2001 - In today’s global, image-dominated system market, Clockaudio is a glorious anachronism – a small manufacturer dedicated to serving niche sectors with quality and innovation. Company MD Jim Hallington grants an audience to Keith Ellis.
Clockaudio is one of those manufacturing companies which, although now well known and efficiently marketed, initially maintained a low profile in the industry. Since then it has grown steadily; with its microphones now installed in broadcast stations; conference, arts and leisure centers; banks and financial institutions; and a wide range of business and commercial establishments requiring PA communications throughout the world.
Founded in 1994, Clockaudio spent little on advertising or marketing for the first four years of its existence. Company literature was quite simple, but exhibitions were seen as a must to ensure a presence in export markets – almost from day one, Clockaudio exhibited at the Frankfurt Musikmesse and at the NSCA Expo in the US.
Keeping a low profile as a matter of policy can be risky in the PA marketplace, where huge advertising budgets, expensive catalogues, impressive exhibition stands out and constant PR trumpeting of the names of the world’s most prestigious venues is the sale approach favored by many. But according to Clockaudio MD, Jim Hallington, his firm was founded on a simpler, perhaps more old-fashioned premise; “I was convinced that there was an opportunity to produce a quality product at a competitive price.”
Clockaudio opened its door with a small team, consisting of Hallington with his wife, Tina as financial director and a small dedicated staff. Between them they developed microphones aimed at niche areas of the market which quickly generated usefully large orders. In the early days, Hallington himself designed the product range, and also sourced components, insisting on the highest levels of quality control. Sales and marketing were headed up by Hallington and a former AKG colleague, Hans Radda, who developed export business through an international marketing office based in Austria. The two-man team quickly attracted a large and varied international customer base, with mics being installed in locations as diverse as Hong Kong, Heathrow airports, banks and financial dealing rooms across Europe, North America and the Pacific Rim. “It’s not unusual for quantities in excess of 1,000 microphones to be required for a single dealing-desk installation,” Says Hallington.
Good working relationships are all-important to Hallington, who says; “I keep in close contact with all my distributors and direct clients. I talk to my distributors every week and I reckon to talk to my US and Canadian distributors every other day. I’ve always believed in a personal as well as a business relationship. Business – any business – is about people. We list all our distributors on our literature- we regard them as partners and friends. That way, we safeguard each other’s future.
Hallington will not be drawn on his opinion of competitors’ products. “I am not too concerned at what they are about.” He claims. “We look for niche opportunities. In the early days we produced as OEM manufacturers for some sectors while others, like banking were there for the taking if the product performed and was competitively priced.
One of the detail features in a number of Clockaudio microphones that has aroused interest is a knuckle joint that is difficult to make and, until Hallington turned his attention to it, could look unslightly as its natural action removed the paint finish. Clockaudio has solved this, and, as a result at Frankfurt last year a major microphone manufacturer sent engineers onto the company’s stand to casually inquire how the finish was achieved and maintained. “Uncharacteristically, we were most unhelpful,” says Hallington, adding with a smile; “We’ve cornered the knuckle market.”
Clockaudio’s product range is displayed in Hallington’s typically modest office, on a desk piled high with a mixture of management documents and engineering drawings. There is an immediate feeling of quality when seeing the products; finishes are smooth; connectors are high-quality; goosenecks and knuckle joints feel solidly constructed. There are currently four boundary layer microphones, two for conference and similar applications, one for professional broadcast and recording use, and a 20mm diameter, ceiling-mounting model for applications where discreet installation is required. Two shotgun ranges – the slim C801 series, with the envied knuckle joint, and the C800 – sell strongly in the PA marketplace. Six general-purpose goosenecks generate steady repeat orders and win new friends. The elegant C900 Combination series, has a long shaft on a solid base with a choice of two carioid or a hypercardioid shotgun as heads, is another example of a solution to a problem no-one else seemed willing to tackle; it has sold to broadcast authorities and conference centers worldwide. But not all Clockaudio’s products boast stop-you-in-your-tracks innovation – a simple desktop paging microphone, for example, satisfies the needs of ordinary offices, factories and supermarkets across Europe and beyond.
Having established a solid yet still growing range of dynamic and condenser microphones, the company is now expanding into associated products. The recently introduced MR66 6-channel mic mixer has already won substantial orders for use in conferencing, and there are other products in the pipeline, some to be launched in Frankfurt.
“I can’t mention all of them,” Hallington says, “because they are being purpose-developed for specific overseas markets, from work we have done with our local distributors. But we will have two new graphic equalizers providing 15 and 31 dual channels for general PA work; a compressor for noise feedback control; and a duplex transceiver headset to add to our existing industrial headset range.”
“We have made headsets since the very beginning,” Hallington continues. “They are solidly built and we don’t have to actively sell them. The old expression about recommendation being your best salesman is true. This is a cottage industry, and word gets around.”
Even though he now has a dedicated team of engineering, production and sales people to back him, Hallington can often still be found in the Clockaudio factory area, going through the whole process of assembly and testing, sometimes rejecting outside suppliers’ work if it does not meet his own high standards. On many an occasion he has jumped into his car and driven straight to Germany or Holland, arriving with little or no warning, to talk to a supplier if he is unhappy or unclear about something.
“I was a production manager at Goodmans for some time, and I learned about design, production and distribution there, and of course all about what constitutes good acoustic performance,” Hallington explains. From Goodmans he moved to AKG to become the company’s managing director in the UK, the post he was to remain in for 12 years. While there, he played a key role in developing the company’s relationship with the BBC, while also initiating and aiding the acquisition of Turbosound, BSS, Precision Devices and Quested, as well as a major shareholding in AMEK.