Whitinsville, MA (October 29, 2018)—Eastern Acoustic Works started out in 1978 as a scrappy, independent loudspeaker manufacturer which became known over time for strong products and equally strong customer support. Like any company, EAW has gone through changes in the intervening years, but this past summer, after nearly two decades of being owned by various financial institutions, the company was sold to pro-audio manufacturer RCF Group, based in Italy. RCF, in turn, has decided to essentially let EAW forge its own path, putting the Whitinsville, MA manufacturer in a position not unlike where it was 40 years ago: Once again, it’s an independent company with big ideas and a plan to make them happen.
The similarities are readily apparent to EAW president TJ Smith: “Sitting here at the beginning of this new chapter, the awesomeness of the opportunity and the potential is not lost on anyone at EAW. Not many brands get this opportunity and we are energized to be a part of it.”
Like many in the business, Smith was attracted to pro audio at a young age, getting his start as a kid by mixing his church’s praise band on an old Peavey Mark III console. The music minister soon bought him a copy of the Sound Reinforcement Handbook, cementing Smith’s audio interests for good. After graduating college with a degree in engineering, he immediately joined Crown Audio as an amplifier design engineer and worked his way up through the ranks, earning an MBA along the way, until leaving Harman in 2016 and joining EAW as its president. Smith soon found he was leading a company that wanted to return to its roots; the question was how to get there.
“In the beginning, EAW was a small start-up that was hyper-focused on solving its customers’ audio problems and creating great loudspeakers in the process,” he explained. “From this mentality, it saw great success and grew exponentially. It was then purchased by a financial institution in 2000, and somewhere after that, the focus changed. I wasn’t here, so it’s not fair to try and pinpoint the who’s and whys, but no one argues that things changed. When I got here in 2016, I found people trying to get the company back to the early mentality that brought so much success, but they were unsure of how that looked under the existing ownership and market conditions.”
In October, 2017, Transom Capital Group purchased EAW’s parent company, Loud Technologies (now Loud Audio), and earlier this year, began shedding brands from its portfolio. Corporate acquisitions are always nerve-wracking, but to Smith, the sale of EAW had the potential to be a change for the better. Transom and RCF began talks in April this year (“It was one of the hardest-to-keep secrets I have ever had”) and finalized the deal in early September.
Broad changes often come in the wake of an acquisition, but for EAW, the first move was a structural shift, made in order to build a foundation for what comes next. “We’ve demolished the silos and department mentality that makes it difficult to deal with a company,” said Smith, noting that the pre-existing team is still essentially in place. “RCF saw the people here as one of the greatest assets and reasons to invest. Knowing that RCF valued the team we had built provided the greatest professional satisfaction and peace with the transaction that I could have asked for.”
As if to underline RCF’s hands-off approach, EAW is still located in the same place it’s been since the late 1980s—a historic Whitinsville complex built in 1847 called The Shop. Smith characterizes the 32-member staff as a “tightknit team committed to getting the job done,” adding that “everyone here knows that their job is helping our partners be successful. It is, by far, the most fiercely loyal and fun team I have ever been on. My role here is to fuel and empower that environment. If anyone feels anxious, it is because they don’t want to let the team and our customers down.”
While relishing its newfound independence, the company is now dedicated to making up for lost time. “We’ve covered more ground in the quest to make EAW a better company to do business with in the past few weeks than we could have over years’ worth of time in the past,” said Smith. “Our primary initiatives now are filling out our product portfolio and expanding our partner base in regions and markets where we are weak. Behind the scenes, we are building the systems and processes necessary to run an independent business, but our focus there is to make that invisible to the customer.”
One thing that Smith wants customers to see, however, is that EAW is there for them: “We are working hard to improve our customer support. Customers should be able to contact us and get a response immediately, especially if it is an emergency. For spare parts, we are working to provide less than 24 hours from order to shipment for key parts. Finally, we want to personalize the experience of dealing with EAW. We want you to call ‘Nancy’ or ‘Steve,’ not ‘Customer Service.’ To some, this may look like a small thing, but I think it’s a big deal to our customers.”
With investment from RCF, EAW is also now rebuilding its R&D department, looking to update parts of the company’s product portfolio that Smith himself says “have been neglected for far too long. A massive revival of the EAW portfolio is in full motion as we speak.”
Of course, EAW already has some flagship products in place, and Smith wants raise awareness of them. “We are working hard to tell our story better and become a more approachable company. Product lines like Adaptive—Anya, Anna, Otto—make big claims and stand to disrupt the market. It is up to EAW to help the world understand what it is and prove that the technology belongs at the table.”
While he readily admits that there’s a lot of brands at that table (“It is important to understand that everyone makes good products”), Smith sees EAW’s technologies and revitalized customer service as decisive factors in its favor. All of that, he said, stems from the commitment of EAW’s staff: “That’s one thing I love about being here: People want to see this brand win.”
Eastern Acoustic Works • www.eaw.com
This article appeared as “View From The Top: Coming Around Full Circle” in the November 2018 issue of Pro Sound News.