Interview: White Light head of audio Lee Dennison

A lighting specialist for more than 40 years, London’s White Light is opening its new sound department this month, with Lee Dennison in charge of the operation. Adam Savage finds out what he has in store for the UK trade.

One of the most interesting industry news stories to come out of PLASA 2014 was White Light’s announcement that it was expanding its presence in the audio market with a new dedicated sound department, and appointing ex-Delta Sound and Autograph Sound Recording man Lee Dennison to run it as head of audio.

The London-based lighting supplier, which has always had an audio offering, but only on a relatively small scale, has reported an increase in audio-related enquiries from customers lately, and saw it as a sign to position itself as a complete solution provider for clients such as these.

And now that this new arm of White Light is all set for launch, it seemed the ideal time to ask Dennison about his plans for the business.

So how is the new division structured, and what services does it offer?

“It’s kind of like a triangle – we’ve got sales, projects (installations) and events, and I sit in the middle ,” explains Dennison. “We’ve put product managers into each area, and we’ve got a warehouse team to manage all the sound equipment.

“We’re starting from scratch, with a blank canvas and new hire store, and it’s a very nice position to be in to be able to go and buy the kit that you want to buy, as opposed to inheriting equipment. That gives us a nice starting point when dealing with new customers.”

Although he might be “starting from scratch” in some ways, Dennison and his new team at White Light are not having to do that with their audio client base thanks to its numerous existing relationships.

“A lot of people I used to work with before already use White Light for lighting, so now they can go ‘well hang on a minute, I can still use Lee and get both the audio and lighting kit,’” Dennison says. “From an installation perspective we can specify audio and lighting, and have in-house support for clients rather than sub-contracting that out, and from a sales perspective we’ve employed an audio salesman to work alongside the sales team and support them as well.”

Dennison will remember his time with both former employers with fondness, but he knew this was an opportunity that was too good to miss.

“I was fortunate enough to work with, in my mind, two of the best audio companies there are. I was with Autograph for seven years in the theatre market and then with Delta for almost eight,” Dennison recalls. “I was projects director at Delta, so I ran all the projects team and managed all the events, whereas I’ve taken on a head of department role here.

“They are cracking companies, but when you’re offered the chance to start an audio department from scratch, you’ve got to go for it, haven’t you?”

As for its initial audio brand portfolio, White Light has already got a number of big names on board, which it will surely add to in the very near future.

“We were given Pro Dealer status by Shure, which is cracking, and then there’s Yamaha, Sennheiser, Full Fat Audio and EM Acoustics,” reports Dennison. “Those are the ones I wanted first.

“I’m very happy that the manufacturers I’ve had relationships with in the past have got behind the idea and they understand the servicing of all three departments – how they all benefit each other – so from that perspective it’s very good.

“Shure, Yamaha and Sennheiser speak for themselves really, and they’re good brands to have on board when you’re approaching this market.”

Being based in London – Wimbledon, to be precise – the firm can probably expect to have a lot of local work potentially coming its way, but that’s not all – Dennison knows there will be install projects happening across the UK that it will need to target as well.

“White Light’s existing client base is London and beyond, so there’s a lot of London venues, conference work and live events, but the installation market is everywhere and anywhere and sales are always happening all around the country,” states Dennison. “Certainly we’ll be targeting the UK, but a lot of production companies are going abroad and take kit with them, so we’ll be targeting those as well from a higher point of view.”

White Light might have significantly strengthened its service offering with this new move, however there’s one commonly used description that Dennison doesn’t want to be labelled with.

“I’m very keen to state that what White Light is doing is not becoming a one-stop shop, because there are companies out there who class themselves as one-stop shops and I don’t believe in that. A one-stop shop to me is they’ve got four speakers, four lights and four projectors, and no matter what the job is, that’s what you get. Whereas what I’m doing is creating a good inventory that can fulfil all the briefs, so we are a specialist department within White Light.

“There’s a lot of investment going in and the right people have been brought on board. I’ve got very high standards of how I want things done, and White Light, who I’ve known for years and have always respected the way they do things, have put their faith in me, and got the financial backing to go ahead and do it.”