‘We know what to do, we have each other’s backs’: Martin Audio MD on coping with COVID and future of the biz

Martin Audio managing director Dom Harter has spoken to Audio Media International about how the company has been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of last year’s acquisition by Focsurite, virtual trade shows and how it is preparing for another lockdown…

Hi Dom, how are you? How have you been keeping during since the onset of the pandemic earlier this year?
First of all, it is a shame not to be doing this in person over a pint so you’ll have to accept a virtual cheers from all at Martin Audio! As for me, I’m fine thankfully and is all well with the family, the team at Martin Audio have had a tough few months but we have made it through, supported each other’s mental health and kept the wheels turning.

What has the company been doing to weather the storm?
Throughout the pandemic, Martin Audio has been operational. During the first lock down everyone was working from home except the factory and logistics team that operated under strict social distancing with the provision of PPE as well daily deep cleans. This critically enabled the continuing production and shipment of goods and we worked proactively with customers around the world to take any opportunities we could. As lockdown eased over the summer more people returned to the office on a rota system.

I cannot talk highly enough of the entire team, their understanding, professionalism, versatility and dedication through this time. 

As the prospect of a second lockdown hits us, we know what to do, we have done it already and even though it will be tough through winter, I know we have each other’s backs.

In terms of business, the sales we would traditionally make into live sound have of course been postponed until that market can properly return to work. However, we have a very broad product range and are a truly global business, which has helped us weather the storm.

What can you tell us about the partnership with Focusrite since the acquisition?
It has been an extremely positive experience for us. The management team at Focusrite are excellent, providing both a level of independence for Martin Audio, while allowing us to enjoy the benefits and guidance of a larger group and the efficiencies that come from that. They are great people and a great team – our first year together has panned out really well.

Has being part of an organisation like Focusrite been a benefit during these times? And how so?
Focusrite have been fantastic through this time. We presented how we were going to get through this, and they have been nothing more than rock solid in their support and understanding. They saw the reality of the world, understood, and believed in the long-term future and potential of Martin Audio and this enabled us to proceed with our plan in a calm manner that gave the staff the confidence and reassurance to get on with job at hand. 

With the touring industry still very much on hold, how much of a push has there been to focus your efforts on other markets outside of live/rental?
Naturally, live events have been the hardest hit by the pandemic so we had to focus efforts on over driving our installation business. Thankfully, this was already our largest market and the depth and versatility of our portfolio has lent itself very well to that endeavour. CDD and the new additions to ADORN series have continued to outperform market conditions. Bars and restaurants upgraded systems or extended to outdoor areas to better cater for clientele in changing conditions; houses of worship adapted to socially-distanced congregations with the need for improved coverage and consistency, while education facilities similarly needed better solutions to manage socially-distanced students. 

Have you been able to spend the time that would typically have been spent focusing on festivals and the summer events season working on anything else – product development, new lines etc?
One of our key strengths has always been in R&D. When this started, we did quite a bit of head scratching and decided we needed to tweak the strategy. We basically changed our hardware roadmap to focus on market area’s which continue to thrive or that we knew would open up first. However, we have also had a massive push in software. Our software is always free to the customer so focusing on free software for existing owners is a great way to help our partners get the most out of products which they already own. This in turn will help them deliver better results for their customers. We released our first iOS app for BlacklineX Powered which has been well received, but more than that we have a major software launch scheduled in the next few months which transforms the deployment of Martin Audio solutions. 

What are your predictions for the live events industry? Any signs that the market can withstand the current conditions?
So the first thing to say is that while the business has focussed upon installation as a means for generating revenue, we have most certainly not forgotten all our live events customers and colleagues. We have regularly engaged with them, providing support and counsel and of course, we have been heavily involved in the running and success of #WeMakeEvents.

As you know, a big part of my personal history has been in and around live events so to see so many companies suffer and freelancers go without has been really hard.

In the long term, there is no question the demand will return and we have seen this in countries that have been able to get control of the virus. Short to mid-term it is simple, with mass COVID testing events can return in a viable fashion. It is doable and I know many countries are working towards this. 

Will you be taking part in the digital edition of NAMM taking place in January?
No, we will not be taking part. We have very much found that our own virtual events and webinars give us a better opportunity to engage with the audience we need at this time.

What is your view on virtual trade shows?
Expanding on above, our experience thus far has not been great, which is why we have focussed on our own virtual live events and webinars by means of engagement with both new and existing customers. 

A virtual trades how just isn’t the same as the real thing for us. Normally at a trade show, beyond the fun and of course seeing the wider Martin Audio family, physical trade shows are about filling up demo rooms, and with a good proportion of people who are new to the brand and you just can’t do that in a virtual environment.

What next for Martin Audio?
So firstly, we have a strong roadmap, a strong product range, a drive to continuously improve every aspect of doing business with us and a great owner with a might of financial backing. The final piece is particularly important as it has enabled us to invest in stock globally and to be the company that says “yes”. I truly believe we are in the best position possible at this time.

One of the more interesting developments of the last few months has been around our long term planning. Like all businesses we have a rolling and constantly developing solutions roadmap, that being said we are beginning to reach all the development milestones we set out to achieve in 2016. So that has presented us with a great opportunity to really define the next long term vision. As a result, over the last 6 months (with the help from the team at Focusrite) we have been really focusing on our Research and into a true Eco System for all our users. I know the team will pull off what has been outlined and it is incredibly exciting.

We believe it is brands like us that have invested in stock and developing product suited to market conditions that we will win out and be stronger the other side of this pandemic.