INTERVIEW: Q&A with Wild & Marr managing director, Gary Furman
INTERVIEW: Q&A with Wild & Marr managing director, Gary Furman
As one of the oldest AV companies in South Africa, Wild & Marr (W&M) has seen it all. Pro AVL MEA caught up with managing director Gary Furman to delve into the past and take a look at what the future has in store for the company
How long have you worked at W&M?
I first started back in 1997; however, I took a two-year break quite early on where I was actually in the UK, working for Tony Oates at Fuzion PLC. There was an ongoing joke where they used to say I had orange blood even though we represented Nexo, Camco and Symetrix, among other brands. All in all, I’ve been in the industry 22 years.
W&M founder Joe Copans was a very influential figure in the South African industry. How did your relationship with him begin?
I had applied for a position at W&M as I had just returned from a gap year in the USA and Australia and employment prospects for a non-qualified worker were weak. Even though I had no previous knowledge of audio, Joe Copans gathered in our interview that I enjoyed music. I didn’t even know what a speakOn connecter was when I first started working for him as an internal salesperson. But we did work closely together, even though I was based in Durban from 2004–2017. Being a part of the W&M board together for around eight years meant we did work very closely together.
Unfortunately, Joe passed away in January 2019. Can you describe him for those that never got the chance to meet him?
Joe was a mentor to many, he was a leader and he was a visionary. W&M is 75 years old now and, if you look back to where the company came from, selling valves and components for radios and amplifiers, it was mainly through Joe’s vision that this professional audio company was born. What the company has evolved into, encompassing commercial and professional audio, video and also now control, that was all Joe’s vision. Now it’s up to us to take it further.
Do you feel a heavy burden to preserve Joe’s legacy?
It’s certainly some very big boots to fill, though we have a great team to power us into the future. If we look at the company, people tend to join and then either leave very quickly, or they are with us for a very, very long time. Jeff Isaacs is one of the directors and has just celebrated 40 years at W&M. Darren Durbach has been with W&M longer than I have. Our financial director has also been with us nearly 25 years. Now, with the amalgamation with TOMS, my co-MD Rudy Moser, who has about 11 years of experience in the industry, comes from a very strong financial and operations background and he’s also looked after companies that are in the consumer audio and MI markets. So, the scope of experience we have in the company is impressive and highly capable.
Explain the TOMS deal and how you think it will affect W&M?
At the moment, from a customer-centric and supplier point of view, it’s pretty much business as usual. The synergies are mainly back of house. When we look at administration and financial, for example, these things will change as time goes by and we find different avenues of working together. At the moment, we still have very different strategies in certain areas, such as how we work with the retail industry. Although we’ve made leaps and bounds over the last two years, the retail environment for W&M hasn’t been our strongest area. My belief is that working closely with Rudy and with Darren as the MD of W&M Solutions, which is our BEE company, we will truly hit our stride in the various market segments we compete in. I don’t think there’s really a management team in the industry that has the level of industry knowledge and experience that we do. To complement the management team, we have some phenomenally bright and passionate technical, sales and marketing people whose commitment to delivering the best they can is inspirational to say the least.
How do you feel W&M differs from other AV companies in South Africa?
If you look at our competitors in the market, a lot of them are strong in specific areas, be it pro rental or staging, commercial or systems integration. W&M competes in a very wide scope of markets. We are one of the leaders in pro rental and staging, systems integration is a very strong area for us, be it corporate or broadcast, and we are the market leader in professional audio for cinema in South Africa. In voice alarm systems, commercial audio and sound masking, we are maybe not as strong but it’s still a big part of our business and something we are building. Essentially, the scope and breadth of our vertical market integration is phenomenal, although quite intimidating as we certainly don’t want to be the proverbial ‘jack of all trades and master of none’. While it’s of great benefit to us to compete in all of these areas as it eases the pressure when certain markets go quiet, we need to ensure that our people are highly capable in as many disciplines as they are able to be. And, because we have these dedicated and committed people, I believe we still have scope to build and grow more. That’s what excites us.
Looking back, what sectors has W&M traditionally been very strong in?
One of the oldest brands that we represent is Inter-M, which is commercial audio. That area has grown immensely and it’s not the only brand that we now distribute through that channel. After Inter-M, I think Shure and JBL were the next two big brands we represented. We talked about Joe being a visionary and, as an example, before the Harman buyout and consolidation of a whole number of companies, we were already representing JBL, Spirit by Soundcraft, dbx and Lexicon. That shows the insight Joe had before this whole Harman conglomeration came about. Then, with the mergers and acquisitions within Harman, we inherited Crown amplification. Our main brands are Shure and obviously Harman Professional audio supported by a number of other products that allow us to offer complete room solutions for collaboration, video conferencing, etc.
What is your strongest market currently?
We don’t really have a particular market that is our strongest; however, this year we’ve had a very big push into broadcast with Studer – something we couldn’t do without our integrators in the broadcast industry. We are looking at some other potential opportunities within the broadcast market. One of the things you’ll find in a weak economy like South Africa is currently experiencing, is that people are looking for products that are ‘good enough’ and the premium brands tend to suffer. In broadcast, customers aren’t going to settle for ‘good enough’. So perhaps that’s why we still see potential in the broadcast market with Studer and other broadcast products that we distribute and will distribute in the future.
It is a pretty turbulent market in South Africa. How are things at the moment?
Things are tough. We have a currency that jumps from one side of the spectrum to another. I actually looked at a graph of the South African Rand versus the US Dollar from January to June, and it looks like an infant’s scribble. The fluctuation in the rate of exchange makes it very hard to plan business long term. One of our strengths, however, is that we hold a high inventory in our warehouse in Johannesburg. Perhaps we hold a little too much stock, but I believe – and it’s something that we’ve always done – in being able to satisfy orders almost immediately. Being as isolated as we are in South Africa, holding sufficient stock is one of our strengths.
As a long-term Mediatech exhibitor, why did you choose not to return this year?
The simple reason is that we’re investing in our own experience centre. We feel that having our own space to showcase products and solutions, which we can use at any time and have our customers’ undivided attention, is where we should spend our resources. We are looking at it as a place where the latest innovative technologies and techniques, be it in audio, video or control, can be experienced by either customers or their end users. A really exciting aspect of our experience centre will be the training facility. With the rates of change in technology today, training is imperative, not only for our customers but for our own people too. As an example, just this year we’ve had our own people in Dubai taking part in ‘train the trainer’ workshops on the new Shure Microflex Complete range of microphones, also we’ve sent people to Hungary for training on Studer consoles and people in China training on the implementation and commissioning of LED screens, which is a new part of our business. We firmly believe that training is critical and that’s why we want the ability to hold training courses as often as possible in our new facility. We will be able to offer the opportunity to have the theoretical and practical training and then step next door into the experience centre and apply your training on a complete system. After all, the more comfortable you and your customers are with your product, the more likely it is that the product will be specified and sold.
What’s the timeframe for the experience centre?
We expect the construction itself to be finished towards the end of October and hopefully we’ll have systems installed and operating by early December. Our hope is to launch the experience centre with a 75th anniversary party.
If there was just one thing you learnt from Joe throughout the time you worked with him, what would it be?
I think what Joe brought, or rather what he lived by, was passion. You need to have a passion for what you do and a passion for the industry, and it’s something that Joe engendered in the people around him. When he first hired me, I didn’t know anything about the industry, but he saw I had a passion and love for music. As an example, if you look at the industry, be it audio, video or control, IT drives everything now. I think people can probably make a lot more money in the IT business than they can in the AV business, but we do what we do because we love it, and that’s why we’re here.