Interview – Jeremy Burkhardt, SpeakerCraft2 September 2009
Founded in 1993, California-based audio manufacturer SpeakerCraft has gone on to establish a considerable worldwide reputation for its in-wall and outdoor speakers. New products continue to roll off the production line, with recent launches including the Nirv AV distribution and control system (read IE Residential’s coverage here) and the Ruckus line of rock speakers.
David Davies spoke to company president Jeremy Burkhardt (pictured, left, with SpeakerCraft’s vice-president marketing, Dave Donald) about the development of the in-wall category, the importance of providing solutions for all possibilities, and his desire to help the world through various philanthropic endeavours.
Q: How did you get started in the professional AV technology business?
A: I started installing systems for friends and family in high school. After school I joined SpeakerCraft’s retail/custom store and we were also manufacturing in-wall speakers that we had invented and made for Polk, JBL and Bang & Olufsen, as well as others numbering in the millions of units. From this experience I co-founded the SpeakerCraft brand of multi-room and speaker products in 1993.
Q: What was the starting point for the formation of SpeakerCraft?
A: The products and programmes for custom installation dealers didn’t exist. We wanted to create a product line for installers, by installers that had no minimum order or display requirements, that were easier to install and sounded better. Since the other manufacturers were battling with their retail relationships and custom installers were considered second-class citizens, we saw the potential of this market and became the leader on a new path that was quickly unfolding.
Q: In what ways do you think that SpeakerCraft’s product portfolio for residential install customers is unique or distinctive?
A: Having invented the in-wall speaker category and seeing the need for products that would define this market, we set out to deliver high performance speakers that would also solve acoustic problems and eliminate install limitations. [We wanted to place] these products in the hands of the designer/installer. AIM [range of home cinema ceiling speakers] was a major breakthrough, allowing the sound to be focused at the listening area from a position in the ceiling. This paved the way for surround sound and music systems that resided entirely in the ceiling. Now a home theatre was essentially invisible but delivered the kind of performance formerly limited to large cabinet speakers. The resulting acceptance in the market has been nothing short of legendary and this award-winning in-ceiling speaker line now far out-sells in-wall speakers.
On the electronics side of the aisle, our MODE/MZC system offered the most flexible and powerful multi-room iPod solution at a common man price. This, coupled with the fact that it was the first system with the ability to network multiple iPods and display metadata, made it a ground-breaking product and a high-demand product, winning many awards and setting the stage for in-home iPod installs.
In addition to these specific products, the mere breadth and depth of our range sets us apart from many speaker companies for whom custom installation is only a portion of their focus. Manufacturing box speakers is a large challenge and to rethink a category as in-wall or in-ceiling requires tremendous creativity and time. This has allowed us to focus exclusively on this core category and we continue to reinvent ground-breaking technologies for architectural speaker installations. From 40mm deep units to single speakers that play stereo to AIM speakers and invisible speakers that are motorised and drop out of the ceiling without any grille, we are lucky to be honoured with so many successful products in the European market.
Q: What measures have you put in place to monitor the changing demands of SpeakerCraft customers?
A: We have our finger on the pulse of the market due to the contact we maintain with our dealer base. I myself, along with the members of my executive team, spend almost half the year on the road speaking to dealers in large groups and small enclaves. We are constantly requesting and digesting input on market conditions, technology advancements and product needs. Our portfolio has been created by this constant give and take with our dealer base. We do not sit idle in our factory; we go to them directly in the field and get our input from the source.
Q: What impact is the economic downturn having on the residential audio sector? When do you think that a recovery might take hold?
A: Obviously the current reset in the state of the economy is taking its toll on the entire market. Dealers who depended on new housing starts for their business have had to retool their companies to address the marketplace from the retrofit perspective. I know that waiting for things to improve is never the answer. Dealers and manufacturers alike need to boldly advance their positions now in new portable and fixed ways. I don’t mean careless spending or massive risk-taking, but a constant push for growth and improvement in sound quality in all categories is necessary if we are to do more than merely survive.
Q: What are the real growth areas – geographically and in terms of market sector – for SpeakerCraft at this time?
A: Pockets of economic prosperity can be found in most every geographic territory. It always amazes me when I can go to a major city and visit with two dealers of similar size and expertise who tell such different stories. One is bemoaning his fate and complaining about the lack of business while the other is excited about new opportunities born out of the necessity to step outside of their normal marketing and promotional environment. Regardless of the state of the economy there will always be those who are looking to enjoy music everywhere and as well as music and movies in their home. We simply need to be in a position to provide solutions for all the possibilities.
Q: What does the immediate future hold for SpeakerCraft in terms of new product development?
A: We are currently rolling out a new entertainment and control system that will have a dramatic impact on the industry. We have spent millions in resources and man-hours to develop a system that is both powerful and simplistic. It will allow for astounding customisation for each individual user in the home and yet be unbelievably easy to program. Nirv takes a past complex idea of programming and makes it as easy as using a gaming [console]. Whole home entertainment and communication has never been so easy.
Q: Do you have any unrealised career ambitions? In short, what does the future hold for Jeremy Burkhardt?
A: Having being raised as a staunch capitalist I have enjoyed significant financial and career success as I have built and sold my business twice before the age of 35. Today, however, I look forward to being involved in more philanthropic efforts, providing me with the chance to give back to a community and society from which I have benefited so greatly. From Amnesty International to Sea Shepherds I want to help the world in so many ways.