By Dan Ferrisi
Bob Yerby, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, has had a pretty incredible career with Remo, Inc., spanning more than 20 years and numerous divergent roles that encompassed a broad spectrum of responsibilities. Speaking to Yerby, his passion for both the music industry and Remo specifically could not have been more evident. In this in-depth interview, Yerby brings us back to the beginning of his career, sharing funny anecdotes and fond memories. He also traces his history with Remo, talking about the experiences he’s had and elaborating on what makes Remo special, both on the product front and in terms of corporate culture.
I hope readers get as much information and enjoyment from the discussion below as I got from the conversation.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s touch on your background. Share the highlights of your own story as it pertains to the music products industry. Recount the path that you’ve traveled, bringing us up to the present and where you are today.
Bob Yerby: How I got my start in the industry was interesting. It was in the summer of 1990, and I was taking summer jobs during school. An opportunity opened up in the studio cartage industry in LA. My first employer in the cartage industry was Drum Doctors. Clients included Vinnie Colaiuta, Jeff Porcaro, Curt Bisquera, Ricky Lawson and Jim Keltner to name a few. As a young person coming into the industry, I had the opportunity to do studio cartage for some of the best drummers in the business. It was a pretty amazing experience for me. I found myself in a reality check pretty early on. As a young drummer, I practiced a lot, played the Hollywood Strip circuit with different bands and attended the Dick Grove School of Music. When I first got a look at the studio session industry, it was a big eye-opener. I was watching and working for guys who were at the top of their game at a very young age. This was before the digital recording era and the session industry was really cooking. Guys were recording to two-inch tape and ADATs. It wasn’t like Pro Tools is today, where you can copy and paste parts together. These guys needed a good pass on every take. At that time, Jeff Porcaro, Vinnie Colaiuta and Jim Keltner were first call drummers doing one or two sessions a day at different recording studios around Los Angeles. It was challenging getting around town to all the downbeats for these sessions on time. [Laughs.] I remember crashing a company van at a McDonald’s. My colleague and I cut the corner too close and took out the side of the van…just trying to make it from Ocean Way over to Capitol. [Laughs.]
Later that same year, Vinnie got the Sting gig, Jeff Porcaro went out with Toto and business slowed down. I wasn’t able to get the hours. Ross Garfield, who still runs Drum Doctors, had been talking to Remo about an opening in research and development. I happened to get a call from Herbie May, who is now our Director of Engineering and R&D. He wanted me to come in for an interview. I said, “I’d be honored to come in for an interview.” I went in for the interview in October of 1991. I was hired into research and development. The first job assignment he gave me is one I’ll never forget.
It was my first day and Herbie comes in with a stack of 20 14-inch heads. He said, “I want you to take these into the torture chamber,” which was our testing room, “and play on each of these heads for half an hour.” I’m thinking, “Wow! What a great gig!” [Laughs.] I did different types of drumhead testing, from playing to manual pull testing for durability. In 1992, I began the development of our world percussion instruments: the advent of the djembes, tubanos and other shaped shell instruments. I was involved in making the prototypes. That involved getting the prints from the engineers and executing prototypes into production. In 1994, I then became a Quality Control Supervisor. After the products were in production, I was in charge of final inspections for products that were ready to go to market. A year later, I applied for a job in our customer service department. After getting that position, I took a lot of the things I had learned from R&D, production and quality control to customer service. This was a great experience, working directly with customers. I handled the DW account, Remo artists, dealers and distributors. A few years later, I accepted the role of Artist Relations Manager. I was responsible for developing relationships with the world’s top drummers and signing new talent. This was instrumental to my growth in the industry. Being responsible for an artist roster like Remo’s, you are working with a lot of different types of guys. I found it challenging and exciting to be corresponding with the different personalities. Six years later, I went into product management and was appointed Product Manager for drumheads and accessories, responsible for developing new products ideas and innovations. Two years later, I was appointed National Sales Manager. This was another important learning curve for me in the industry. I was responsible for dealer and distribution networks…establishing more solid relationships with customers in North America. I was then appointed Director of Sales, where I was responsible for global sales for Remo, Inc. I’m currently the Vice President of Sales & Marketing, which I’ve been for the past five years.
The Retailer: That’s a pretty incredible run within one company, especially being able to gain such a broad perspective as a result of working in so many positions.
Yerby: I celebrated 20 years back in October and, looking back, it’s been a wonderful ride. I’ve really learned a lot about R&D, manufacturing and quality control, along with sales and marketing in the music products industry. In addition to MI, I’ve also learned a lot about recreational activities, as well as health and wellness benefits with the use of drumming as a tool.
The Retailer: In terms of what you are responsible for day-to-day within Remo, what are your key contributions? What is the best part of your job?
Yerby: In the economic climate that we are currently in, driving sales is my top priority. We want to make sure we have really good sales programs in place and are always paying attention to customer needs. We also want to keep our fill rates high, and support our dealer and distributor networks with the proper marketing assets to keep the product moving through the channels. I really enjoy the leadership role in our department. Our team is the strongest that it’s ever been. I think our marketing team is really talented. We have a smart, young group of people who can really execute. I enjoy the creative process of making sure our marketing is up to date and relevant.
The Retailer: Let’s talk about Remo in broad strokes. Give us a 10,000-foot view of the company, discussing some of the key characteristics and qualities that it embodies. Tell us about the company’s growth and development over its history.
Yerby: Remo, Inc., is a drumhead company first and foremost. Remo Belli was the first to successfully take a working synthetic drumhead design to market. There were other drumhead efforts and ideas out there prior to Remo’s (Ludwig and Slingerland, to be specific), but his original design is still used today by all drumhead companies. That’s the poured open channel drumhead. We would never say we were the first. For the record, snare and bass drumheads were mentioned in the DuPont Mylar patent that was issued in 1953. The first known patent for the drumhead was issued back in 1958 to a gentleman named James V. Irwin, but the design was technically flawed. Remo’s original design in 1958 was influential because it worked. It could go to the proper tension levels that could stand up to all playing situations in that era. This is why we are most famous for the drumhead.
Fast-forwarding into the 1980s, we began R&D in drum sets, hand drums and tambourines. In the early ’90s, we started developing the world percussion product line that has been very successful in areas of show business, recreational drumming and education. Currently, our company has a tremendous responsibility to drummers and drum manufacturers all over the world. We take pride in making the highest quality drumheads and setting the standard for the global drumhead market.
We are also very responsible in other areas, such as recreational music making and wellness. In our view, anybody can play a drum and should play, because it’s fun and healthy. Remo Belli has planted the seeds in two key areas: recreational music making, along with health and wellness. Health Rhythms, for example, is evidence-based protocol on natural killer cells (specialized white cells) that seek out and destroy infected cells, with drumming as a tool. It’s amazing what we’ve learned in other areas, such as autism, learning disabilities and social disorders, with the use of the drum.
The Retailer: When you look at Remo as it currently exists, what would you say you’re the proudest of? What makes the company stand apart, not only from its competitors but also from all companies in the music products industry?
Yerby: I’m most proud of what we have accomplished over the past 55 years. The evolution of the drumhead…creating different sounds for all areas of drums and percussion. Our accomplishments in the areas of recreational music making and Health Rhythms are phenomenal. I’m very proud of what we do on the humanitarian side. I’ve been able to witness incredible things. For example, we were sponsoring the drum circle at the National Association of School Music Dealers (NASMD) convention in San Antonio, and a person in a wheelchair was observing. We clamped a Paddle Drum to the armrest of this person’s wheelchair and he began to hit the drum. The smile and emotion that was generated was so powerful that it was difficult for me to keep my composure. The vibration…the sound of the drum…and this physically challenged person being enabled to participate was just unbelievable.
The Retailer: In our music-centric industry, a great number of creative individuals often work for manufacturers. Would you say that the Remo team is a very creative one, where the products they’re involved with on a daily basis are actually a big part of the team’s lives outside the office?
Yerby: Absolutely. We have some really creative people who work in the sales and marketing department. I’m still the Senior Product Manager for drumheads, developing prototypes and coming up with new ideas. Our testing programs involve employees who are good drummers, artists and drum techs. Between our marketing and R&D departments, we can develop great sounds for the market very quickly. In world percussion product development, we’ve got some great percussionists who work here, as well. When we’re developing sounds for drums and percussion, we know we have something great before it goes to market.
The Retailer: Shine a light on some of the most recent product releases from Remo. Going forward, what are you going to be pushing most aggressively? What is coming soon that you might want to preview? Why do these represent important additions to the marketplace?
Yerby: We have some interesting products coming out in 2013 for drumheads and for world percussion. These products are still in the development stages. Last year, we had great success with the new Clear Vintage Emperors, Powerstroke Pro Bass Drumheads, Global Frame Drums and the Mondo Cajons. In the past few years, drumhead product launches have been really good for consumers. We’ve been able to create great-sounding drumheads that last a long time. In tough economic times, you want to create products that give consumers more bang for the buck. It’s stretching their dollars. I think we’ve done a really good job creating products with great durability and sound quality.
The Retailer: What is your philosophy when it comes to working with dealers and the dealer channel? Would you say that working closely with dealers is a big part of Remo’s approach to business?
Yerby: Our relationship with the dealer base is very important. The independents, drum shops and large retail chains need our support 100 percent. We want to make sure that our dealer and distributor networks are solid. We want to provide dealers with good sales programs and quality customer service to provide sufficient stocking levels, and inventory turns with good margins. We are contacting dealers constantly just to make sure products are turning through and business is OK.
The Retailer: Both in the U.S. and globally, economic times during the past few years have been difficult. How well has Remo weathered the continuing economic storm? What proactive steps has the company taken to minimize any economy-related pain?
Yerby: Our approach is to make sure that there are consistent deals out there that dealers can take advantage of. Obviously, everyone has to look at the bottom line and control costs, whether you’re a manufacturer, a distributor or a dealer. We all want to be as proactive as possible to keep product moving through the channel. These economic conditions are unprecedented, and Remo is in a fortunate place. We have a great brand equity position in the market, which is not something that can be taken for granted. We have to keep up our momentum and make sure that we’re acting as the best partner we can be in this economic climate.
The Retailer: What does the future hold for Remo? Do you foresee any major changes or shifts in terms of the product pipeline, market segments, business relationships or company strategy? What can we expect to see?
Yerby: Dealers can expect to see more innovations from us. I think we’re immensely strong in these areas. Our ability to develop programs and new sounds for different markets, such as show business, recreational music making and education, along with health and wellness, is unwavering. These attributes will be the key to our success going forward into the future.
The Retailer: What are your closing thoughts?
Yerby: When I first joined the company in 1991, I didn’t envision myself 20 years later being where I am today. It has been a great ride and a wonderful learning experience. I find myself very fortunate to have Remo Belli and Brock Kaericher as mentors. I love this company and take great pride in working with some of the best people in the music business.