The Trident programme and the defence budget are in the UK news again: how fitting then that Canford's director of sales and marketing, Dave Holloway, began his working life in RF engineering for a company supplying to a defence contractor. He moved through semi-conductors (“very cut-throat”), supplying cables for telecoms and the BBC (“it kindled my interest in audio and broadcast”) and finally several years of running a supplier of patch panels and audio monitors, before arriving at Canford. Just for fun, in the evenings Holloway worked in several theatres, recording studios and live music venues. As a supplier to the company for the previous decade he says, he had already come to understand founder Iain Elliott's difficult to define “Canfordness”: slightly quirky, but with an absolute focus on service, quality and reliability in everything it does.
The new Canford catalogue, The Source, is just out.
“I used to look after publishing and marketing the catalogue when I started. We did that the hard way: printing out the entry for each product, setting up trestle tables and assembling the pages on A3 paper with a Pritt Stick, and then off to the printer. Nothing electronic, but very effective - what it means is that the catalogue was laid out in an order that was 'sensible'. There's a logic that comes from knowing what the products are and how they are used.”
And what is that for the uninitiated?
“Very roughly speaking, within each chapter, it's a complexity order. You start with an XLR connector and you end up with an audio touring multi-pin.
“So, say you consider the 'connection panel and wallplate' chapter, it starts with simple connector wallplates then a basic XLR termination panel, then you go to A gauge, then B gauge, then bantam, then you get into the simple routers, and then to the highly sophisticated Ghielmetti, audio and data panel. It finishes with our own 3Gb/s HD video and specialist data panels.
“The new catalogue has 3,200 Canford products and over 15,500 in total. When Iain Elliott started the company he was making widgets and fixing things, so it was always his intention that Canford was a manufacturer and not just a box-shifter.”
There was a shake-up in senior management in 1999, at which point you left…
“I worked for Megahertz for a year, and with Pixel Power in the Far East, but I kept in touch with Canford, always with the hope and intention of coming back.
“What transpired then was: Canford bought Swift Precision, a small broadcast connector manufacturer. I returned and worked with the engineers on the Isle of Portland to redesign the patch and termination panels to keeping them simple, dedicated and focused, and therefore cost-effective.
“One thing that Canford is very well known for is producing customisable [goods]. But in the bulk market, for something like a termination panel, you need dedicated products - and that's what we came up with. In a fairly short time we created about half a [catalogue] chapter full of panels. From a standing start where we had a very small market share - virtually none - we've now got within a full-blown manufacturing facility, we have CNC milling, full sheet metal fabrication and spot-welding, and an in-house powder coating shop, all supported by some excellent mechanical design engineers.
“The other thing I took on was looking at the TV system integrators. We have a reputation for The Source (the catalogue), yes, [but] what Canford wasn't doing was face-to-face contact. If you're going to spend a lot of money you want to look into somebody's eyes first; it boils down to trust. So I developed that market, reinforcing relationships but taking a new raft of products to those customers who traditionally hadn't really dealt with us.”
What's the deal with Draka Cables, who are just down the road from your Washington, Tyne & Wear base?
“This is one of Canford's oldest contracts. Our cables are a mixture of one or two standard Draka production items and a very significant number of our own designs. We're launching the D'n'A cables - digital and analogue - a range of 100-ohm audio cables. AES [demand] is nominally 110 ohms but with its tolerance and the robust nature of the AES signal, 100-ohm cable is absolutely fine. We proved some years ago at an IBC exhibition that you can put an AES signal through wet string: it was always a joke between Iain and I - we suspended two pieces of string over a fish tank, watered them in the morning with a saltwater solution, we pumped AES in one end and played it through a powered speaker at the other, and we did that for four or five days at the show. People didn't believe it - but it worked. So the D'n'A range…”
…Is made of wet string?
[Laughs] “The D'n'A range is in the new catalogue in May. It means we can offer a universal cable. It reduces the number or reels of stock you have to buy.”
How is Canford's business split?
“I avoid the word 'export' because it's exclusive, whereas 'international' is inclusive. So in rough terms, 30-40% is international, the rest is UK domestic. Anything up to 40% of our output is our own manufactured product, made in the UK, of which we are very proud.
“We have an office in Strasbourg, which supports the French and North African markets, a fully French-language operation and web catalogue in fact. And we have multi-lingual sales people here, as we endeavour to answer calls and mails in the language of the customer.”
Tell me about the Canford-owned North East Audio Limited Laboratories (NEAL).
“We are the last manufacturer in Europe of cassette transport mechanisms. It's almost a legacy product: NEAL manufactures the twin and triple Secure Evidence Recording Equipment - used by police forces all over the world. The recordings are time-coded and tamper-proof - if the tape is cut and edited, the time code will be interrupted. They are approved by the Home Office and other state organisations for anyone who has to make an 'indisputable recording of evidence'. Moving on, we have CD recorders with similar time-coded tracks and DVD recorders. The real push at the moment is for tapeless systems, networked recording of interviews that are recorded and stored securely on servers.”
It really needs to be brought up-to-date then?
“It's because the legislation has only just been changed to take account of the new technologies and the cassette format has never been successfully challenged in court so the police stick with it. NEAL is very active in shaping the technology.”
What about this Ash acquisition?
“This is a small distributor of IT peripherals and accessories, a B2B operation supplying resellers and high street shops - people who need to have the confidence that they are dealing with a solid, reliable, certified organisation rather than a barrow boy who might be knocking out bargain-basement mice. We saw it as a similar operation to Canford, in terms of the logistics - it fits well with the Canford model of bringing it in, stocking it, selling it, shipping it on time.
“We manage that completely separately as a business unit. But the range of computer peripherals is appropriate to every Canford customer with a PC or Mac - they now have the opportunity to buy those from Canford, as well as their audio or video gear. In the new catalogue, there is an IT products chapter, simple single sourcing - in the same way as you can buy Nescafe coffee from the Staples catalogue.”
Canford will launch its new Tec-Pro Tecpro Wireless two-wire comms system, which integrates with the popular Tecpro two-wire system, at ABTT in London on 16-17 June.