Bob SchluterThis is the story of how a self-described “tin knocker” from Brooklyn, Jersey, and Queens became an innovative leader in the AV industry.
Middle Atlantic founder Bob Schluter grew up in the sheet metal fabrication business, and that, combined with a hobby in electronics and an abiding curiosity, resulted in his first creation: a round, metal speaker grill for a Queens rehearsal studio.
“I used to break things and take them apart to see how they worked, and I applied that to business. I noticed that most speaker grills were cloth and got kicked in,” he said, “but I didn’t patent mine and didn’t have money for tooling, so I lost the design to some overseas people with stamping presses.”
Bob was also providing sound installations in restaurants and offices at the time and couldn’t find a way to hold his electronics so—true to form—he started making his own threaded metal rack rails before and after work. “Everyone had a problem with metal thread quality, so I developed a system for heavy gauge metal reliability, and then I started making rack shelves and panels. Pretty soon, people became interested. It was like a whirlwind.”
Headquartered in a garage and then in his parents’ New Jersey basement in the late 1970s, Schluter’s little enterprise, Middle Atlantic Products, could barely meet demand. MAP expanded rapidly, doubling in size every year. By 2006, MAP had become what Schluter dubs an “unstoppable, self-managing mob” of more than 500 employees and thousands of products.
The big “change in control” to Legrand, as Schluter calls it, occurred in 2011. Rather than selling to the highest bidder, he looked for the best fit to continue MAP’s culture and found it in Legrand’s complementary lines.
“Middle Atlantic was founded on, and will always be rooted in, the enthusiasm Bob had for figuring out the right solutions to help installers with the problems they face in the field,” said MAP president, Mike Baker. “Our success today is due in large part to Bob’s ability to surround himself with people who truly care about helping our customers. That remains core to Middle Atlantic’s values, and we continue to strengthen our team with people that have the vision and drive to serve our customers and help ensure their success.”
Schluter now heads Warwick Tomatoes, his research lab dedicated to aeroponics and growing plants indoors without soil. “What you can do to feed the world is mind-boggling,” he said. “I’m pursuing patents for LED lighting specifically for plant growing.”
He still follows the AV industry, keeping tabs on how audio and the network have grown. “I do installs for bars and restaurants; you could say I barter for food and drinks,” he quipped.
- “My proudest moment in the industry was seeing our ginormous install for the first time in a Long Island radio station, with the first Sony CD player rack mounted, and a Sony official coming in and asking how it all looked so nice. That was a mind bender.”
Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer in Boulder, Colorado.
See all 2014 SCN Hall of Fame inductees here.