CE Pro’s Original Top 10: Jeremy Burkhardt, SpeakerCraft
Top 10 from 2004: Tom Doherty, Jeremy Burkhardt, Julie Jacobson (CE Pro), Jeff Hoover, George Feldstein, Sam Runco, Doug Fikse, Theo Kalomirakis, Joel Silver, Jay McLellan, Ivan Zuckerman, Jason Knott (CE Pro)
In 2013, we are celebrating the 20-year anniversary of CE Pro, the first issue of which appeared as an insert in a 1993 issue of Electronic House. The following is a tribute we wrote in the October 2004 issue of CE Pro, honoring these contributions of these 10 leaders. Are they still relevant today? Will they make our Top 20 list, appearing in the 2013 issue of CE Pro?
In 2004, our Top 10 of the decade were:
Sam Runco, Runco
Tom Doherty, Doherty Design Group
Jeremy Burkhardt, SpeakerCraft
Joel Silver, Imaging Science Foundation (ISF)
Doug Fikse, OnQ/Legrand
Jay McLellan, Home Automation Inc. (HAI)
Ivan Zuckerman, Niles Audio
Jeff Hoover, Audio Advisors (now Ask the Advisors)
Theo Kalomirakis, TK Theaters
George Feldstein, Crestron
In the next couple of weeks, we’ll resurrect our write-ups on each of these industry leaders. Today, we feature Jeremy Burkhardt, who currently is traveling the world and looking for companies to invest in.
“We decided to get into the pro business, designing products that were extremely competitive in price and a great value. We got our lunch eaten because we didn’t realize that, just as we’re important in this industry, there were people that were important in that industry.”—Jeremy Burkhardt on worst business decision.
FLASHBACK: OCTOBER 2004
Jeremy Burkhardt, SpeakerCraft
Customer Service Maven
He may be one part philosopher, one part passionate businessman, and one part party animal. But to us, Jeremy Burkhardt is just a guy who’s done wonders for the custom-installation (CI) industry.
SpeakerCraft, the manufacturing company he helped launch in 1994, does business with virtually all of the CE Pro Top 100 Dealers, and then some. Not so much because of the company’s innovative speakers, but because of the wild man at the helm.
As Dennis Sage of Phoenix-based Dennis Sage Home Entertainment puts it, “The thing I like the most about SpeakerCraft is that their products look so much different than all of their competitors. What, they don’t?! OK then, the thing I like most about SpeakerCraft is that their products sound so much better than their competitors. What do you mean, wrong again? Well then, maybe it’s Jeremy that makes the difference. Bingo! From the most unlikely appearance and style comes an astute and trusted businessman that is making historic differences in our business.”
Like many of his colleagues, Burkhardt began his professional life prewiring homes for SpeakerCraft, the retailing and custom installation company. Founded in 1976, that firm, which had ramped up to 500 installations per year, created a new type of loudspeaker now known as an in-wall.
SpeakerCraft did so well OEMing the product to other manufacturers, that the company decided to go it alone, becoming a full-time manufacturer, and slapping its own name on the speakers. Burkhardt, along with SpeakerCraft’s two founders, played a key role in that transition. And Burkhardt quickly became the poster child for custom-installed speakers.
Having been custom installers, we changed the way the industry worked,” says Burkhardt. “So many people selling speakers have never run speaker cable or Cat 5 or crawled through attics. They don’t really understand the dealers’ needs and wants. … We came up with pivoting tweeters, dog-leg mounting systems, same-day shipping and lifetime warranties.”
Not to mention limited distribution, which today appeals to the select dealers who enjoy the privilege of buying direct from the vendor. The strategy was not entirely intentional, though. “When we came to market, we said we had select limited distribution because no one was buying the product,” Burkhardt admits.
Today, they’re buying in droves. Burkhardt, with two partners, led a management buyout of SpeakerCraft in 2000. Three years later, the company was acquired for about $58 million by Nortek, and now claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of architectural loudspeakers, with revenues of $60 million and growing by double digits.
You can’t argue with success. “Speakercraft, like any company, is merely a reflection of its leadership. … Jeremy is destined, in my warped opinion, to be a more significant leader in this industry in the future than he is today.” says Steve Hayes, principal of Custom Electronics, Falmouth Maine.
Today, SpeakerCraft is hardly resting on its laurels. Competition over the past few years has been fierce, with virtually every electronics manufacturer today beckoning custom installers with some kind of in-wall speaker offering.
“Many of the box speaker companies that for many years have ignored the custom installer are now trying to woo them,” says Burkhardt, now president of SpeakerCraft. “But I think the SpeakerCraft dealers that support us now will continue to support us.”
We’ve empowered our entire company to service the dealer. If a dealer has a speaker that doesn’t work, he just calls us and we ship him a new one, same day. We don’t ask to see a copy of the P.O. and invoice; we just send the product. I don’t think the big-box retailers will empower their order-entry clerks to give away product.”
Why he’s a Top 10 Leader: Burkhardt has been a champion of the in-wall speaker and the custom installer for over a decade. His devotion to customer service, his enduring relationship with dealers, and his strong support of industry associations and initiatives make him a valued asset to the home systems community.
Bio: During high school, Burkhardt earned money pulling cable on a freelance basis, then joined SpeakerCraft, the custom installation firm, in 1989. With the company’s success making in-wall speakers for third-party vendors, Burkhardt and the company founders turned SpeakerCraft into a full-time manufacturer and marketer of products for the custom-installation industry. Burkhardt led a management buyout in 2000, and the company was sold to Nortek three years later for a cool $58 million. The self-proclaimed “warrior” now presides over SpeakerCraft, which garners universal praise for its impeccable customer services.
Best business decision: In 1994 we told all of our OEM customers that we were going to make SpeakerCraft branded product. We walked away from millions of dollars a year in business.
Worst business decision: Two years ago we decided to get into the pro business, designing products that were extremely competitive in price and a great value. We got our lunch eaten because we didn’t realize that, just as we’re important in this industry, there were people that were important in that industry. You have to stick to your niche and rule it.
Key opportunities and challenges moving forward: In-ceiling speakers for home theater are going to be huge. We came out with AIM pivoting speakers a few years ago. We have cross-patented technology with Niles, the only other company that can make in-ceiling speakers that can be pivoted to the listening area. Digital music also will be big. We’re working on partnerships with some of the largest digital music providers. When you see it, it will absolutely amaze the industry.
Favorite books: “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl, and “Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” by Dan Millman