SVG Sit Down: Co-Owner Valerie Lager Discusses Dale Pro Audio’s Continued Growth, Customer Relationships
The company provides guidance on Dante, AoIP, RF
Since being founded as a radio- and TV-parts distributor in 1956, Dale Pro Audio has thrived as a leader in the broadcast, live-sound, contracting, and studio and postproduction markets while maintaining its core identity as a family-owned, New York City-based company.
In 2014, following years of growth, Dale Pro Audio opted to move its headquarters from Manhattan to Jamaica, Queens, opening a brand-new facility that houses demo rooms for a wide variety of audio technology (including the leading speaker and microphone manufacturers); a Dolby Atmos room; office space; expanded warehouse, retail, and pick-up areas; and a large event space. That event space recently hosted a two-day event titled “What’s Next: The Future of Audio for Worship,” which offered attendees a deep dive into the latest in audio technology for houses of worship.
SVG stopped by the Jamaica facility — located a few blocks from the Long Island Railroad and NYC subway — to tour Dale Pro Audio’s new home, check out the event, and catch up with company co-owner Valerie Lager. The daughter of Dale Pro Audio founder Stanley Lager, she shared her thoughts on the trends she’s seeing in the industry, the decision to move the company to Queens, and the importance of building and maintaining relationships with customers.What are some of the biggest trends that you’re seeing in the audio industry?
We’re headed toward more-complex solutions: products that require our help, where the customer needs guidance on which way they should go. Dante, audio over IP: all of that is happening now, so we’re trying to get more technical. We have two full-time technical people on staff, so, when the customer has a question that’s maybe a little over the salesman’s head, between the factory and our technical guys, we’re getting the customer the answer. And that way, we’re working with them.
We’re staying deeply ahead of the RF and spectrum issues, which is a big thing now and a problem that a lot of customers are facing. The bigger networks know about this and are changing what they’re doing, but there’s a whole other layer of business — universities, schools, houses of worship — where people use this equipment and don’t realize it’s not going to work. It’s a great opportunity for us to get ahead of it, and we’ve been focusing our people on it.
We’ve always been boutique because of our size. Competing with the big players and large internet retailers can be challenging, but we hold our own. Our strength is our relationships and our customer service. Our customers know that, six months after the sale is done, if they have a problem they can call us and we’re going to help them. Whether it’s switching out a piece of gear, helping them if something isn’t working right, or addressing a mistake they’re making, we’re there through the whole transaction and after.
We’re coming off a very big year last year. It was one of our best years, and our staff is the reason why. We have a lot of people who have been with us a long time, people that care. You can’t teach that. Recently, we’ve hired a few new people, trying to get some fresh blood in, and it’s going well.
Dale Pro Audio was located in Manhattan for decades. What was behind the decision to build a new facility in Jamaica, Queens?
As long as Dale has been in business — since the late 1950s — we’ve always been in the city, in different locations. We were just outgrowing our space and found that operating a warehouse in the heart of Manhattan has a lot of challenges. For example, we might be trying to unload 100 speakers or a large console, which we’d have to take out of the crate in the street because we couldn’t get it up the elevator! We had a long lease that was up in [the Flatiron District], and the landlord wanted an unreasonable amount, so that was really why we moved. A lot of businesses are leaving for the same reason.
Of course, we could have outsourced our shipping or people could have worked from home, but I felt that, if we didn’t build this facility, you’re really out of the game of having any interaction with the customer. And Jamaica is changing: there are buildings going up all the time.
Most important, we know that people still want to hear their audio equipment. They want to hear the speakers the old-fashioned way: in person. Customers have come in and have bought things right from our showroom, so there is a need. We want our facility to continue to be a place that people go to in order to get advice and to sit down and actually have a hands-on experience with the equipment. There’s really not a lot of places that have that anymore, so I felt it was important to continue to be the partner we try to be for our clients.
We’re here today for Dale Pro Audio’s House of Worship event. Why is this such an important industry for Dale?
It’s a sizeable percentage of the work that we do, more on the contracting side of our business. We’re a unique company: we do broadcast, we have a big studio side, we do live sound, and then we have the contracting side. So it’s a very big part of the products that we sell, and a lot of people need information about it.
We provide different solutions on all levels for a wide variety of budgets. The bigger houses of worship have huge budgets, but not all houses of worship are that big. We’ve had success in that middle market, and a lot of it comes from these events. This is the fourth one that we’ve done, and many sales have come out of all of them. The idea is to get people to be knowledgeable about the products, and I feel we have something to offer people who don’t have that education. They come here, and we have some of the top people from manufacturers and a lot of good information.
What are your biggest goals in this industry?
With the RF situation, we’re really focused on getting more involved and working with customers on a different level. We’re about to launch a new RF Solutions Group that will conduct site surveys, frequency coordination, systems design, and installation — all using our many resources.
We’re always looking for different lines, boutique lines, things that not everyone has, to keep it special for our customers. But we do try to keep the quality of our products at a certain level, not the quantity.
We’re also making sure we’re staying on top of audio over IP, now audio and video over IP; networked audio, networked video, cloud-based workflows, etc. We’re trying to stay equally ahead of that stuff for all our markets, not just broadcast.