way to them; to be available anytime and in any way in order to make sure the customer gets what they require. “Our manufacturers know that on so many occasions, what an audio customer wants to use is not necessarily a catalogue part. We often have to ‘customise’ a product to meet specific criteria; we work really hard with our suppliers to get the customer exactly what they need.”

Steering a course through the waters of the electronic component industry for so many years has made for tough and challenging times. Those companies that have survived and even prospered needed to be prepared to change with the times. Northcott has always endeavoured to keep its eye on the importance of quality and service, and, as such, has emerged as a distributor with a great wealth of experience and expertise.

Back in 2001 an office and warehouse facility was opened in Hong Kong. So much of the work Northcott had been involved in, both on the development and manufacturing sides, was now moving to off-shore production sites. China was the main area of this movement, so Northcott needed to be able to continue to support its business there. “It seemed obvious to me even as far back as the late ‘80s that volume pro audio manufacturing would, as so many other industries had, be moving to low cost production CEMs,” he explains. “It is a real shame in so many ways, but what to do? We had to follow the market. The old kudos of high-end audio being “Made in Britain” went the way of so much of our manufacturing industries. I could either shrug my shoulders, feel hard done by and do nothing, or start up a Northcott in Asia to see if we could bring anything of our experience and expertise to selling in this new world.”

Again, Latter needed to find the right partner in Hong Kong, and in D&K technology he found a perfect fit. “Danny (Kwan) and I share the same values,” he says. “The mutual trust and business appreciation is the key. My customers now know that they can expect the same level of service and quality from Northcott, wherever they need us.”

With customers in Malaysia, Singapore, China and most recently India, Latter feels that the model Northcott started seems to be working quite well: “It’s extremely hard work that is challenging and enjoyable at the same time. I suspect that there are many more changes in the not too distant future that will cause yet another re-think as to when and where product will actually be made. The emerging markets are just that, and in a few years’ time the landscape will almost certainly have changed again.

“So now in 2011, with a little more weight and a little less hair, we still Northcott with a UK HQ. I am proud of what we’ve achieved over the years; it’s been hard and sometimes painful, but I think Northcott has always acted with integrity, and always tried to do our best for our suppliers and our customers. 1978 seems a long time ago, so much has changed and not everything for the better, but with the many fine products we can now offer, I really hope we can continue to do our bit and enjoy our time in this great industry.”

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