Adam Hall – Choosing long-term sustainable development – Report by SONOMAG Magazine

Its brand new premises nestle in the Taunus foothills, not far from Frankfurt. Here, things are still “Made in Germany” by hand – yet they manage to send out several hundred consignments around the world. Discovering Adam Hall, a company that’s atypical in more ways than one. Half an hour by car from Frankfurt, we discover the company’s new building in a setting reminiscent of the Vosges mountains in France. We are welcomed in the very light offices with an unassailable view over the surrounding  countryside. Everything here seems to have been designed for comfort at work, right down to the sports field next to the warehouse It’s used for staff recreation as well as for free-field testing Line Array systems. Company owner David Kirby has succeeded in surrounding himself with a team of enthusiasts, some of whom have been working for the company for several decades. Sometimes from father to son. We are greeted with a placid smile that seems in keeping with the calm setting.

Sono Mag:Could you tell us a bit about the history of Adam Hall?

David Kirby: Adam Hall founded the business in England in 1975. He sent me here in 1980 to set up the German subsidiary. At that time, we very much specialized in supplying spare parts for flight cases, but we were starting to add other brands to our catalogue too. The German subsidiary expanded much faster than the rest of the company. When he retired in 2003, Adam Hall chose to sell me all his shares. I then decided to centralize all the sales and despatch services in Germany. The construction of our new building in 2008 has allowed us to bring together a large part of the company’s activities.

The way you operate is actually quite special. You don’t have many distributors.

DK: We have distributors in those countries that represent a market that is too narrow, or too specific, for us to handle it directly from here. But we do have sales offices in lots of countries. For example, Gabriel (ed: Medrano) has been
working for us for twelve years. After two years in our UK subsidiary, he devoted himself to expanding our sales network in southwest Europe, for Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France. We have other centres in Sweden, Denmark, Poland,
and for Benelux. In point of fact, for us to establish sales offices depends directly on finding just the right person. We only look for a local distributor where we don’t manage to set up a sales office, as currently in Africa or Finland.

Which are the various brands you sell?

DK: We started with Flight Case accessories, and they still represent a substantial part of our sales today. But as a musician myself, I was quite involved in the field and various brands contacted me about distributing their products. So we started doing just that. We’ve been distributing Eminence speakers, SKB Flight Cases, and so on for a long time, and we are continuing today with brands like BMS and Faital Pro speakers, for example. But we soon realized
it’s not necessarily a good idea to distribute other people’s products. It’s often better to design your own devices – and that’s just what we’ve done. Our main brands are LD Systems and Palmer.

I suppose you do your manufacturing in the Far East.

DK: These days, it’s unavoidable for large-volume production, as for our LD Systems brand, for example. All our range is designed in Germany, but are manufactured in China and Taiwan. But we do still have a manufacturing line
right here for certain products, like the Palmer range. We are very committed to preserving expertise in our own country.

I’ve heard you are launching a range of lighting products. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

DK: This is actually quite recent, we’re still at the learning stage. We’ve recently recruited a number of lighting specialists. With the Cameo brand, we are starting to import a number of products that we went to choose directly from the Far Eastern manufacturers. Markus Jahnel has managed to spare a moment and has joined us. He joined Adam Hall 20 years ago in the Sales Department. He is now Managing Director of the company and tells us what he thinks about the arrival of lighting at Adam Hall.

MJ: There’s a lot of movement in the lighting market – much more than in audio. What’s fashionable today can be completely out of date tomorrow. Against this background, we are moving forward cautiously. Our range is currently centred on standard LED products using. Our added value lies in the great care we take with packaging, and proper translation of the instruction manuals. We want to make these products attractive in shops. We don’t just sell boxes.

Establishing a new brand on the market is a real challenge.

MJ: Lighting equipment buyers’ behaviour is much less connected with the notion of ‘brand’ than in the audio world. They will base themselves on the equipment specifications, the technology used, and that’s about it. If the product meets their requirements, then they choose on the basis of the price. This kind of thinking does not entirely apply in top-end lighting, as with moving heads, for example. But it certainly is the case with PARs or the LED products we are currently offering.

Are your lighting customers general public or professionals?

MJ: We want to get our products directly into consumer shops, but also with professional service providers and hire companies, with whom we deal directly.

In audio, what avenues are you looking at for future development?

DK: Our flagship brand is still LD Systems. In contrast to what most other brands have done, we started by designing and selling entry-level products. As time goes on, we are completing our catalogue with lines going further and
further up market. So today we are offering highly professional products like Line Array systems. We’re going to go on covering the whole range of requirements, from the cheaper end to very high quality solutions.

MJ: Our research is currently oriented towards DSP processing for use in top-end products. We are also doing a lot of work on Class D amps and switch-mode power supplies. Whilst our first customers were looking above all for an attractive price, the credibility of our brand now allows us to add more expensive products to our catalogue, for which there’s no shortage of customers. For example, we’re soon going to be adding some highly professional HF to
our range, for hire and installation.

Sono Mag: And to end with, is there one of your product ranges you’d like to talk about?

MJ: I have something of a soft spot for our Defender cable crossovers. We’ve been designing and manufacturing them here in Germany for over fifteen years. Of course they’re used for concerts and other events – but also in industry. You can find them at trade shows, in the power industry, in mining, in the military sector… I’m really keen on this notion of a ‘global’ product. We’ve never had a single return for after-sales service. We’re proud of this success.

Your new buildings went up just before the worst of the crisis. How have you experienced this period?

DK: We felt the start of the recession in 2008, when our new buildings had just been finished. In 2009, most of our colleagues lost 30–40 % of their volume of business. Frankly, for us, the brands for which we were very well known – for example Flight Case accessories – followed suit, in the same proportion as the market overall. But the remarkable thing is, our expanding brands like LD Systems, for which we were making great efforts, made a place for themselves faster because of the crisis. These are good, reliable products offering good value for money – just what our customers were looking for during this period of crisis. The increase in LD Systems sales completely made up for the drop in the other brands, resulting in an overall balance in the sales volume.

When you arrive here, you notice at once that the roof is covered with solar panels. What does this action mean for you?

DK: With this installation, our building produces much more electrical power than it consumes. In the same spirit, our boiler for heating and hot water burns only wood. And 80 % of this wood comes from a local state forest, managed by the authorities. This ‘sustainable development’ aspect is very important here in Germany. Our wish for Adam Hall – a brand that’s over 30 years old – is for it to go on developing in the spirit that drives it today: reasonable  centralization backed up with real sustainable choices. A big thank-you to Gabriel Medrano, Adam Hall Sales Manager for Southern Europe, who came up with the idea for this trip. ——————————————————————————————————————————
Visiting the warehouse and technical
After the figures, the economic forecasting, and the muted atmosphere of the offices, let’s go for a tour round the warehouse and technical areas. Historically, Adam Hall is well known as ‘the’ specialist in manufacturing and distributing Flight Case accessories, including the wood. The factory stocks an impressive amount of wood, in various dimensions as well as with different finishes and colours. Adam Hall’s purchasing volume means it can negotiate very competitive rates for a large number of lines.

Sono Mag: Do you sell products retail?

Gabriel Medrano: Yes, we even have a machine that’s able to pack as little as a single plank of wood for safe transport. For aluminium, we have around fifty lines available from stock in 4 m lengths, which we can even cut down to
2 m for despatch via express carriers.

How do you handle despatch?

GM: Since we don’t really have a local importer, all orders arrive here and are despatched from here. This means we process between 250 and 300 orders a day. Those that arrive before noon are generally processed and despatched the same day. Our warehouse covers 8000 m² and holds 3,000 pallets. We’ve recently had to lease an adjoining building to store 400 more pallets.

I noticed a small workshop adjoining the warehouse.

GM: The three people working there produce made-to-measure orders. This might involve custom blister-packing products, final assembly of certain Flight Case parts … we are able to adapt ourselves very specifically to customer requests.

How does Adam Hall handle after-sales service?

GM: We have our own after-sales service department, at the factory in Germany and in a number of other countries. Wherever possible, we troubleshoot and repair incoming products in house. If we feel it is preferable to send the client back a new product, we don’t hesitate to do so. The customer’s product is then refurbished and sold as ‘B stock’. ——————————————————————————————————————————
Palmer, equipment that’s
“Hand-made in Germany”.
Adam Hall operates several brands, including Palmer, which offers two ranges: one for guitar effects and amps, the other for pro audio accessories. We met with Product Manager Robin Henlich. Our first surprise when we entered his office-cum-laboratory-cum-workshop was to find a team of technicians busy working on printed circuits. In point of fact, 90 % of Palmer equipment is completely hand built in Germany. Only a few guitar effects are manufactured in China and undergo final assembly and/or checking in Germany.

Sono Mag: Do you manufacture the whole of the equipment, including the mechanical elements?

Robin Henlich: Yes, both the mechanical and electronic sides. Most of our products use point-to-point wiring, and we check here the whole of the manufacturing process, from producing the printed circuits to audio, and even supply,
transformers. This insistence on doing our own manufacturing means we are able to offer a five year guarantee on all our products. The sole exception being the valve amps.

Why did you choose to build your own audio transformers?

RH: We build a special transformer for each model. In that way, the transformer is perfectly matched to the requirements, thereby reducing to a minimum the electronics that will be needed around it. Less electronics allows better noise and distortion performance, as well as improved reliability.

In the showroom, we saw a pukka presentation stand for Palmer.

GM: For our Palmer and LD Systems brands, our policy is to set up an international network of retailers. When a retailer starts stocking our products, with each opening order we supply them high-quality POS material that will help them decorate their shop. ——————————————————————————————————————————
Marketing; social networks to the fore
As we go round the building, we meet a Frenchman. Baptiste Languille has been working for Adam Hall since 2008. A marketing specialist, he co-ordinates the translations of the various materials, and also plays an important role on the social networks.

What is the company’s ‘angle’ in terms of the social networks?

Baptiste Languille: Adam Hall has a quite a number of brands: LD Systems, LD Premium, Palmer, Defender, and Cameo. We decided to start by ensuring a real presence for the LD Systems and Palmer MI (ed: Musical Instruments), especially via a number of YouTube channels. Cameo and Adam Hall also have channels. All the videos are offered in English with subtitles in French, German, and Spanish. We also have a Google+ account for Adam Hall, and naturally, a strong presence on facebook.

There is also an Adam Hall blog.

BL: On this blog you can find our catalogue, along with all the latest product news, to give us direct B-to-B communication with our customers. This is really the place where we centralize all information connected with Adam Hall, about our products, as well as about Trade Shows, and so on. We also post there references of the events and installations where our products are used.

And what is the overall publicity strategy?

BL: It’s important to explain that under no circumstances do we sell direct to the end user, technician or musician. We sell directly to hire companies and installers, and to distributors and shops, giving them as much support as we can in terms of publicity and product promotion. On the other hand, these publicity and promotion efforts are addressed directly to end-users via various channels, catalogues, websites, social networks, and so on.

Do you pay attention to what is said about the brands on the Web?

BL: I am actually very often present in the forums so as to understand the image users have of our brand. I take an interest in the questions they ask about the products. Using Google Alerts, I am able to collect information coming from all quarters and identify the trends. I do also sometimes contribute on the forums, to offer answers to specific questions or to moderate certain reactions that I may feel are inaccurate or excessive.

And one last word?

BL: I’m also very happy to be handling a number of partnerships with artists. We are in the process of signing an agreement with French guitarist Christophe Godin, who is very impressed with our Palmer products.

All the latest products from Adam Hall:

Source: SONO Magazine, France, April 2012,Go,metier-formation,adam-hall-choix-developpement-dans-duree,Id,4122.html

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