The 2004 C-Business 50
Today's evolving C-Business landscape is like a Rohrschach test, in that the patterns look different to everyone that takes a peek. But in spite of—or perhaps as a result of—the explosive changes taking place in technology and business practices, the sector remains rich with possibility and continues to grow exponentially.
Sometimes that success is driven by companies and individuals whose work is often overlooked in the larger scope of events. Other times, the success is the work of highly visible forces, who bring forth visionary ideas that rock the industry. All of which brings us to this year's C-Business 50.
Each year, Custom Retailer spotlights the movers and shakers in our industry, who whether from behind the scenes or out in the spotlight, are leading the way and setting examples in this still-developing sector. Our 2004 honorees represent a cross-section of technologists, evangelists and business leaders whose efforts, ideas and commitment have made them the ones to watch in the C-Business world. Congratulations to this year's honorees!
NASSER ABO ABDO
Keeping on top of fast-moving mobile CE trends is not for the faint of heart, but as president of Audiobahn, Nasser Abo Abdo's energy and enthusiasm matches that of his Gen-Y consumer base. Since founding the company in 1997, Abo Abdo has grown Audiobahn into a player that keeps customers coming back through a deft combination of technology and hip factor. The mobile business isn't what it once was, but companies like Audiobahn are keeping it what it can be.
These days, product cycles move almost at lightning speed, and distribution changes as quickly as the seasons. In this climate, brands that remain steadfast propositions are an increasingly rare phenomenon, but Beyer's venerable B&K offerings have been successfully satisfying both dealers and consumers for decades. The CE graveyard is littered with the bones of brands that flew too fast or too low. B&K's steady course continues to stand the test of time.
In a world of continuous commoditization for key A/V products, Denon has managed to maintain and even extend its position as a premium vendor at top-to-bottom price points. Much of the credit goes to Baker, whose tireless leadership recently earned him the top spot at the company. Under his steady hand, Denon has solidified its presence as a go-to brand for consumers and dealers who want the newest/latest. It will be interesting to watch how he navigates the company's directions and synergies under the D&M Holdings umbrella.
In the custom field, it isn't always easy to be an innovator. Techniques that Xantech was pioneering over 20 years ago are now mainstream ideas, so where do you go next? That's the challenge that Morris Bekas embarked on as he joined the company as VP of Sales and Marketing last year. His prior experience at DirecTV and Zenith will come in handy as the company continues to distinguish itself from its sister brands at Nortek, and maintain its standing as old faithful for the integrator and C-tailing community.
The merging of traditional CE retailing and custom systems integration has brought forth a new type of dealer we call the C-tailer, and few businesses better exemplify this dual nature than Bock's Pennsylvania-based Stereo Barn. A former President of PARA, Bock has not only forged a successful independent C-business, he has served as an exemplary model to other specialty dealers who are making transition from retail to C-tail and balancing both with aplomb.
Most of us in the industry have watched the vaunted Marantz name move up and down in value perception over the decades, but much of the credit for the company's current success can be attributed to the tireless work of VP of Sales Charlie Boornazian. In a field that sometimes seems overpopulated, Boornazian has kept the brand's attention level at top of mind for many consumers, and has helped extend Marantz's presence in evolving multi-zone applications.
Few of our C-Biz 50 honorees have as much outward presence in the industry as Jeremy Burkhardt. In addition to leading SpeakerCraft's ascension to the top rank of custom CE product vendors, he's assiduous in sharing his extensive knowledge, routinely contributes articles to a variety of industry trade publications, has served on various trade association councils, and lectures at numerous conferences worldwide. He's also actively involved in CEDIA, PARA, HES and HTSA.
Burns Digital Consultants
In an industry with too much to know, too many people who need to know, and not enough people who actually do know, Jim Burns is an appreciated presence. He is the author of the technical curriculum for the Imaging Science Foundation, as well as the Fixed Pixel Display calibration seminar. Currently working with Runco, he's also active in the industry with CEDIA, SMPTE and NATAS, and has been voted to the Academy of Digital Television Pioneers.
There's been a lot of talk about the changing role of brand equity in the custom and specialty CE space, but under the leadership of VP of Sales Steve Caldero, Yamaha's name is stronger than ever, and making interesting inroads into wireless entertainment. In addition to his work with Yamaha, Caldero has served on the Executive Board of CES and is the recent past Chair of the Audio Board
As the custom world continues to splinter into a myriad of new protocols, formats and digital techniques, AMX remains a steady force that both consumers and dealers can count on. Under the leadership of President, Chairman and CEO Bob Carroll, the company continues to be one of the showcase technology stories of the industry, and attracts new converts to its proprietary system with each passing season.
As Director of Audio/Video Systems for Leviton Integrated Networks, Mark is the smiling face of one of the industry's most imposing giants. He gets credit for the organization and development of the Leviton Integrated Solutions initiative, which was the precursor to the Leviton Integrated Networks. Now concentrating in Business Development and the Leviton installed audio systems program for production homes, Mark is also active in CEA's home networking activities.
Audio Command Systems
There are few integrators in our business that have been as successful and as celebrated as Audio Command Systems, a perennial award winner for business and technical success. Much of that success can be attributed to company VP John Clancy. Starting out as a field technician, moving up to senior installer, project manager, system designer, senior programmer, technical sales and eventually VP and then partner, he has experienced all aspects of the industry first hand, and can rightfully claim that the view looks pretty good from the top.
The company that bears Bill Crutchfield's name has been at the forefront of CE retailing in many different guises. Effortlessly traversing the challenges of both mail order and Internet-based retailing over the course of years, Crutchfield recently scored another coup by being the first retailer to offer a DIY kit for custom installed distributed audio. Whether the company's exhaustive customer support will be sufficient for do-it-yourselfers remains to be seen, but if anyone can be successful at it, Crutchfield would be the heavy favorite.
Dellinger is the brain behind AVAD's Dealer to Builder (D2B) initiative, creating a program that matches systems integrators with homebuilders. Under Dellinger's leadership the D2B training program has created what it calls the "Electronic Systems Contractor." By his design, D2B ESCs are taught to sell, install, and support prepackaged integrated systems in a way that's simple, painless, and profitable for both the builder and ESC. AVAD's growing prominence in the industry owes no small debt to Dellinger's efforts.
As Director of Brand Marketing for the Harman Consumer Group Mobile Systems Division, Dragon works on many special promotions, but his real value is the insight on how to convert the Harman mobile brands' involvement in these programs into sales. He also writes all of the aftermarket brands literature and Web site content. Now that's what we call hands-on.
How many specialty dealers can claim nearly 30 years of continuous success, moving from traditional stereo into home theater and eventually custom home theater? Now how many of them have the company President out in front, talking to customers, holding seminars, and delivering informational spots on local TV? The list is probably pretty short at this point, and Bjorn Dybdahl's name would appear at the top of the list. Bjorn's continues to be a shining example of how C-tailing should work in the real world.
Crestron Electronics bestrides the custom A/V and automation worlds like a colossus. Starting from a one-floor walkup in NJ, the company now boasts offices throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Australia, and its technology is one of the cornerstones of the custom world. When it comes to the upper end of residential systems, Feldstein's brainchild is a name that continues to invoke the excitement of what's possible in the C-business field.
Helge Fischer is a man ahead of his time. He recently celebrated his 25th anniversary with the company that he founded, and under his stewardship, Jamo was emphasizing visually stylish, room-friendly components literally decades before the rest of the industry caught on. These days, there are hundreds of products that owe their aesthetic sensibility to Fischer's original approach, which seems more and more prescient each year.
Flanner's Audio & Video
Flanner's Audio & Video has been a fixture in the Milwaukee home entertainment retail market for over one hundred years. And while John Flanner's presence in the specialty CE industry hasn't had quite the same tenure (yet), it sometime seems that way. His tireless efforts on behalf of specialty dealers and brands has been felt throughout the industry, particularly through his work with PARA, which will now take on new possibilities as a division of CEA.
As director of marketing for the Consumer Systems and Applications division at Sony Electronics, Goldstein leads one of the industry's most venerable names into the woods of the custom world. The task is daunting, and the company certainly doesn't have a head start, but Goldstein has been the head of Sony's high end audio/video residential custom installation business for nine years, and under his direction, the division has grown to over 500 dealers. In other words, Sony is a company to watch in this space, and with Goldstein driving, the ride should be quite interesting.
As the Executive Director of the Home Theater Specialists Association, Rich Glikes looks after the interests of nearly 50 specialty A/V dealers. But his plans for promoting the specialty business and growing HTSA membership are even more ambitious, with presence in all 50 states targeted for the near future, and extensive promotional activities in the works to support members in their marketing efforts. Glikes' plans are clearly working—HTSA member sales are expected to grow 20 percent or more this year.
Electronic Design Group
Few integration companies enjoy the reputation and honors that characterize NJ-based Electronics Design Group, headed by President Bob Gullo. Winners of more industry citations than would easily fit on a page, including eight CEDIA "Electronic Lifestyles" awards, EDG continues to set examples through its B2C communications, as well as its B2B alliances and seminars. EDG is in practice what a lot of aspiring integrators would like to grow up to be.
When the custom business was just starting out, who would have thought that a small family business like Runco would become one of the key brands of the industry? But now having finished its first year with Hana as President, the company is poised to ramp it up to the next level. Hana's manufacturing and channel experience, combined with Runco's technology and dealer relationships, should make for some interesting offerings in an increasingly crowded display market.
An onslaught of indifferent brands and non-brands continue to flood the specialty market, making quality choices increasingly difficult for both consumers and C-tailers. Heiber's API brands continue to increase their importance to the channel by broad dealer choices and aggressive consumer marketing that understands that today's HTIB buyer will be tomorrow's audio upgrade customer. This past year, Heiber was inducted into the Dealerscope Hall of Fame.
SCOTT P. HIX
Under Hix's leadership, InFocus has become a household name for many home theater enthusiasts. With innovative products like the ultra-thin DLP rear-projection light engine and the new 3-chip DLP front projector, Hix continues to keep InFocus on the cutting edge of the home entertainment market. Hix was featured in Dealerscope's 2003 40-Under-40 issue, which recognizes the best CE talent under 40 years old.
The custom business has changed the face of the A/V cabling landscape, but gourmets will always be with us, and so will the businesses that want to serve them. As long as they are, Hill will be there to educate them about the cable importance. His tireless efforts along these lines extends throughout his involvement in CEA, PARA, CEDIA and AAHE, among many others, and have been going strong for nearly two decades.
Whole-house entertainment is one of the cornerstone applications that the custom industry is banking on, and few people are more involved in making the technology mainstream than Hoagland. As founding member and original chair of the Distributed Audio Alliance, as chair of CEA's distributed audio division, and as a consultant to Russound, he's one of the category's most visible and lucid evangelists.
The custom business has often been described as the wild west, but Jensen and Fluke are aiming to bring some order to town. In association with the TIA, where Jensen is chair of the Residential Cabling Standard, the company has been hammering out a network testing standard that will ensure all parties across the CI spectrum can feel confident in the integrity of a structured wiring installation. The TIA 570B standard, which Jensen is helping to midwife, looks like a significant contribution to the industry.
Joe Kane Productions
It's hard to believe it's only been 15 years since an obscure laserdisc called "A Video Standard" changed both manufacturers' and consumers' expectations of what home theater pictures should look like. Kane's work in spreading the good word about picture integrity is felt throughout the industry every day, as installers learn to calibrate sets using his methods, and as manufacturers of displays and test equipment continue to seek his product guidance.
Jerry's Audio Video
There are hundreds of C-tailers out there who can rightfully claim that they were doing custom "before it was cool," but Kowitz's Phoenix and Scottsdale stores are longstanding exemplars of how to succeed in the converged world of specialty A/V retailing and custom installation. By focusing on the basics like product knowledge and customer support, the company continues to be a mainstay favorite in one of the country's hottest markets. Pictured left to right are Kowitz, CFO Claudia Kowitz, and Buyer Michael Kowitz.
The current CEDIA President brings an extensive resume of industry leadership with him. Before stepping into his current position last September, he CEDIA's executive committee as secretary and vice president, and chaired the CEDIA Professional Certification Board of Governors. He was also the first chair of CEDIA's Education Council, and was the 2002-2003 chair of CEDIA's Global Program Committee. As the group refines itself to adapt to a changing market, Lepper's knowledge will be a key enabler for the industry's key organization.
How'd you like to do the buying and merchandising for custom products in 175 stores across 21 states? Depending on how well your own business is doing, that situation could sound like a dream or a nightmare, but for Malin, it's all in a day's work for Tweeter. The company's footprint assures a broad range of business opportunities, and as the custom business grows, it will be interesting to watch Tweeter adapt to its larger and smaller custom competitors.
As Chairman & CEO of Oxmoor, McCroskey has taken the company in some interesting directions, from both a technological and business perspective. His newest move has been to pioneer the do-it-yourselfer market, which can now purchase the company's Zon distributed audio system through Internet or mail-order via Crutchfield. The move will no doubt be watched closely by other manufacturers and retailers.
As growing integrators continue to learn that today's wired home encompasses a lot more than audio and video, they increasingly look to HAI for solutions and guidance. Under McLellan's leadership, the company continues to capitalize on its experience with security , lighting and climate control systems, and to evolve genuinely consumer-friendly products. The company's recent distribution deal with ADI could well vault HAI by an order of magnitude in market presence.
If a "good" system controller is the holy grail of the home entertainment industries, what does it say when a newcomer company can make a splash in just two years and shake up the market? In the Harmony remote control, McLeod and his small band of Canadian industry outsiders have given both consumers and installers new expectations of how powerful and seamless a remote can be, while coming in at a price point that has pulled back the curtain on what such a device really needs to cost.
They say that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. That might have been Omnimount's idea with its first speaker mounts back in the 1970s, but in the decades since, the company has grown to dominate what is now a vital enabler category for the custom market. The company grew to be so successful that Exec VP Miller will now have the Linear/Nortek umbrella to count on, making it a sister company and natural partner to industry powerhouses Elan, SpeakerCraft, Xantech and ChannelPlus.
Training is easy when you've got a handful of students. But as the lead behind Worthington University, Morgan has the responsibility for many live and Web-based training programs offered to hundreds of industry professionals. What differentiates the distributor's training from classical manufacturer training is obvious and subtle at the same time. It's one thing to have a training partner that knows the products, but it's quite another to have one that can teach sales and marketing as well.
As CEDIA's Senior Director of Public Policy and Finance, Pasyanos carries a heavy load and fights the good fight where integrators and C-tailers are concerned, in face of opposition from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The ongoing struggle to define qualifications for low-voltage installation work requires a presence capable of championing the integrator's cause, and in Pasyanos the industry has found one.
The exponential growth of home wiring needs has created the classic Chinese term where crisis is the same word as opportunity. While the bottom end of the market continues to wither down to shovelware on the spool, the upper end has been ripe for new competition, and over the past decade, Perfito has grown his tiny "tribute" company into one of the go-to premium cable brands for C-tailers, integrators and high-end consumers alike.
From the consumer's standpoint, custom systems are often the realization of a fantasy. Pyle's Aurant is high-end integrator that understands that fantasies come in different sizes, but they all share the same yearnings. Under his leadership, the company has combined a repeatable "good-better-best" systems model where the Lexus customer gets the same sense of satisfaction as the Ferrari customer. In the process, Aurant has carved a reputation as one of the premiere integrators in the country.
Home Entertainment Source
With many major suppliers now abandoning their smaller dealers like so many orphans in the woods, someone had to step in to keep the independent "micro-channel" vital and competitive. Under Ristow's management, HES is giving the little guys new blood, with access to product and prices, and membership terms that are empathetic to the new forces that are defining today's dealer base.
Much of the underlying success of the home entertainment business is based on Hollywood stories, and in Stewart Filmscreen, there's a classic—A small, scrappy company that's ahead of an important curve eventually finds itself at the center of an exploding industry. Much of that success story is being driven by North American Sales Manager Rivera, whose own rise to N.A. Sales Manager is a Hollywood story in itself.
Given its ominpresence in consumer channels, and its growing pre-eminence in the specialty dealer channel, Samsung is one of a handful of brands that are truly driving today's home theater market. As VP of Marketing for Samsung's visual display products, Sanduski has been a driver to the driver in that success, and somehow also finds the time to serve on the Board of Directors for CEA's Video Division, as well as chair the DTV Sub-Division.
As the mobile market continues to morph into its new digital world, it faces seemingly innumerable questions from both a technological and regulatory perspective, not to mention the associated business implications for dealers and installers. As President of MERA, Scrivner leads the organization that's most focused on getting answers to these questions, and making sure the mobile aftermarket keeps up with today's tough challenges.
Some dealers dream of growing their business into a chain, while others are quite content to stick with a single facility. In the case of Raleigh-based Audio Advice, President Shaw is clearly in the latter camp. But why not? His single-location ranks in the top tier of the industry for overall revenues and revenue yield per employee, and is frequently honored across the industry and media as a best-of-breed business. Who says you've got to grow big to be big?
Tribeman's industry accomplishments are legendary—co-founder of Proton, founder of Atlantic Technology, former President of NAD, pioneer of Internet-only brand Outlaw and one of the seminal figures in the history of home theater sound. Fifteen years after starting the company, he's back at the helm of Atlantic Tech as President and CEO, and it will be interesting to watch how the company will move to its original maestro.
In today's market, traditional specialty dealers and C-tailers have their hands full in fending off the threats from smaller dealers who suddenly have big options. One of the best arrows in their quiver is product mix, and brands like Paradigm and Anthem are keeping dealers healthy by keeping them exclusive. Under VanderMarel's leadership, both names are exemplars of what kind of special reciprocal relationship can be built between manufacturer, dealer and consumer.
As chair of the Distributed Audio Alliance, Weisenberg is one of the industry's most important voices for the promotion of whole-house audio. In his role as National Sales Manager for Integra, his experience in the channel has already made a mark, as parent company Onkyo will now be entering the Japanese builder market in a relationship with Weisenberg's former company, SpeakerCraft. Today Tokyo, tomorrow Asia?
The two-step distribution model has taken on an interesting spin courtesy of Wermouth's co-op showroom idea in Houston. In this model, the showroom is used by several dozen approved, CEDIA-certified custom installers, who pay a low monthly fee to get access to exclusive lines and a tricked-out showroom where they can bring customers. Financing, training and delivery perks are also part of the message. Think globally, act locally.
As CEO of one of the country's biggest C-tailing chains, Workman is aptly named these days. While his company continues to adapt to a changing consumer market and ever-increasing pressures from mass megastores, Workman will be counting on Ultimate's builder division, which remains positive, continues to grow and operates at healthy gross margins. Many eyes are on this industry bellwether and how it will evolve with its market.
- BJORN DYBDAHL Bjorn
- Bob Carroll
- Bob Gullo
- BRYAN MCLEOD
- CRUTCHFIELD Crutchfield
- GEOFF MILLER
- GEORGE FELDSTEIN
- HANA Runco
- Helge Fischer
- JEFF GOLDSTEIN
- Jeremy Burkhardt
- Jim Burns
- JOHN CLANCY
- JOHN FLANNER Flanner
- Leon Shaw
- LEPPER CEDIA
- LYNN MCCROSKEY
- Michael Kowitz
- MIKE PYLE Aurant
- PETER HOAGLAND
- Rich Glikes
- RICHARD GLIKES HTSA
- Sales Steve Caldero
- SCOTT P
- STEPHEN BAKER Denon
- STEVEN HILL
- VICKY SCRIVNER MERA