By Dan Ferrisi
Our industry is fortunate to have a lot of big-name, iconic brands and individuals associated with it, and it’s pretty clear that Dean Markley would be near the top of anyone’s list. Dean Markley USA recently announced the appointment of Lori McCallian as CEO of both Dean Markley USA and Ultrasound Amplifiers, and The Retailer is pleased to present her first in-depth interview since ascending to this leadership role. Here, we discuss a bit about her background and current duties, as well as the continuing evolution of the Dean Markley brand. McCallian also surveys some of the company’s most recent product launches, while touching on how the economy has affected the company, its important relationship with the dealer channel and what those who watch the company can expect in the future.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s start with your background. Touch on the highlights of your story as it pertains to the music products industry, as well as your business experience in general. Tell us about the path you’ve traveled, bringing us right up to the present day.
Lori McCallian: The early years of my career were spent in the insurance and financial services industries. While working for industry-leading companies, I gained experience in management, operations, sales and business ownership. I also had the opportunity to earn an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis. I spent the most recent few years as a consultant, helping companies that needed a “turnaround” strategy and execution plan for the future. Although I enjoyed the corporate world, I come from an entrepreneurial family who owned their own businesses, and I have continually felt the desire to be part of a private company. I was looking for a new business venture and was fortunate to meet Dean Markley through a mutual friend.
Becoming part of the Dean Markley team was appealing to me because I valued, and identified with, the 40-year successful history of the company. And, I appreciated the team’s commitment to the customer through providing quality and innovative products. In addition, as a long-time piano player and music fan, this was a great opportunity to combine two of my favorite things: music and business. As a result, I became CEO of Dean Markley USA last May.
The Retailer: What are your key day-to-day responsibilities and duties as CEO of Dean Markley? What is the best part of your job?
McCallian: Overall, my focus areas are similar to what you would expect from someone in this role. I am actively involved in the various strategic, financial and operational components of the company. With 2012 being my first year with the company, I have spent additional time on branding projects, evaluating operational efficiencies, building our team and getting to know our customers, artists, dealers and distributors. I especially appreciate being part of an innovative team that offers a product that customers enjoy and that helps to enrich lives.
The Retailer: Let’s talk about Dean Markley in broad strokes, since it’s obviously a venerable name in the industry. Give us a 10,000-foot overview 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.
McCallian: Dean Markley has always been based on high quality products that appeal to even the most discerning ear for tone. The company benefited from tremendous growth throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s through innovation that still stands on its own today. During the past decade, the company struggled with understanding the global economy and the need for modernization in manufacturing, operational efficiency and branding. The innovation and creativity has come roaring back with the Helix product line, as well as significant changes in our branding, advertising and public relations. We’ve also been very happy with improved operational efficiency, global partnerships and a leaner manufacturing process. We’re very excited about what’s happening now.
The Retailer: When you look at Dean Markley 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?
McCallian: Our company’s 40-year culture and strength is built on product quality, differentiation and innovation—all with the customer as a central focus. The culture is built on continued innovation and creativity, with a demanding and relentless pursuit of the perfect tone. Everyone is involved in this pursuit. We are very interactive with our staff, our artists and our customers, and we welcome their feedback regularly. The combination of unique products, loyal customers, dedicated staff and the very best artists in the industry is, ultimately, what delivers our end result. We are very proud that every Dean Markley product is a collective effort.
The Retailer: In our music-centric industry, a great number of creative individuals often work for manufacturers. Would you say that the Dean Markley team is a very creative one, where the products they’re involved with on a daily basis are actually a big part of their lives outside the office?
McCallian: Yes, there are many creative minds on the Dean Markley team, including and especially Dean himself. He’s like a mad scientist who spends all day in his lab, thinking of new ideas. His innovation encourages everyone to pursue every idea. Most of us are musicians and have a passion for playing. And that, in turn, leads to an extensive knowledge of our current products, as well as lively discussion about continued enhancements and additions to our product line.
The Retailer: Shine a light on some of the most recent product releases from Dean Markley. Going forward, what are you going to be pushing most aggressively? What do you have in store for us at the NAMM show this month?
McCallian: Our most recent product release has been the Helix line of strings. Helix is best known for its revolutionary and patented hyper-elliptical winding process. Helix strings last longer than coated strings do, without dulling the tone, and they have an amazingly high output for full, rich sound across the tonal spectrum. The Helix string line is in addition to our successful Signature and Blue Steel offerings. Ultrasound amplifiers will also be a focus. We have been using the amplifiers for all acoustic instruments, including guitar, mandolin and banjo. We’ve also had several jazz guitarists start using the amplifiers because of their amazingly transparent amplification. We will have some exciting partnerships that will be announced at NAMM that will further diversify our brand. Stay tuned….
The Retailer: What is Dean Markley’s 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 your approach to business?
McCallian: Absolutely! Dealers are a very important part of our model. In many ways, they are the face of our brand to the consumer. This is why our sales team is working closer with our dealers than ever before to support their efforts by offering additional education on our products, brand marketing, and helping them protect and improve margins for our product line. One of the major changes for our company under the new management is to be more dealer-centric and make sure we help their businesses succeed.
The Retailer: Is there anything that the dealer channel could do that would be helpful to you, as a manufacturer? Do you have any suggestions to give the channel, which would help music retailers to sell Dean Markley products even better?
McCallian: Yes. They could better educate themselves on our product line. Our products have unique qualities to them that set them apart from our competition. It’s why so many top artists choose Dean Markley. We can also help with clinics and in-store campaigns, and we are very willing to help with marketing ideas to drive traffic to the stores. We have many great dealer specials that will improve their margin and increase volume. Call us!
The Retailer: Both in the U.S. and globally, economic times during the past few years have been difficult. How well has Dean Markley withstood tough economic times? What proactive steps has the company taken to minimize economy-related pain?
McCallian: We view the challenging economic times as an opportunity to further fine-tune our operation and cost structure, target our marketing efforts and strengthen our partnerships with our dealers and distributors. As a result of our cost evaluation, we have identified significant cost savings in our manufacturing and operational process, which allows us to pass along improved margins to our dealers and distributors through our new pricing strategy. We have already had some great success stories, with several stores increasing profit and sales through this approach. We’re excited to help dealers.
The Retailer: What does the future hold for Dean Markley? 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?
McCallian: We are doubling down on American-made, high quality products that give dealers a great margin. We will be adding additional products, such as instruments and accessories, to our portfolio very soon. And we’ll utilize a more diverse product offering to help dealers combine their purchasing power and maximize savings, while improving their profitability. Once again, there are more details to come at NAMM, so be sure to stop by the booth!
The Retailer: Is there anything you’d like to add?
McCallian: Is Dean Markley himself as crazy as he seems? YES! Seriously, though, thank you for the opportunity to be featured in your publication and to share some updates from the Dean Markley team.