Toronto area-based Bluesound Professional has named Craig Cooper as their North American sales manager, as the company looks to capitalize on being first to market in a sector where growth was initially slowed by COVID-19.
At the beginning of 2019, Bluesound, a long-established high-end consumer audio ecosystem company based in Pickering ON, which is part of the Lenbrook International Group of companies, expanded into the commercial space with the launch of the Bluesound Professional division. On one hand, the timing was fortuitous, as high-end streaming audio had not been previously available to commercial customers. On the other, it was not, as they launched just before their major target markets were heavily disrupted by COVID-19. Now, the company is looking to make significant gains using both AV and IT-focused integrator partners, and has created a net-new position of North American sales manager, which has been filled by Craig Cooper, to help in this effort.
Graeme Harrison, Vice President and General Manager of Bluesound Professional, who spent decades at commercial audio company Biamp, talked with Lenbrook about streaming audio products for commercial spaces when he was considering the position.
“Lots of companies do this for the consumer market, but the commercial market had not moved into streaming audio at all,” Harrison said. “Restaurants, bars, sports facilities and similar types of businesses who want to play music in a semi-modern fashion have not had a lot of choice. Smaller regional chains or standalone business can’t afford it at all. The choices were basically residential products, with their security and logistical downsides, or getting a system integrator to give the customer a line input and have them go to it, but with some loss of audio quality.”
Harrison had earlier tried to bring something similar to market about a decade and a half ago, but it didn’t happen.
“When I was with Biamp, we worked on developing a licensing agreement for this with a company called Slim Devices, but then they were bought by Logitech, who was just consumer then, so the whole thing died,” he noted.
When Harrison joined Lenbrook, the Bluesound Professional division was established to take another crack at this market.
“We designed specifically a range of equipment for streaming in commercial spaces using both software and ARM-based hardware,” he said. “That’s what Bluesound Professional is. It’s in Lenbrook, but is separate from all the other residential brands. We have some Bluesound Professional-only employees but also share some back-end resources with Lenbrook, around engineering, marketing and supply chain.
“We founded Bluesound Professional at the beginning of 2019, designed the products, and started shipping them at the end of November 2019,” Harrison said. “The pandemic hit in March, and our markets, which were heavily focused on hospitality and retail, were decimated. I started signing up reps in June 2019 and trained them, and just when we began travelling with the reps to teach integrators about the product, we were locked down. We do have coverage over all of the U.S. and Canada, but we haven’t had time to travel with those reps. Elsewhere, we have distributors in about 50 countries, which have not been as locked down. Bluesound Professional has managed to grow through all of this, but not as much as we expected. We have seen steady U.S. growth since 2021 however, including the U.S. Senate, universities, big hotels, and cannabis chains.”
The addition of Cooper to what is a newly-created position is intended to drive this growth further. His track record includes executive positions at companies like Analog Way, an AV manufacturer, Bormann Marketing, a pro audio manufacturer, and Pinnacle Entertainment, which was an end user that ran casinos.
“Craig has worked for an end customer, so knows the pain there, as well as for a rep company and for a manufacturer,” Harrison stated. “He hasn’t been a systems integrator but has done the other links in the chain, so is uniquely positioned to know people’s pain points. He also really got the idea of the brand and the fact that this is unique in the market. I’ve never been first to market in my career before this, but there is no other company that does what we do, make streaming hardware strictly for the commercial market.”
Harrison explained specifically what Cooper will do, both now and in the short term future as the company’s business grows.
“As we build traction, I needed someone to take more care of the reps and the big integrators, and the AV consultant community,” he said. “About 50% of this work is consultant spec, and about 50% is design build, where there are a lot more jobs, but individually they are not worth as much. We anticipated an aggressive event schedule starting in January, but Omicron has postponed some events. The plan is to gradually hand these events over to Greg, and I would spend more time on the non-North American business. We have already scaled back our presence at InfoComm this year, and instead we will spend the rest of the money on road shows.”
The integrator work in streaming has traditionally been dominated by AV integrators, but that is beginning to change.
“In North America, we have about 50 integrators,” Harrison said. “In the commercial AV sector, it is very unbalanced. The top ten are pretty big and there are some billion dollar plus companies – and then you get to the mom and pop shops. The problem is that we make ARM-based computers that run audio, and the core of the AV industry is choosing largely to ignore it. We are getting a lot of IT-related inquiries, including many IT companies and those that do cabling infrastructure. As this has become more integrated with things like control systems, you don’t need an equipment rack any more, and all of the cabling infrastructure can be done by an IT company with no problem at all.”