Interview: Geoff Smith, Jands

At the start of 2018, prominent Australian distributor Jands announced that it was parting ways with Harman, dissolving a partnership that had lasted decades. Hurrairah bin Sohail finds out how Jands executed the transition.

Geoff Smith, currently general manager for distribution at Jands, has been working for the Australian distributor for more than 16 years. Starting in a business development role and progressing through the ranks, Smith ended up working closely with the managing director of Jands, Paul Mulholland. It was in this position where Smith found himself when Jands decided to change course.

At the start of 2018, Jands parted ways with Harman. In the months after the split, Jands announced partnerships and distribution deals with Biamp, L-Acoustics, Robe lighting, ETC and more while still retaining distribution of Shure products. The move caused a seismic change in the Australian AV market.

Smith talks about the pivot and says that the distributor had been preparing for such an eventuality: “The change was based on us being in charge of our destiny. If you look at the time frames it should be easy to understand that you can’t part ways with Harman and then announce, within three months, what is effectively a new roster.

“It started with a conversation at an international trade show. One of the parties approached us and asked if we would consider representing them. We started with a conversation to see where it went and then over the next year we skipped back and forth and re-engaged and kept in touch.”

The impetus for change came from an internal realisation. Smith says: “We got a feeling that the direction of Harman and the direction of Jands could be going different ways in the future. We saw where we felt our strengths were and these were based around production and performance venues. But with the products that Shure was bringing to the market, we certainly were going much heavier in the direction of the videoconferencing market.”

This change in direction guided Jands’ acquisition of its new roster. Smith details: “We were not looking to replace Harman, because Harman has brands from end to end; from microphones to speakers at the end point. But we could find strong brands that could complement Jands’ strengths and help us grow our business going forward into those markets. What Shure was doing in videoconferencing, what Biamp was doing with DSPs, what Robe was doing with moving lights, what ETC was doing in theatre, this could further expand our reach into the market and it just made sense.”

The new focus on fixed installation is also behind Jands’ most recent partnership, announced close to Integrate 2018, with Electro-Voice. Smith says: “What we are really doing is asking ourselves which are the markets where we’re investing our time and our growth? These markets at the moment are specifically on the system integration side; the corporate, education and government markets. We see EV being an end-point solution because in the videoconferencing market you need a speaker at the end of the day. It’s one of the constants, you always need a speaker. We see that as being the end point that we were missing.”

Jands has also been conscious of handling the transition in a particular way. Smith says: “We try to be professional, making sure to contact the supplier, asking what their project pipeline is. So if someone has been working on a job, we don’t want to steal the job. We understand that they have done the majority of the work. We’re a small industry and unfortunately you can’t take - or I hope you can’t take - these things too personally. It’s just business.”

The opportunity to change and evolve was grasped fully by Jands as Smith details: “During our transition, we took a full review of the brands we represent and also reviewed our structure internally. We created additional roles, filling out positions for sales people as well as re-organising our sales people into different territories and in different vertical markets. We also created market development teams, roles that support and operate between product specialists and sales people.”

The transition was not without its challenges and Smith says: “It would be disingenuous to not acknowledge there was turbulence. It was a big change to try and pull off in such a short period of time with so many brands transitioning. Essentially at the end of the day, I think 36 years of relationships in some way transitioned out and new relationships came in. Everything was new and we had to have our staff understand the product and deliver it to the market. From a performance point of view, the company I think missed a beat for one month to two months at most, and once we got over this period we were back on track and outperforming our expectations.”

Smith continues: “The biggest challenge, for a better way of saying it, was that we underestimated the size of the transition when we were doing all the planning. It is very simple to sit in a boardroom and have a whiteboard and lay out your plans and how they will be achieved. One lot is going to transition out on this date, then we’re going to make announcements about the new brands on this date, and on the whiteboard it looks fantastic. The underestimation was that it takes a lot to bring in five brands at the same time as a distributor. This is what I think could have proved to be the biggest risk for derailment, biting off more than we could chew.”

According to Smith, the transition could not have been made possible without the employees of Jands: “I think credit has to go to everyone at the company who went along for the ride. It could have easily gone the wrong way, a lot of people could have transitioned out of the company as a result. Just as brands moved to Jands and this brought people to our side, it could have also resulted in brands leaving Jands and staff leaving Jands. But we didn’t really see a great deal of that.”

Normal proceedings have resumed in the Australian AV market and Jands is now looking towards the future. Smith concludes: “It has been over six months and we are continuing to better ourselves so that our partners are 100% happy with where we are going. This means that I don’t see us taking on new brands in the near future but I do still see big opportunities which are yet to be further realised.”

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