By Frank Wells.
Madison, WI–Having outgrown three previous locations, Full Compass migrated this past summer to a new, custom-built facility. The $13.5 million, 140,000 square foot facility is double the size of the company’s previous space, with room on the surrounding campus to expand to double again the new space’s size.
In late October, Full Compass threw itself a party to celebrate the new building and to share it with guests. For two days of Expo, representatives from dozens of manufacturers were on hand to meet, greet and share information with attendees. The on-site kitchen (run by a talented chef, who prepares two company-subsidized meals daily for the company’s employees) fed attendees a steady stream of delectables throughout the Grand Opening event. A prize wheel spun, with every attendee a winner of swag and gear donated by the exhibitors.
Full Compass CEO and co-owner Jonathan Lipp is fond of saying that he envisioned that Full Compass would one day achieve its current success: “I always dream big.” Lipp began the company in 1977 as an offshoot of a recording studio he owned. He was joined a year later by his wife Susan (widely respected for her business acumen, she only recently stepped down as President of Full Compass, continuing to serve as Chairman of the Board). “I was a recording engineer, but starving,” says Jonathan Lipp. “I always had fascination with being a merchant,” he adds, and while the studio closed in 1980, Full Compass has continued to thrive as a mail/phone/internet driven retail outlet, becoming one of the top national retailers in broadcast and professional audio sales. [A longer transcript of PSN’s conversation with Jonathan Lipp can be found here]
Today, Full Compass has 165 employees and an annual revenue near $100 million. The 80,000-square-foot of warehouse space is temporary home to around 50,000 items at any given time, from some 800 product lines. The new building is home not only to Full Compass administration, sales and order fulfillment, but also to FDW Worldwide, an independent if co-located and co-owned distribution company (run by industry veteran Buzz Goodwin, FDW now distributes seven product lines with Goodwin hinting about further expansion).
The facility also houses media creation capability, including a recording studio with two recording rooms, the smallest large enough for a band and the large room capable of handling an orchestra. During the Grand Opening event, guests were treated to musical performances in the spacious lobby while manufacturers set up displays in both the lobby and the theater-sized studio space. Musical performances (which included the virtuoso jazz guitar styling of Full Compass national sales manager John Vitale) were also staged in the smaller studio space, and video and audio were fed live to the internet, interspersed with announcements of grand opening gear deals.
Buzz Kemper, proprietor of Audio For The Arts studio (Madison acoustic recording specialists who work with orchestras around the state, produce audio for Onion Radio News and Progressive Magazine, and have even done work for The Simpsons), was on hand to mix the live music sessions on the FDW-distributed Audient ACS8024 console. The Audient, fitted with a Digidesign Command|8 controller, got feeds from a selection of premium mics from the Full Compass warehouse, and fed into a substantial Pro Tools rig. “For me, it’s sort of like a smorgasbord,” Kemper quipped. “I get to use all this gear that I couldn’t actually afford on my own.”
The evening prior to the expo, guests from Full Compass’ manufacturer partners (including Digidesign, Shure, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, JBL, Sony, JVC, Yamaha, JBL and Bose–many noted for decades of partnership with Full Compass) were treated to a gourmet, black-tie gala, presided over by a proud Susan Lipp. As the company surprised then Executive Vice President, Mark Nash, with a promotion to President during the October 1 ribbon cutting for the facility, former Purchasing Manager Samantha Piernot was surprised with an appointment to Vice President of Procurement during the gala event, and other 25-year employees also received special recognition: Vickie Harper, National Sales Professional and Multi-Million Dollar Club member; Jeffrey Ryan, Government Sales Professional; and Nash.