Alcorn McBride marks its 30th anniversary by celebrating its position as a prominent figure in the manufacturing of show control, audio and video equipment for the theme park industry.
“The technologies we’re working with today were inconceivable 10 to 15 years ago let alone when we started the company,” said founder and CEO, Steve Alcorn. “We’ve always been a hard-core product development company; that’s what distinguishes us from the competition. In themed entertainment people tended to apply existing mass-market products to the industry, but we’ve always developed core technology from the chip level on up. We don’t use commercially available circuit boards, pre-packaged electronics and operating systems. Everything in our products is custom designed by us specifically for its purpose.”
“The key to our success has always been taking a customer application and designing a product that works for it; we never try to force a product to fit an application,” said head of business development, Loren Barrows. “As a niche company we have amazingly creative and talented engineers who think outside the box to develop what customers need.”
The Alcorn McBride approach of developing purpose-built products entirely in-house has “gotten a lot harder” to maintain in recent years as technology has become increasingly complex, Alcorn admitted. “It’s not uncommon to have 10,000 or 100,000 virtual chips in our products now,” said Alcorn. “The bar is constantly being raised.”
Alcorn got into the industry by accident back in the early 1980s when, as a consultant at Epcot, he designed the control system for Epcot’s American Adventure. His passion for product design was ignited as he and others at Epcot invented products on a case-by-case basis. Alcorn launched Alcorn McBride in Westlake Village, California in 1986 to create products to meet the needs of the theme park industry.
“We’ve worked side-by-side with the major theme parks developing and advancing equipment for 30 years,” said Barrows. “Thanks to the reliability of Alcorn McBride gear a great deal of it remains in use for decades.”
Longevity extends to employees as well. “Some of our employees have been with us the whole 30 years,” said Alcorn.
Designer Martin Chaney is one such employee. “Martin has designed the layout of almost every circuit board we’ve made in 30 years – probably 500 of them,” said Alcorn. “He has also designed the mechanical package for everything we’ve ever made – several hundred different enclosures. It’s very unusual to find someone with both of those talents. He’s a very versatile guy!”
Jim Carstensen is another employee with a long tenure, having been the company’s director of engineering since 1992 and a colleague for far longer; Alcorn, Carstensen and Chaney worked together at Epcot in 1982. “Every single product we’ve developed since Jim started here has been touched by all three of us,” said Alcorn.
Many engineers go back 10 years or more, as well. “Mike Polder, our head of support, has been here since 1996,” said Barrows. “Everybody knows Mike; the continuity he offers customers reinforces confidence in our brand.”
The demand for uncompressed ultra high-definition video is the latest technical challenge for the team. “To play 4K and 8K video completely uncompressed involves extremely high bandwidth, multiple solid state drives and multiple cards locked together,” Alcorn explained. “Our A/V Binloop Uncompressed, which is becoming a best seller, plays HD video uncompressed from each card and perfectly synchs multiple cards. Using additional frames customers can assemble as large an uncompressed video as they can imagine: 4K, 8K, 16K, even 3D or unusual shapes and sizes.”
Alcorn McBride prides itself on top-quality customer service. “A lot of companies brag about putting customers first, but it’s just lip service,” said Alcorn. “We’re dedicated to the concept of supporting customers’ new and existing equipment, even if they’ve had it for 15 years. Customer service is provided by our engineering staff. When people call us they can talk to the person who designed the product they’re using.” The company fully stands behind their products and offers a 5-year product warranty as a testament to that faith.
The company’s hardware and software engineers enjoy customer contact. “We don’t have any phone-tree avoidance mechanism,” Alcorn pointed out. “Everyone wants to help customers and learn what their needs are, what features they’d like to see in the next product, how to better document a product or improve its user interface.”
Alcorn McBride’s engineers also like getting outside the office to help with installation and attend industry events and socials. They double as the company’s sales force, too. “Our entire sales department is engineers,” Alcorn said.
The company’s corporate culture puts a premium on creative freedom and leaves room for fun.
“We’re no cubicle farm,” stressed Barrows. “Everyone works hard but plays hard. We schedule a fun company event every month: bowling nights, indoor skydiving, painting parties, lunch-and-learns in the office. It makes us stronger as a team.”
When Steve Alcorn turned 60 the entire office was transformed into the “Steve Alcorn Food and Wine Festival” for the afternoon with 17 offices decorated in tribute to Alcorn’s hobbies and interests – Star Trek, Hawaiian shirts, ballroom dancing, the musical “Wicked.”
And when Martin Chaney celebrated his 60th birthday the company permanently installed a spoof of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling over the executive hallway; it depicts Chaney giving the spark of life to the AV Binloop HD.
With a group of creative, hard-working, fun-loving people at its heart, Alcorn McBride is ready to take on the next 30 years.
“Customers not only find our gear extremely reliable, they like us as people,” said Barrows. “Having someone approach me at a trade show, point to my logo shirt and say, ‘Great company!’ never gets old.”