In 2011, GC Pro is marking 10 years of business. As the new millennium began to take hold, the project-studio environment was on the cusp of a major paradigm shift. Digital Audio Workstation technology, already evolving at a breakneck pace, was about to take a quantum leap, making increasingly sophisticated personal recording setups ever more accessible. Suddenly it was possible (and increasingly affordable) to create not just a composition sketchpad studio, but a powerful tracking and mixdown environment that was capable of producing and even mastering a professionalquality recording, and could fit into a spare bedroom, or eventually, even a backpack.
As more and more of the creative process moved inside the box, professional studios vied head to head with project rooms for their share of studio time and budget, and the already blurring boundaries between artist and engineer, and between professional and project studios, was becoming even more fluid.
At the same time, the landscape was changing on the supply side as well. As project studios became more and more the norm, music stores began to stock a wide array of pro audio gear, with consoles and preamps finding floor space next to guitars and keyboards. But, although it was becoming easier than ever to purchase studio-quality gear at your local music retailer, there was something important missing— knowledgeable support. For many years, the professional sector had been served by a network of local pro-audio dealerships, run by talented professionals, who provided no high-end audio products, but advice and consultation. Now, as sales of studio gear moved more and more to music retail and the internet, these pro audio dealerships began to struggle and shut their doors, and pros and aspiring pros could no longer count on the advice of these local gurus.
The Birth of a Concept
It was this environment into which GC Pro was born. As director Rick Plushner explains, the division was founded with the clear objective of not merely filling that void of expertise and personal service, but of bringing it firmly into the new millennium.
“The formation of GC Pro was a conscious decision by then-CEO Marty Albertson to create a dedicated business-to-business division that could address the needs of professional recording studios, tracking and mixing engineers, live sound venues, house of worship facilities, post and film facilities and more,” says Plushner. “But our goal was to also establish a unique boutique-style, brick and mortar, business-to-business organization that would combine the local, personal touch of smaller pro audio dealerships with the power and reach of a nationwide infrastructure.”
Indeed, it is the massive purchasing power of parent company Guitar Center that creates GC Pro’s unique position in the industry. “The main difference between us and everyone else is in the fact that we’ve taken that boutique approach and rolled it out nationwide,” says Derek Snyder, western region business development manager. “There are certainly many worthy pro audio providers in the industry, but none with the reach that GC Pro has.”
It’s All About the People
Of course, competitive pricing and inventory are just the beginning. As Plushner observes, it’s the people behind GC Pro that have been, and continue to be responsible for its success. “At the very beginning, Tom Menrath and Mark Stycos worked to build the original GC Pro team by tapping into some of the top audio sales professionals in the company and in our industry,” he says. “Our premise then is still our practice now: to provide personalized, local support with a nationwide reach.”
GC Pro director Rick PlushnerOne of the most important aspects of the GC Pro model has always been that of professionalism. GC Pro staff is hand-picked from among the industry’s most experienced audio pros, with professionally trained account managers offering expert consultation on everything from musical instruments to Pro Tools to consoles and control surfaces.
“Our people are all industry veterans and working professionals,” says Plushner. “They can relate to our clients because they’ve walked in their shoes and lived in their world. You can’t overstate the importance of that level of understanding.”
Indeed, it’s that intimate familiarity with the business that lies behind the dedication of GC Pro’s people. “Pro audio has never been a 9-to- 5 office job, and we’re there when you need us,” says Plushner. “If you have a session and it’s a weekend or late in the evening, you can get somebody on the line. We’re all networked on Blackberrys and PCs, available nearly 24/7. If an account manager is faced with a question on gear that they’re unable to answer, the collective knowledge base from within our group can be accessed within minutes to provide proven answers to complex questions.”
PK Pandey, senior account manager in Boston (and the person who originally coined the “GC Pro” name) agrees. “Our strength is in our numbers,” says Pandey. “Because we’ve got so many people who are experts in such a wide range of different fields, if I have a question about a house of worship system, or I’m a little unclear about a certain technical concept or piece of gear, I know with confidence that I can pick up the phone and make a single call and get an answer quickly. Conversely, I get calls all the time from colleagues and clients alike, asking for input or advice on things they know I’ve got a certain expertise in. That camaraderie, that ability to tap into a network of dozens of audio and video professionals, is one of the things that enables us to go the extra mile for our clients.”
Finding a Balance
As Pandey observes, another factor that sets GC Pro apart is the autonomy afforded to each and every account manager. “We are a large group of people, but we are easily adaptable as individuals to our clients needs,” he says. “That flexibility, I believe, is what really sets GC Pro apart. Even though Guitar Center is a large organization, I make that aspect almost invisible to my clients. Certainly, they can feel it in the areas where it makes a difference, because they get their equipment on time, they get great pricing, and they get great service. That’s the larger organization standing behind us, giving us the support we need.
“But at the same time,” Pandey continues, “for me, it’s very much about personal contact, and about building long-term client relationships. I shake my clients’ hands and look them in the eye. I am a partner in their business, and I have a vested interest in their success. If you show your clients you honestly care about their business, about their success, they can feel that. It’s really the best of both worlds—the ability to relate to the client on an individual, personal level, with the support and buying power of a big company like Guitar Center standing behind you, giving you that backup when you need it.”
Plushner adds, “These days, when you can click a mouse and purchase almost anything, it’s almost a luxury to have that local audio guru available to visit your facility, bring demo equipment to try out, and match whatever price you find on the web. The fact that we can combine that personalized attention with the resources of Guitar Center is what contributes to our success. Items are either in stock or available, in most cases, for overnight delivery. Where else can you find a rare vintage guitar and an HD recording system available for overnight shipping on a nationwide basis?”
Ten Years After
A decade later, the GC Pro organization has grown to include locations in 42 cities nationwide, with a staff of more than 75 people. The company has grown not just in numbers, but also in scope.
“Over the years, we’ve expanded our reach beyond the studio to include live sound, houses of worship, installed sound and more,” says Plushner. “We’re involved in all aspects of professional audio and video. We actively participate in AES and CES, we attend InfoComm and NAB, and we support NARAS’ local Grammy programs nationwide. We publish a quarterly magazine that includes a wealth of articles on technology and profiles of some of our most interesting clients. We reach out to educational facilities, and have well-established relationships with more than 30 audio schools.”
Another important aspect of GC Pro’s growth has been to establish networking beyond their organization’s borders. “We now offer an affiliate program where acoustical designers, architects, systems integration companies and technical services organizations nationwide can offer their talents and services to our clientele,” Plushner reveals.
One of the company’s newest initiatives, GC Pro Installation, has been a tremendous success. “We’re building customized, turnkey, computerbased recording systems incorporating Avid Pro Tools|HD, Mac towers and fully authorizing software systems— everything the customer might need for a turnkey recording system, delivered anywhere in the U.S.,” says Plushner. “It is really taking GC Pro to the next level in customer service.” GC Pro Installation offers in-house GC Pro technicians based in New York and Hollywood, and a network of experienced local systems installers and integrators in the other markets where GC Pro has a presence.
This new initiative was developed in direct response to customer demand, and Plushner is quick to point out that this has been the case since the very beginning. “The main focus of our business has always been about listening to our customers,” he explains. “It all begins with paying attention to our clients, helping them clarify their needs, and offering the correct advice and product solutions.”
And for the people of GC Pro, this first decade is just the beginning. “With the immense growth of social networking, the availability and lower cost of ever more powerful technology and easy connectivity, now is an exciting time to be in our industry,” observes Derek Snyder. “The urge for musicians and audio professionals to create will always be there, and GC Pro will be there to help.”