Life might have turned out very differently for Fraser Jones if it weren’t for English power-pop band The Vapors.
At the end of the seventies, Jones would often skip school to go to gigs with his brother Ian’s P.A. rental company, HHB. His grades suffered and soon he was an apprentice plumber at the company where their mother was employed. Then The Vapors hit the big time with their second single, “Turning Japanese.”
“The guy who used to repair the speakers at HHB was the sound man for The Vapors. He quit, because they were going on a world tour. He trained me, and for about five years, I repaired speakers,” says Jones, who went on to become the warehouse manager and, later, exhibition coordinator as HHB Communications expanded into distribution, sales and manufacturing.
Jones was at a Paris AES Convention when he was introduced to his future wife and business partner, Jean Todd, who lived in Portland, ME. “We did the long-distance romance thing for about nine months,” he says. When he and his brother had a major disagreement, “I said, I’m moving to America, and left.”
He continued to handle HHB’s trade show coordination, traveling back and forth across the Atlantic. In 1992, when HHB began manufacturing DAT tapes, Jones made a pitch to become the U.S. distributor.
“I sent a proposal saying I wanted $20,000 dollars to set the company up. Ian said, ‘You can borrow £5,000 from our mom to set yourself up.’ To give Ian the finger, I called the company Independent Audio,” he chuckles.
Initially, while setting up a nationwide dealer network for HHB products and various distributed European lines, Jones drew no salary and would stay with Todd’s friends when he traveled. “We went from zero to $500,000 in the first year. Year two we went from $500,000 to $1.1M; year three we went to $2.2M,” he recalls.
HHB had been shipping products on credit before the company’s bank insisted that Jones pay for his stock. In 1996, he arranged a bank credit line and changed the company name to HHB to reduce confusion in the marketplace. But within a year, the brothers butted heads again: “Ian said, ‘We want to buy your company, set you up as head of sales and put somebody in as CEO.’” Fraser’s response was unprintable.
Independent Audio was back in business with two lines, Coles microphones and ATC loudspeakers, the other distributed brands having followed HHB. “After six months, Cedar said they’d seen no sales in the U.S. and came back to me. I went looking for other companies and took on Sonifex and later Merging Technologies.”
Cedar and Merging now vie for first place in sales. The two brands each account for about 30 percent of total sales, says Jones, who focuses on the broadcast and recording markets and exclusively distributes European brands. Next biggest is Coles. Sonifex does similar numbers to Coles, he reports, with Audessence, Audio & Design, Audio Developments, Coneq, DACS, Jünger Audio and Pearl mics rounding out the line sheet.
“We took on Thermionic Culture about five years ago,” he adds. “We’ve done fantastically well with that. People love the sound of it.”
Post-recession, he says, “We turned the corner in 2010 and business has gone from an all-time low to an all-time high. Then you put the Brexit equation into it. We have been able to drop prices significantly on all U.K.-manufactured products, which means that we’ve had even greater sales.”
Earlier this year, Independent Audio, which now has a staff of five, purchased a 5,000-sq.-ft. commercial building with a loading dock and offices, and is currently relocating. “One of the main reasons for wanting to move is to be somewhere where we’re not dragging stuff up and down stairs,” he says.
“I always think I’m one of the luckiest guys. I have a job that I really enjoy and have been able to maintain a career. And the fact that we’re expanding and moving on is a great thing.”