Just three days before the UK goes to the polls to elect its 56th parliament, another British institution – Amber Sound managing director Graham Paddon – is celebrating a milestone of his own: the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Potters Bar-based dealer and distributor.
Paddon, a 40-plus-year veteran of the industry, previously held senior roles at Micron and Autograph Sales, the latter of which he departed to found Amber Sound in 2005. “I wanted to maintain the sales side of the company and not go down the install route, which was the direction Autograph was going,” he explains. “I’ve always been very conscious that we don’t want to be seen to be competing with our customers, many of whom are installers.”
In an intensely competitive market, Paddon believes the success of Amber – which now has six staff, with room for “a couple more people to make the team complete” – can be attributed to its attention to detail. “We make sure everyone gets exactly what they need – not always what they asked for! – and get it at the right time,” he says. “We let our customers know if a delivery will be delayed before they are aware; we aim for complete transparency, as we know that a customer won’t come back to us if they don’t trust us; and we hold good stocks of the prime-selling products and have a good knowledge of every brand […] so are able to advise customers accordingly.”
So, what’s changed since those heady days of the mid-2000s? (The demise of flared jeans and the American Pie franchise notwithstanding.) “The single biggest challenge has probably been competition from internet-based companies, although we’ve learnt not to go head to head with them. Some of the products we sell are sometimes online for less, but we’ve found customers choose to come to us for the personal service and high level of customer service we provide.”
Paddon also points to the recent trend of manufacturers selling direct to customers, bypassing the traditional distributor/dealer model, as a further challenge faced by companies like Amber, meaning Paddon has “learnt to be a bit more selective about the brands we promote”.
When quizzed on whether pro audio is still very much the ‘face-to-face’ industry it was 10 years ago, Paddon replies: “Absolutely. We’ve forged really good relations with customers and suppliers alike, and the majority of our sales are repeat business.” Flexibility is also key: “We don’t stick rigidly to a 9–5 day. If a customer has an emergency we can usually be on the end of a phone and will always try and help if we can. I’ve even been known to drive to Wales one evening to loan a speaker to a customer when they’d had a unit go down during a show – thought that’s not something I’d want to make a habit of!” (At Prolight + Sound in Frankfurt, office manager Claire Paddon also shared with PSNEurope fond memories of an emergency delivery of Fischer Amps IEM beltpacks to drum and bass act Rudimental ahead of a show in Poland – although Amber only had to drive as far as the always-glamorous Beaconsfield services in Buckinghamshire.)
In addition its bread-and-butter distribution business, Amber also offers some training – although Paddon concedes it has “been a bit late getting involved”. “We had a very successful intercom training day in March this year,” he explains, “and hope to do more of the same. We’ve found that customers really appreciate [also] being offered education […] rather than just the hard sell.”
Amber Sound officially turns 10 on 4 May with what Claire Paddon calls “a bit of a party” at its Hertfordshire headquarters. Did Amber plan it so that its 10th birthday bash fell on the May bank holiday? “Only by cunningly starting the company on the May bank holiday!” laughs the younger Paddon. We thought as much…