Interview with JHS
Early June of 2015 saw JHS hold its 19th annual JHS Event, at the same time celebrating its golden jubilee. And Mr. John Hornby Skewes, who founded the company under his own name in November 1965, is still actively involved! Our sales head Mike van der Logt attended the event and festivities and had the opportunity to ask managing director Dennis Drumm some questions.
[LEWITT] How did you come to be in the distribution business?
[David Drumm] Personally, to cut a long story short, I was in bands at school back in the seventies. I also “haunted” the local music store and started working there on Saturdays. I then went off and did other things for a few years – in catering, building, retail, distribution, and bands – before coming back to manage the store. In 1980, I took an opportunity with a reps job, eventually joined JHS, worked my way up the ladder, and her I am as managing director. Sounds simple, but it was quite complicated, and it’s still a steep learning curve where few things get easier, but everything is rewarding. Mr. John Hornby Skews, as a non-musician and an entrepreneur-salesman, first worked for Hohner and then left to take advantage of the “beat boom” of the 1960’s, striking out to set up his own company.He grew JHS from very humble beginnings into the international success it now, fifty years later.
[LEWITT] Was the decision fueled by your passion for music, was it business-driven, or was it due to something else?
[David Drumm] For me it was both, really. I’ve got a terrific passion for music, so by and large, running a music products company is a joy. I’ve also come to love mastering the challenges of running a successful business as such. Mr. Skewes made the jump because he’s a very focused and driven individual who, as an employee, eventually got a bit miffed at how his managers would steal all his good ideas – so he took what was a huge step forsomeone who was still very young, deciding to put his own backside on the line and go for it!
[LEWITT] When did you start, and have the business and the market changed since then?
[David Drumm] John Hornby Skewes & Co. Ltd. was incorporated in November 1965, back when both TV and life were still “black and white”, in what was still very much postwar Britain. The industry was in its very early days of development, with limited brands, limited production, and limited products, but the market was waiting with open arms as popular music, particularly the guitar and keyboard segments, literally exploded. Since then, the whole industry has mushroomed into a global phenomenon worth billions, with a very mature marketplace full of amazing brands, knowledgeable consumers, vibrant dealers, a highly developed supply chain, and a truly mindboggling array of products in every imaginable category. It’s a buyer’s market and a much tougher sell, but the opportunities remain the same.
[LEWITT] How did you hear about LEWITT, and what was it about what you heard that made you go for LEWITT?
[David Drumm] LEWITT first came to our attention when we met CEO Roman Perschon at Winter NAMM in 2010, where the brand was presented in such a standout way that you couldn’t fail to notice it. JHS was pipped to the post at that time, but we followed the brand story with great interest. When the opportunity to work with the brand finally came around in 2013, its range was more mature, its market position was much more crystallized, its presentation remained peerless, and the opportunities for both LEWITT and JHS were clear. Two of the most important attributes of any brand are “trust” and “the story.” Clearly, LEWITT’s amazing R&D, headed up by Roman Perschon and allied to very well-established, high-end manufacturing, had produced a range of products that were truly innovative, did what they said on the tin, and went way beyond what was expected of them sonically. And the brand had built an enviable reputation for exceptional, proven reliability, so the “trust” was there. And LEWITT also has a great “story”: it’s not a “product,” it’s a man; it’s not a brand, it’s a man; it’s not a mic, it’s a man! It’s a man with ideas, vision, talent, capability, and knowledge, and all of that is imbued in the product in a way that’s only possible when a man engages passionately with his topic and creates something truly unique, truly great.
[LEWITT] When choosing brands, what kind of rationale goes into the choices you make, since there are clearly more manufacturers and brands than there are customers to buy from them?
[David Drumm] If we’re not as active as we might like to be in a category, then the hunt is on … and there are always opportunities, whether the brand is new or established, however it’s represented. As a more or less full-line distributor, we choose carefully what we add, and much of what I say about why we chose Lewitt applies across the board. One certainly looks for brands with clear potential or a terrific established reputation, and always with what I’d describe as “a reason for existing,” an important part of which is “the story”.
[LEWITT] What’s your take on the online e-tailers, and can you put this in perspective with brick and mortar? Are they a threat or an opportunity? And how does modern distribution figure into today’s landscape, which is obviously changing?
[David Drumm] Channels, that all anyone is, a conduit to the consumer/user. When the Sears Roebuck mail order business opened up in the US near the end of the nineteenth century, as America’s railroads linked up the nation, the local resellers in all sorts of categories across the land claimed that their worlds would come to an end. They didn’t, though: the not-so-good businesses did wither and died, but the strong ones prospered and grew. And so it's with the internet, a channel we all love to use as consumers, as “buyers of things,” but that everyone rails against when we become the “sellers of things to those who sell the things.” It’s irony in action!! The ideal world, which is gradually solidifying, can only be based upon a great customer experience, and it doesn’t matter if it’s online or in a storefront. There’s a symbiosis that enables the two channels to complement each other. And it’s up to the “sellers of things and the sellers to those who sell the things”to figure it all out and make the best of it.
[LEWITT] How does modern distribution tie in with the apparently changing landscape?
[David Drumm] In a slightly more specialized technical category like pro-audio, and particularly in microphones, “modern distribution” is probably more people-based than if we were selling pure commodities, so having a management team that“gets” the category and brand, with well-versed tech staff to provide high-level service support in what is a prosumer category, as well as knowledgeable salespeople who understand the category, know the competition, and are likely users themselves, is important. So too are the more traditional attributes of distribution, which of course include strong logistics, the ability to stock at a depth that supports market demand, with its spikes and growth potential, the ability to support dealer receivables and sales incentives, terrific relationships with resellers and the media, a strong marketing department to support the manufacturers’ activities, and of course an open and honest relationship with the supplier/brand, where both parties are on the same train, as we are with LEWITT.
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