The success of the Chino, CA-based manufacturing company Manley Labs is largely due to the dedication of its President, EveAnna Manley, who since taking over the company in 1996, has spearheaded many of the company’s initiatives, from design to manufacturing to promotions.
While Manley didn’t formally study audio engineering, her success comes mainly from years of observation and experience, working with many of the industry’s top engineers.
“My dad owned AMPEG in the late 1960s, so I grew up hearing about how big, powerful vacuum tube amplifiers couldn’t be beat, so I guess you could say the brainwashing began early for me” Manley said.
Eager to start her own career in the music industry, Manley took a semester off in 1989 and moved to California with three phone numbers of her father’s former employees with the hope that one could lead her to a new career.
“The first guy didn’t answer the phone, but the second man steered me towards ‘two crazy South Africans building tube amplifiers in Chino,’ and while that sounded quite bizarre, I went to check it out, got a job and rented a room from David and Luke Manley at Vacuum Tube Logic of America. That is where I learned how to solder and build gear.”
With her new job with VTL, Manley gained first hand experience in every aspect of running a successful company, from setting up production lines, to creating purchasing and inventory systems, drawing out schematics, testing models, and figuring out how to improve the quality of the company’s gear.
In 1993, Manley and then-husband David Manley broke away from VTL and opened Manley Labs in an 11,000-square-foot facility down the road. By 1996, the couple split, and Manley purchased the company and took over the role of President. “I dug in and kicked ass,” Manley said.
Manley Labs specializes in designing and manufacturing professional studio and HiFi audio gear—specifically mic preamps, equalizers, limiters, compressors and more. Manley said that the company has a strong focus towards mastering studios, where pro audio and audiophile components combine.
“I think these two worlds meet at the pinnacle in the mastering studio, which explains our longtime devotion to the craft of mastering (so much so that I married a mastering engineer!). We do not forget that we are in the audio business and so the next decision after ‘does it function?’ is ‘how does it sound?’”
As the company has grown, Manley attributes her personal success with it to the constant first-hand experiences she gains in the factory every day.
“You know, I didn’t study recording or electronics beyond college physics, but I suppose by studying music, I learned how to observe and process data logically,” she said. “I come to my factory to solve problems and figure out solutions every day.”
Running the company and remaining hands-on inside the factory has also been one of Manley’s biggest challenges, she said. “The hardest progression has been evolving from an entrepreneurial mindset where you’re strapped for cash and don’t have enough resources to get help, so you end up learning how to do everything yourself and working seven days a week doing everything yourself. You’ve got no time to think about the future when you are overwhelmed with yesterday’s tasks that you didn’t get to.”
The company has now grown to about 30 employees, and Manley said she is now working with a strategic advisor for setting goals and hiring new people to the company to continue to help it grow. As a result of this, the most recent hire to Manley Labs is Rick McClendon, leading the sales and marketing team.
“Rick has decades of industry experience working for much larger companies than mine, and thus brings us up a level so that we can strive to grow and ‘be a bigger company’ someday,” Manley said. “Rick works closely with Dan Hughley in the office to prepare for trade shows, create ad campaigns and manage the incoming dealer orders and sales programs. Rick also works with several outside contracted sales people and rep firms to help wrangle and train the American dealers.”
Manley also recently hired Zia Faruqi to lead the design team with 20-year Manley employee Humberto Rodriguez, and the company is working with several outside technology vendors and contracted design engineers. Paul Fargo continues to run Manley’s tech support and customer service department, with assistance from Gamma Ibarra.
When developing products for the company, Manley said she makes sure the company caters to what the customer wants. “It is about listening to these specialized engineers, and to our customers, to find the next gap we can fill. This keeps us fresh and exciting. We have a few new pro audio projects that are nearing completion that we’ll release in 2014. One is a cost-is-no- object thing with about five years of R&D behind its creation, and the other is a recording unit that will have a wider appeal due to its friendly price.”
Price is a big component to Manley’s future projects as well, as the company is working to offer the same or higher quality products at a more affordable price-point.
“We are finally striving to deliver new designs that are more affordable to a larger group of musicians and enthusiasts. We don’t do this by buying cheaper components or building the gear outside the US, but instead get more clever with the layout and the build so that it can be assembled quicker, and engineer out time-consuming or extraneous fluff from the design. We get there by embracing newer technology and working with different engineers around the world who bring the knowledge to us,” Manley said.
In terms of competition, Manley said that it’s less about trying to outdo another company, and more about trying to work as a whole to grow the industry.
“I have forged life-long friendships with many of my fellow manufacturers as well as several mutually lucrative business alliances. We’re compadres, not competition. We are all stronger together,” Manley said.
Looking to the future, Manley said she has already purchased a new building in Pasadena, where she plans to build two mastering studios.
“We want to move our sales and marketing team to the new facility, and we are also going to build a fantastic demo room for Manley HiFi gear,” she said. “The studio designs have been done by Thomas Jouanjean at Northward Acoustics, and the plans were approved by the city of Pasadena and we are about to start construction. The factory will stay where it is in Chino, CA—not to worry.”