December 11, 2019 I From the Top, Q&A
From The Top: Lynn Martin I American Music & Sound
By Daniel Margolis
HQ: Newbury Park, California
Best selling product: Allen & Heath SQ-7, CAD GXL2200, dBTechnologies VIO, Focusrite Scarlett, Fostex TM2, Hercules DJ Control Inpulse 300, Kurzweil PC4, Lewitt 440 PURE, Nord Stage 3, Reloop Touch, Studiologic Numa Compact 2x, Xone Xone:96
Fun Fact: Hates cilantro. But loves new and eclectic music. Latest albums in rotation include modern R&B artist JNR Williams, funk band Vulfpeck, quality bluegrass, Frank Zappa and classic Motown.
How do you start your day?
Every other day I get up early, and I walk my three little terriers around the neighborhood. On the other days, I get up and make my way to the gym, often going to a spin class. After walking dogs or exercising, I’ll check my email and get the business day rolling.
What’s your management style?
Basically, I let people do their jobs and just get on with it. I like to do what I can to help make sure that good solutions are facilitated. One of the things that I often tell people when they come in and ask me for advice is simply, “Try to solve it yourself—and follow things to their logical conclusion.”
Have you seen this feedback facilitate growth in your employees? Do they stop coming to you with problems and start coming to you with solutions?
People enjoy being empowered to do the job they need to do. Sometimes they need to be reminded not to use their managers as a crutch, but, of course, we are here to help people find solutions if they need it. People do become more self-reliant when you help push them that way.
“One of the things that I often tell people when they come in and ask me for advice is simply, ‘Try to solve it yourself—and follow things to their logical conclusion.’”
You’ve been president and founder of american music & sound going on two decades. How has it changed as it’s grown?
As the number of people we’ve added to our management team has increased, so has the overall competency level of the players involved. We increased our capabilities related to backend operations tremendously. Our warehousing and service operations in Memphis are incredible and also incredibly more sophisticated.
Could you give an example of both something that told you that the competency of your players had risen and how your warehousing and service operations have upped your game?
If there is one big indicator that our management team has gotten more competent over time, it is that the level of detail that I need to get involved in has decreased. I can count on these folks to have a lot of the details taken care of before they come to me with bigger issues.
In regards to our warehousing and service operations, there is no question that we’ve been able to scale. Basically, my division of the company is billed out for use of services for our warehousing and service—and that cost has gone down on a per-unit basis over time.
Additionally, our software tools are a lot more sophisticated, and we are able to do better projections as far as purchases and forecasts.
What do you like most about leading your own company?
I love doing business development and adding new brands and increasing the level of effectiveness we have with each of our brands. Also, my day-to-day interactions with the team that I work with is one of the pleasures of my working life.
What’s something your competition did that drove you to respond and your company was all the better for it?
Our improvements in overall performance and productivity are usually driven more by our customers and their demands rather than our competition. As the demands and expectations for supply chain management and marketing and customer engagement have accelerated, our team and internal resources have risen to better service the channel and the customers.
What drove you to start an audio equipment and musical instrument distributor?
It was strictly opportunity-driven. When Allen & Heath purchased themselves in an MBO from Harman, my relationship with the management of the Allen & Heath opened up the chance to start doing distribution in the United States.
Was it an industry vertical you were attracted to beyond that opportunity?
Basically, it was just a natural progression of where my career had gone up to that point. I had been the Allen & Heath distributor when I worked for Harman, so there was very little question as to whether or not this was something I could do and that I would enjoy.
What are the similarities and differences between distributing the two?
If you’re talking about the difference between MI and pro audio, there’s no question it is much nicer to be in pro audio these days. Personally, I’ve always had much more of an affinity for pro audio products, too. Even as a player, I always enjoyed the recording technology and sound reinforcement side of things.
Where do you see this industry going?
It is very clear that online retail is going to continue to put more pressure on brick-and-mortar retail. That said, it’s been fun to watch many of the more creative brick-and-mortar retailers adapt to the new environment with a lot of different promotions and strategies.
Let’s discuss just one of those creative strategies. What comes to mind right away?
To a certain degree, a lot of it has to do with brick-and-mortar retailers getting back to their roots, offering more rentals, lessons and other service-oriented activities that get people to come into the store and actually purchase from them.
What should music retailers be doing more of to keep up with the demands of the modern consumer?
There is no question that there are online retailers that are doing a much better job of providing relevant content on their site to support their sales than others. I think that delineation is going to become more critical over time. Brick-and-mortar retailers are going to have to constantly fight to get the attention of the music consumer and give them a compelling reason to come visit them in the store.
How many products are you handling in total and what are the challenges there?
Hey, we’re rock stars—it’s really not a challenge. All kidding aside, we carry roughly 2,000 SKUs spread across 12 different brands. The biggest challenges are probably making sure that we do right by all of our vendors, cover all the bases, make sure our customers are happy all the time, and [make sure] that everybody makes a lot of money and has a good time doing it.
What’s your background in music?
Like many of my cohorts, I came up in the industry as a player. I spent my extended adolescence playing electric violin on the road in the ’70s and ’80s. I worked retail, I worked in manufacturing and then started this distribution company in 2002.
Does having played violin inform your work today?
Sure! Learning to play any instrument does instill a sense of discipline. Also, as I grew and made a career in performing, there is no question that being onstage allows you to have the confidence that it takes to address groups of people and helps with your presentation skills.
How have you seen your work impact music; potentially in live performance or in studio settings?
I would never presume that I individually have had any impact of significance on the music business. I only hope that we’ve done a great job of providing products to our customers through the great dealer channel that we have and have facilitated the ease of making music for everybody in all the categories that we deal with.
Looking back, if you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were starting your company, what would it be?
Don’t lie awake nights killing yourself worrying over needless details.
That’s good advice. Was that something you experienced early on?
Not only is it something I experienced early on, but it is something that I still experience every day. It is advice that I still have to give myself. Invariably things turn out better than I expect them to—maybe I am an eternal pessimist, and I am always surprised when good things happen.
What’s been the primary lesson you’ve taken from your career?
Relationships matter more than anything else.
Why is that? Do personal relationships make business cohere?
When the personal relationship is important, it makes it just that much more of a goal to make people happy and provide them with what you say you’re going to. It’s all about taking those extra steps to make sure that you are living up to your commitments and exceeding your customers’ expectations.
What does the future hold for american music & sound?
Basically, I just see nothing but further growth. There are more and more folks who are intrigued by what it is we do. There is no question that we have the capacity to continue to grow and adapt as the market changes.
If not music, what would you be doing?
Were you in that business in the past?
Ummm… obviously you didn’t get my attempt at humor there. [Laughs.] MI