Electrosonic helped integrate the World Tour ride at Hershey's Factory in Hershey, PA. BURBANK, CA-Jim Bowie, Electrosonic's general manager of public spaces business in the U.S., attributes the success of his company to its holistic view of the industry. While the biggest part of the business is system integration, the company runs a design division, a products division, and a service division. Capturing several pieces of the market has allowed Electrosonic to grow quickly and remain stable throughout the changing market. Bowie said, "We diversify across multiple markets and then by diversifying our technologies and services it makes us a more stable company, and that's not just good for us it's good for our customers."
Electrosonic was started in 1964 by four engineers, with chairman Robert Stimson. The company expanded to the U.S. in 1972 to develop its presence overseas. The original owners sold their holdings to a Finnish family in 1990. Since the Finnish family owned a lighting company called Helva, Electrosonic was acquired for its lighting control products. Stimson still remains active with the company, promoting Electrosonic in his spare time.
Electrosonic's integration division is its central focus, but in such a cyclical business, the company has taken an innovative approach to its personnel. Bowie explained, "We are not comfortable with the hire/fire mentality. We really are trying to have a stable entity while being in multiple markets. If you work on a major project and its been in for a few years and the customers calls back to speak to the project manager, if he's gone or was just a contract guy you don't have any continuity with your customer. And we are fortunate in that we can keep guys for 15 or 20 years. We find we have longevity in customers because we're not continually letting everyone go and it's just internally better for the human aspect."
Electrosonic has also enjoyed the advantages of being privately owned. Bowie said, "Being family-owned, we try to stabilize against the ups and downs of the economy, but because we're not publicly traded we don't have to respond to the market. We can just ride out a storm and deal with not making much money. So the package of diversification in markets and services while being privately held all have given us a pretty stable ship."
The company has shown its presence in many vertical markets, from houses of worship to health care, but one of the main markets Electrosonic has developed is theme parks and visitor centers. Within another division of the company, called Managed Media Services (MMS), Electrosonic develops digital signage systems. From onscreen advertising in cinemas to retail, MMS has already surpassed the company's expectations. "We just started that business a little over year ago and it's already a major piece of our revenue," Bowie said. "We had to rent a whole new building for it recently."
Electrosonic's general manager of public spaces business in the U.S., Jim Bowie
Bowie credits Electrosonics' client base to the inventive detail the company has taken to its work, while using all its resources to please customers. "We are very simplistic, we really listen to customers and try to fill their needs. In this market people are continually trying to do something new and we basically develop our products listening to them. We were one of the first companies to make a low cost hi-def video player because our museum integration customers kept saying, 'I can buy the display that will play HD, I can make the content, but the players are cost over 10K.' So we brought a technology to the market to help our museum customers."
Electrosonic specializes in large format video and 3-D film all over the world. Bowie said, "We're one of the only people in the industry handling the Sony 4K projectors. We used to do a lot in 70mm film. We did the biggest 3-D 70mm film installation in the world. We've moved on into the electronic images, we do a lot of edge blending, projecting on domes, interactivity."
The company has also grown quickly, spreading its presence throughout the world. Bowie said, "We do stuff all over the world, like Disney in Hong Kong, so we're active globally with some customers. We have offices in the U.S., U.K., Shanghai, Dubai, and Hong Kong. We have the ability to work with some of our big clients anywhere in the world and can bring local support. We're really trying to be a global company."
Bowie has found that the company thrives because of the cross-market business it's able to handle. "I think one of the things we do is we try to be strong in each of the markets we're in, but able to take technologies from theme parks into museums, and from museums into retail. We try to make sure we can bring design concepts and ideas to the table. We're not just an integrator, we have a design division that deals with these concepts as well."
The future is bright for Electrosonic, as it continues to grow and invest in other companies each year. Bowie said, "We bought Scharff Weisberg's integration business a couple years ago, and we bought Associates in Media Engineering last year. We don't think bigger is better; we try to find talent inside companies that we can either own or partner with. We're very focused on the people, we want to stay private and continue to deliver quality. And quality for me is threefold, qualilty for the clients, quality for the owner, in that we make a profit, but also quality of life for the people that work here. Mostly we're professional people, so trying to have a healthy company and pay people fairly well and give them a secure environment just makes it a better deal."