Alcorn McBride, Inc. marks its 30th anniversary by celebrating its position as the leading manufacturer 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," says 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," says 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 admits. "It's not uncommon to have 10,000 or 100,000 virtual chips in our products now," he reveals. "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, arguably the era's most complex theme park attraction. His passion for product design was ignited as he and others at Epcot invented products on a one-by-one basis to meet their needs. Alcorn launched Alcorn McBride in Westlake Village, California in 1986 to create products to meet the needs of the theme park industry. And customers responded enthusiastically.
"We've worked side-by-side with the major theme parks developing and advancing equipment for 30 years," says 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," notes Alcorn.
Designer Martin Chaney is one of them. "Martin has designed the layout of almost every circuit board we've made in 30 years - probably 500 of them," says 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!"
Another employee with a long tenure is Jim Carstensen, 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," Alcorn notes.
Many of our engineers go back 10 years or more, too. "Mike Polder, our head of support, has been here since 1996," says Barrows. "Everybody knows Mike; the continuity he offers customers reinforces confidence in our brand."
The collective experience of the Alcorn McBride team has resulted in an equipment roster of audio players, video players, lighting controllers and show controllers that accommodate shows of all sizes. While Alcorn McBride's core market remains the themed entertainment industry, its products are also utilized by museums, casinos, world's fairs and transportation systems.
And that equipment roster continues to grow. "At any given time we have about three products in development," says Alcorn. "It used to be typical that a product would be developed within a few months. Now it takes about two years to get a product to market. It used to be one person could primarily develop a product, but now it's common to work as a team."
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 explains. "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," says 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.
The company's hardware and software engineers enjoy customer contact. "We don't have any phone-tree avoidance mechanism," Alcorn points 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 says.
Lest anyone think working at Alcorn McBride is all, well, work, the company's corporate culture puts a premium on creative freedom and leaves plenty of room for fun.
"We're no cubicle farm," stresses 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" - with food and wine to match.
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 A/V Binloop HD.
With a group of hard-working, creative-thinking, 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," notes Barrows. "Having someone approach me at a trade show, point to my logo shirt and say, 'Great company!' never gets old."
About Alcorn McBride:
Founded in 1986, Alcorn McBride is the leading manufacturer of show control, audio and video equipment for the themed entertainment industry, and a rapidly growing provider of audio and video systems for retail environments and transportation applications. Staffed by some of the industry's best engineers and backed by outstanding customer support, the company has demonstrated great agility in bringing new designs to market. A hallmark of Alcorn McBride products is their durable, zero maintenance design. The company's products provide consistent, reliable operation for audio and video playback applications worldwide. For more information, visit www.alcorn.com.