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October 2015

Raising the (sound)Bar

By Anthony's Blog

…or, how those Loveable Leon Lads redefined Custom Installation!

2000 was a memorable year for me. I got married, bought my house, adopted five dogs and broke $1 million in sales with my biggest client at the time, Audiophile Systems. 15 years later I’m divorced, couldn’t care less about the house, all but one of the dogs have passed away and Audiophile Systems is dead as Quadraphonic. Fortunately, 2000 was also the year that my dear friend, PAC’s Ralph Tarnofsky, suggested I get involved with Leon…strictly platonic, of course. When Ralphy explained that Leon was a new speaker company looking for a rep, I thought “Oy, Vey! Just what I need…I’m already drowning in speaker brands!”

Leon was different: a line of box loudspeakers which hung on the wall flanking a plasma, in custom sizes and finishes designed to complement the television. Fifteen years ago, this concept was radically different from what everyone else was doing. And it made sense. When plasmas were selling at prices exceeding $15,000, customers weren’t buying a television so much as they were reclaiming the real estate occupied by a bulky CRT and stand. Moving the speakers off the floor seemed the next logical step.

Of course, Leon wasn’t the only company that had this idea–though they might have been the first—but, in my 35 years in CE, they were the only company that listened to its dealers and developed products based upon the suggestions of their customers. Surprisingly, it was Andy Singer—about as far from an integrator as one could imagine—who gave Leon the idea of matching their speakers to plasmas. Originally, the company was making wood-veneered, on-wall speakers whose grilles were silk-screened with artwork. They brought a pair of these for Sound by Singer to evaluate. Andy wasn’t interested but told the lads “If you can make a pair of speakers to match this Pioneer Elite Plasma, I’ll buy them.” They did. And he did. Leon lived by that lesson ever since.

In an industry that often develops products in a vacuum and then tries foist them upon dealers and customers, Leon has differentiated itself by mining its customer base for new product ideas. Not so long after they started building custom left-and right-channel Plasma speakers, they developed “Horizon,” the first custom LCR Soundbar, again due to dealer feedback. Back then, Leon salespeople routinely traveled with their tiny rep force and we fielded requests for superior mounting systems, which led to a series of proprietary—and revolutionary—mounting brackets. As the company grew, Founder Noah Kaplan has demonstrated his creativity with a series of new products, some of which (“Trithon,” for example) were strictly concepts or design studies but many of these have captured the imagination of the entire industry. (The Tonecase TcFIT, for example, has become the fastest-selling new product in company history!)

Much as I hate to say it, the secret of Leon’s success is no secret at all: they succeed because they listen! Companies who don’t understand the need to communicate with their customers—dealers and end-users alike—and ask what products they’d like to see are setting themselves up to fail. They’re also assuming a tremendous and totally unnecessary risk. We have one vendor who built an entire line of product without ever consulting their reps, dealers or customers until the product shipped. The resulting launch was a total disaster. A few phone calls and e-mails could have completely avoided this debacle.

Fifteen years after I first met Leon, they’ve become our Number One vendor…by a considerable margin. The company that started with a single, on-wall speaker has morphed into the industry’s largest manufacturer of bespoke loudspeakers and a perennial guest on Forbes’ list of “Fastest Growing US Companies.”

The next time your customer asks for something, give his suggestion some serious thought…you could wind up becoming the next Leon!