‘We are moving at a faster pace’: Shure CEO Chris Schyvinck on focusing on the European market

Over the past decade or so, Shure has evolved from accomplished microphone manufacturer to all-encompassing audio solutions provider. Daniel Gumble caught up with company CEO Chris Schyvinck at last month’s ISE show in Amsterdam to find out about its ongoing international expansion and how things have changed during her 29 years with the brand…
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We find Shure CEO Chris Schyvinck and senior conferencing market communications manager Chris Lyons in the meeting area behind the company’s expansive booth space in Hall 3 of the Amsterdam Rai. It’s mid-afternoon on day one of a bustling ISE 2018 and the firm’s exhibition space is positively heaving with visitors keen to get to grips with the array of wares on display. Classic models from its historical mic portfolio sit alongside conferencing systems and wireless solutions, highlighting its ever-growing presence in this most lucrative of markets. And while the Shure name will always be synonymous with the trusty SM58 and its iconic siblings, it is a name that today represents so much more.

Carving out Shure’s evolutionary path from the top is CEO Schyvinck, whose 29-year tenure with the company has seen her pass through its various divisions, garnering a keen understanding of the business and, most importantly, the needs of its customers and partners, along the way. Having started her career with Shure in its engineering department, she progressed to senior roles in manufacturing, sales and marketing before being appointed CEO around 15 months ago. As one would imagine, the industry has changed beyond recognition over the past 29 years.

“I would say the biggest change to the business I’ve seen during that time is market penetration into different segments,” she observes. “Back when I started we were predominantly a pro audio company and were dealing a lot with wired microphones, so our technology has proliferated so much through the years. So we’ve gone from having the strong foundation of knowing everything about acoustics and transducers to then adding the wireless components of that and getting more involved in DSP and software over the past decade. Now the concerns that we have are around networking and security and seeing these technologies layer on top of each other.

“As that’s been happening, the company’s global footprint has increased so much since I started when all of our locations were in North America. Everything else was the rest of the world in terms of where we sold, but now we have around 25 different locations around the world. Some are for operations but more are for getting closer to the customers and understanding their needs, especially for [the install] market where it changes so quickly. Every business is different. What are their processes? What are their workflows? What are their problems and pain points? We can’t understand that if we are just listening from Chicago.”

According to Schyvinck, this expansion into new markets and the bolstering of its presence in territories outside of the US has always been part of the plan – a point highlighted at the show by the announcement of a new Shure office in Switzerland.

“In the last decade we have opened up 15 different subsidiaries and it’s not always just about operational things,” she explains. “It’s about trying to understand customers, being shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their working environments. As it turns out, in both Switzerland and Austria we can utilise the fact that we have a distribution hub in Germany and we can get products to people faster and more efficiently. It applies to all of our verticals.”

So, with a liberal peppering of Shure offices across the globe, are there any specific areas for which the brand is preparing to break further into? Not in the immediate future, it seems.

“Right now, because we have done so much ground breaking in the past two to three years, I don’t think we can add any more locations right now,” she offers. “Now we need to exercise what we have and make sure we’re getting closer to those customers.”

Another key announcement during ISE came in the cessation of Shure’s distribution partnership with QSC in the UK and Germany. Schyvinck says the decision was borne out of the company’s growth in Europe over the past 10 years.

“We are at a transition curve right now, so for the past decade we were trying to build on those non-US markets,” she comments. “When we had a more regional focus and we had direct distribution entities, like we have in Germany and the UK to break into new markets - especially systems markets - we had to have a more comprehensive portfolio. Back then we didn’t have the breadth we have right now; we had to have partners like QSC to really sell a systems solution. Now that our portfolio is so much broader we decided we don’t need that relationship anymore. It was very mutual in terms of how it all concluded.”

As is the case for so many audio-rooted companies exhibiting at ISE, the integrated systems market is one of burgeoning importance. The growth of the annual show since the turn of the decade has been unprecedented, with attendance figures and exhibitor numbers escalating year-on-year. And, says Schyvinck, its growth shows no sign of slowing.

“My first one was in 2011 and it was about half the number of exhibitors at that point compared to today,” she notes. “It speaks to the converging worlds of AV and IT, so the way the show worked five or 10 years ago is very different. For some IT decision makers they see audio as a bit of a mystery, so companies like ours can help demystify what’s out there. We believe a lot in the education process and events like this give us the opportunity to hold training events and demos. People have to hear it to believe it and see that it’s easy to use and it marries well with the other components in their meeting rooms.

“This show has another decade [of growth] at least. The need for good audio and communication… I can’t see that ending in the next 10 years.”

One of the key areas of growth for the brand is in the sports arena, with its wireless systems an increasing fixture in stadia across the globe.

“It’s been a big market for us traditionally, but even more so now because so many sports are really trying to up the spectacle, whether it’s soccer, football or baseball, they are trying to maximise the audio experience,” Lyons elaborates. “Microphones are put on the net, on the grass, behind this, behind that. It seems like overkill but that’s what brings the drama.”

Schyvinck adds: “In Europe we’ve been outfitting soccer stadiums and there is a trend, in the US at least, for people not attending games as much but watching the event after the fact, and the production is really important.”

“We’re in so many differnet types of installation now that it’s hard to keep track of,” Lyons picks up. “The thing that’s surprising to me is that, when I started at Shure years ago, a contractor would say, We’re doing a school, we’re going to need six mics over six rooms. Now they say, I have 120 rooms around the world, I want to put the same solution in every one.”

With so many possibilities opening up in the field of integrated systems, what does Schyvinck consider the biggest challenges on the horizon?

“We have been adding a lot more people to help us monitor technology trends” she says. “From what I can tell we are moving at a faster pace than we have before and we need to keep on doing that.”

“And there are additional factors involved now,” Lyons interjects. “It used to be that you had audio capture, then you had some mixing and processing, then you had amplification and reproduction.

“Now you have the added variable of networking, whether it’s something that’s part of a corporate network or tied in with a telephone system, Everything has to work together more seamlessly than ever before.”

With NAMM and ISE now out of the way, Shure is devoting the rest of the year to expanding its global activities and pushing its existing and recently launched lines: “All of the big things are out of the bag,” Schyvinck concludes. “We are in the throes of launching our Axient Digital product, and there are still some other form factors to come out so, that’ll happen at a later time.”

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