By Dan Ferrisi
Both as a consumer and as an observer of industry, I have a great deal of respect for, and a desire to engage in commerce with, family businesses, which historically have made up the backbone of American enterprise. In the music products space, one of the best examples of a quality family business is Galaxy Audio, which earned its outstanding reputation under the guidance of Brock Jabara and, now, is helmed by Yule Jabara as company CEO. In my detailed discussion with Yule, he gives insight into his background, discusses Galaxy’s history and what makes the company unique, and espouses its philosophy with respect to working with dealers.
The Music & Sound Retailer: To start, let’s touch on your background. Share the highlights of your own story as it pertains to the audio and music industries. Recount the path that you’ve traveled.
Yule Jabara: I started out at a very young age, because this is a family business. My dad would actually bring me into the factory when I was a young kid…eight years old. It was just a tiny little place…a couple production lines where we ran Hot Spots. That was our main product—really our only product—at the time. So, he would bring me into the factory during the summertime so I’d stay out of trouble. He told me that, if I wanted to work, I could for 25 cents an hour (this was in the late ’80s and early ’90s). He’d have me cleaning bathrooms, sweeping the floors and doing some of the general facility maintenance. And, you know, just like any eight-year-old kid being forced to do that, I hated it. As time progressed, though, I developed a lot of interest in the company and wanted to work in the family business. I realized it was something that was fascinating to me.
So, in high school, dad let me hire a couple of my buddies and we’d come in as a second shift after school and run one of the production lines. We’d build Hot Spots all night, and that was really cool. I enjoyed it a lot. It helped me learn a little more about the family business and what we do. After high school, I went to college…sometimes. I didn’t have much drive or passion to continue with school. I was much more interested in going to work. Dad knew I was supposed to be in school, but I’d come into the office and he’d ask, “Don’t you have class today?” And I’d say, “Yeah, but I just wanted to come in and work.” He hated that. He wanted me to get an education. But, I also knew that he was happy that I wanted to be part of the business.
Shortly after that, I started taking over a sales position, managing our sales reps, working with our dealers and traveling around the country. And that was one of the coolest things for me: At 20 years old, I was driving around the country, spending month after month after month out on the road, for the dominant part of the year. I was traveling around, working with dealers and reps. And, I was really learning about our business: listening to dealers and their stories about the industry and how manufacturers treat them.
The Retailer: What was the progression from this time, your early 20s, to the present?
Jabara: I spent about 10 or 11 years in the Sales Manager position. For the last five years or so of that, I became more important to the company. I had a strong drive to do more and grow our business. My dad did a great job of building what he’s built, but I wanted to take it to the next level. So, I pushed myself into getting involved in more aspects of the business than sales: getting myself involved in product design and all of that. So, I pushed myself into the CEO position and out as Sales Manager. And, for the last few years, like I told my dad, I did a pretty poor job of being Sales Manager because I was too busy trying to run and grow our business. So, in the last year, we hired a new person to take on a sales position with us. We very quickly put him into the position of Sales Manager, so I could take over officially as CEO. Even though I’ve basically been running the business for the last few years, dad finally said, “OK, I can let go a little bit more and officially put you in charge.”
The Retailer: That certainly must have felt great.
Jabara: Absolutely! It was a very proud moment for me, and I’m sure somewhat surreal for my dad, who’s not one to let go of his company…his baby that he’s built. But, he was also very proud that he’d passed it on to the next generation. And, hopefully, we can keep it growing.
The Retailer: In terms of what you are responsible for day-to-day within Galaxy Audio, what would you say your key contributions are? What is the best part of your job?
Jabara: Man, you know, with this being such a small business, we don’t have a lot of people here. So, not that I think any CEO’s job is glamorous, but I would certainly say that mine is far from it. Sometimes, I’m back in the warehouse packing up boxes on a busy day. I work with research and development on new product designs, purchasing, accounting, marketing and incoming phone calls. You know, it’s a huge array of jobs that I do. And I love every one of them. It’s exciting to be a part of everything. I’m certainly not afraid to get my hands dirty…like I said, I’ll get back there and unload a container. I feel that it’s my job to step up and help everybody. That’s a great thing for me, because it keeps me involved in every aspect of the business.
The Retailer: Let’s talk about Galaxy Audio 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 impressive 35-year history.
Jabara: We have added many different products now, especially in the past five or six years. As many people know, my dad started the company with the invention of a personal monitor that mounts onto a microphone stand, called the Hot Spot. For a good 25 years, that was our very, very dominant product in the company. It was really the only product people knew us for. We’ve tried numerous products over the years, and we’ve had a few successes and a few failures, like any company. I still say that the Hot Spot is kind of our biggest blessing and our biggest curse, because, as we have evolved and grown over the past few years, a lot of our dealers still look at us as the Hot Spot guys. And it’s fantastic that there is that association. I think any company would strive to have something that they’re known for, like a Kleenex. That’s kind of how we always put it: The Hot Spot is like a Kleenex; it’s just a generic term.
We have grown a lot, into wireless personal monitors, wireless microphones, portable PA systems, etc. We have a line of studio microphones out now. We’ve got some speaker boxes that we’re just getting ready to introduce. We’ve got a lot of really cool product. And I think that, sometimes, dealers will look at us and think, “Oh, how cute. This little company is trying to do some other stuff.” We are still a little company, but we do have a lot of product offerings. And I think that’s often overlooked by dealers.
The Retailer: When you look at Galaxy Audio 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 audio and music industries?
Jabara: I think the family business aspect means a lot to our customers. Our industry is a small industry, but there are a bunch of conglomerates and businesses that are just too big and don’t necessarily care about their customer base. We pay a lot of attention to our dealers. My dad started as a sound contractor. So, we’ve always maintained a good, healthy loyalty to the small dealer. We’re not all about trying to make the big dollars. I joke around a lot in the office with our sales team, saying, “You know what? I’m happy with $100 orders.” We’re not always out there trying to get the $10,000 deal. We’re not trying to twist somebody for more product in their store.
I’m extremely proud of the fact that we do a lot of different stuff in house. We have a design and engineering team. We have a service department. It’s amazing how many people seem impressed that we know how to service our own products. We do a lot of different things that many companies—especially those our size—don’t necessarily do.
The Retailer: In our music-centric industry, a great number of creative individuals often work for manufacturers. Would you say that the Galaxy 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?
Jabara: We do have a number of people around here who perform and are very familiar with what we do on an outside level. They’re able to contribute significantly to the needs and desires of what our customers are looking for. I think that’s a really cool feature of any company: to have some people who really understand what’s going on on the outside and aren’t just pencil pushers on the inside. Without that knowledge, people come up with ideas that they think others would want. By contrast, we have people who are out there performing on a weekly basis and using our products and that helps in our development and product selection.
The Retailer: Shine a light on some of the most recent product releases from Galaxy Audio. 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?
Jabara: We just brought out what I think is just the coolest microphone stand. It’s strange even to say we have a really cool mic stand. But, I think we have a better mousetrap in a category that seems like it’s a fairly unimpressive category. We just came up with the name the other day: Standformer. We first showed this at InfoComm and, basically, at first glance, it looks just like a straight mic stand. However, kind of taking some technology from drum hardware, we’ve got the boom arm that tucks away into the main pole of the mic stand. So, you can turn this from a straight stand into a boom stand very quickly. Plus, the boom arm isn’t dangling around, like most of your mic stands with booms: You know, when you throw it in the back of the truck, the boom starts to get broken up. This boom is always going to be protected. It’s not going to get damaged throwing it in and out of the van. Plus, it’s got a superior cam to it. You can put a tremendous amount of pressure or weight on the end of the mic boom, and it’s not going to fall down or fall over. Whereas, sometimes, you throw a mic on the end of a mic boom and the boom arm starts to droop down a little bit. So, you’re constantly having to pull it back up throughout the night. This is just a phenomenal mic stand. And, again, it’s weird to be so excited about a mic stand. But, it is a premium product and we’ve already had great response to it.
We’re also introducing some new wireless microphone a products. That category has been doing very well for us. Plus, we do have more scheduled to be coming out in the beginning of 2013. We’re reintroducing a product line using a previous name of ours: the Core Series speakers. That’s going to be targeted at install and live sound. All of these boxes have flyware on them and pole mounts, so you can mount them onto a speaker stand. These are very affordable boxes, starting out at under $300 street price for a 12-inch. We have a 12-inch, 15-inch and 18-inch. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in the bigger speaker box market. But, it’s been our customers who have driven us to get into all of the categories we’ve grown into in the last few years.
Coming up next year, we’ll have a power amplifier line we’ll be introducing. We’re looking to get into a little bit more install sound, as far as some ceiling speakers and stuff like that. So, we’ve got a lot on our plate, and I’m actually trying to slow down just a little bit. We’ve been very aggressive over the past few years and a lot of us around here are pretty tired. We’re focusing on selling what we’ve been doing over the past few years. But, I do have a very strong desire to keep growing.
The Retailer: Galaxy Audio connects to the music products market as well as the commercial fixed-install market. How would you break down that split, in terms of proportionality?
Jabara: We’ve always been a 50/50 company, which is really cool to me. Sometimes, you’ll see the MI segment down a little bit and contracting up, or vice versa. So, we’ve been able to weather the storms when those situations arise, because we are diverse. I always joke how, when I was younger and still on the road, the first call I would walk in wearing a jacket and tie, but the next call I’d be taking all that off and unbuttoning the shirt a little bit, because I’d be walking into a music store. It’s funny because you jump back and forth like that five times throughout the day when you’re on the road. We’re dealing with both sides of our industry: MI and the contractors. It’s exciting. It’s nice going out on the road and visiting both types of customers. They both have their own unique aspects.
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 Galaxy Audio’s approach to business?
Jabara: I feel that it’s fundamental. Again, my dad started out as an independent contractor and music store in Wichita, and had stores in Wichita and Kansas City KS. He always pounded into my brain that these are the guys who we need to take care of. We do business with the big-box stores and the Internet guys, and we do a healthy business with them. But, we are so good to our independent dealers. We have great dealer programs and profitability. We’re not out there cutting huge deals with all of the big guys who are giving us truckload orders and stuff like that. We do a very good job of taking care of the independents. It’s something that, again, my dad kind of instilled in me from the beginning and I’ve worked hard to carry it through. Looking at the growth that we’ve had over the years, it’s come from the independents. Naturally, as we’ve brought new product out, the Internet guys and the box guys are picking up a few of our new items. But, the guys who are really supporting us are the people who I feel we’re really supporting: the independent dealers. They’re a great breed. We have the utmost faith in the continuation of the independent dealer, and we strongly support them.
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 sell Galaxy Audio products even better?
Jabara: The first thing would be to sell more of our products. I think that would be a great thing. [Laughs.] But just in general, as regards our company, I would say give us another look. That’s what I tell people. As I said before, the Hot Spot is our biggest blessing and our biggest curse. People tend to think we’re a one-stop shop for one product, but we have a lot more to offer. We’re taking care of the independents. So, really take a look at our company and see what we have to offer. Get a demo of our product…try things out.
The Retailer: Both in the U.S. and globally, economic times during the past few years have been difficult. How well has Galaxy weathered the continuing economic storm? What proactive steps has the company taken to minimize any economy-related pain?
Jabara: We are atypical of most companies I talk to. I do talk to a number of other manufacturers…bump into them on the road and at trade shows. A lot of people over the last four years have struggled significantly, whereas we’ve more than doubled our business. We’ve weathered the storms. A lot of it is through aggression on my part, in addition to huge support from my team. We’ve gotten behind new product design, advertising, inventory; we’ve bulked up all of those things. And they’ve paid off well for us. People have noticed it and have been impressed by what we’re doing, especially during this period of time. I certainly look for us to continue to grow, and I feel like we’re making the right moves.
The Retailer: What does the future hold for Galaxy Audio? 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?
Jabara: You can expect to see what anybody who’s been focusing on our company for the last few years has already seen… aggression, unique new products and support for the independent dealer. I think they’re going to continue to see the evidence of our hard work, and that we’re ready to continue to be a major player and a big part of all our customers’ product lines. We’re going to continue to do what we’re doing. But, I do think that it’s going to be bigger and bigger every time.