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Ampco takes aim at the future

Quietly restructuring its business model over the past few years, the Ampco Flashlight Group has its sights set on cross-border collaboration throughout Europe.

Over the last two years, Ampco Flashlight and its network of companies concentrated their activities mainly on the key territory of Benelux. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came the sale of a Synco Longbow by Martin Audio system to Serbia’s Audio Konstruktor (PSNEurope, February 2014). Time, then, to head to the Netherlands and find out more.

The group may have internationally been a bit more quiet, but it has also been busy – the recent activity from the European network of PA companies marks the beginning of a new era for a strong Ampco Flashlight Group; one in which the company is focused on a new philosophy and vision, supported by both fresh and familiar faces within the company.

Like so many in the live entertainment industry, the Ampco Flashlight Group was hit by the economic crisis of 2008. Just a few years earlier, Ampco founder Eric de Bruyn departed, followed shortly after by CMO Fred Heuves. In order to move forward, a new business model – and a few new people – were needed, as CEO Dick van Berkum explains from the group’s headquarters in Utrecht: “In the past, we owned or were major shareholders of companies in, for instance, France, Belgium and Germany. The new philosophy is that we want to co-operate closely with other European companies without being shareholders – which, by the way, has been the case with the Synco Network in the past as well.”

Today, the new philosophy of co-operation is palpable throughout the 14,000sqm building, which houses management offices, the rentals warehouses, sales offices and the R&D department, maintenance and the group’s own soundstage – all but its rigging and spotlight divisions. Doors are both physically and metaphorically open throughout the building.

Supporting the new vision for the company, and filling the gap left from de Bruyn and Heuves’ departure, is the return of several key staff members to the fold, including former Flashlight manager Dennis van der Haagen. In his new role, van der Haagen has taken on the challenge of running both the commercial and operational sides of the rental business, as well as – gasp! – bringing together the sound and lighting department to function as one unit. Mission: impossible? Van de Haagen doesn’t think so.

“Over the past decade, it’s been difficult for companies to combine these two things,” he says. “With respect to diversity, we are trying to find unity in the way we present ourselves. We are trying to be successful and we’re getting there. It is quite a challenge, but that’s what we like.”

He adds: “In my opinion, in 2013–2014, I think the commercial and operational side of things should collaborate and work together as much as we can. What I’m trying to do is get both the commercial people and the operational people to work together, regardless of if it’s rigging or lights or sound. If we manage to work together within the company we should be able to score out in the field against the opponents.”

Another familiar face back on board is Peter de Fouw, who returned in January this year after a 12-year stint as director of Audio XL. De Fouw is now managing director of Ampco Flashlight sales – responsible for TM Audio and LightCo. Prior to his departure, de Fouw was responsible for sales at Ampco Audio Products and TM Audio.

“There are two reasons why I came back: Dennis and Dick,” says de Fouw. “When I left, they weren’t there. I realise today there are many more possibilities and facilities to connect the whole company together, and Dennis has already started doing that.

Those possibilities not only include the company’s audio and lighting divisions, but also video, rigging, spotlights – Spot Rental is the world’s largest supplier of follow spots – and the MeTrao noise-measurement system developed by its technology company Event Acoustics. “If you look at the sales group, you can see two different activities. One is distribution in the Benelux market; the other is selling the Ampco Flashlight sales group as a whole within and outside those markets,” says de Fouw.

By way of example, de Fouw explains: “We have people [at Event Acoustics] working hard on noise-measurement systems on the biggest events, venues and festivals in continental Europe, but who are so successful that the city of Rotterdam has already bought 100 licences to put in bars to check noise levels overnight. This will prove a cross-border activity, and it’s a hot topic. We’re on top of that with the best possible people. This is where I have two hats on – I’m a distributor in a market, and I’m responsible for a group of sales companies – and we need to expand this into other countries. It’s not even a wish; it’s a necessity.”

What then, of the Synco Network? Founded by Heuves, the idea behind the Synco Network was a novelty in the live entertainment industry at the time: partners were offered a ‘plug-and-play’ PA package – amplifiers, cables, rigging – with guaranteed compatibility should the need arise to source extra kit from partners within the network.

Today, the idea of a plug-and-play system is widely embraced by several big-name PA manufacturers. “It shows that the concept was a good one,” says Heuves – still a shareholder of the Ampco Flashlight Group, and currently acting as a consultant to the business ¬¬¬– with a smile.

“There’s not much sense in repeating that kind of concept because it’s already there, so that changes the whole idea of the Synco network. It is a challenge to figure out how to move on from that and give the partners the support [the Ampco Flashlight Group] gave them as the locomotive of the Synco Network.”

Enter Marcel Albers, who joined the Ampco Flashlight Group as Synco’s commercial director in January 2010. “I stepped down from the idea two years ago that Synco is only about boxes,” he says.

“Synco should be a state-of-the-art network of PA companies that work together. The work can be handled by our own equipment, but also by other equipment. More importantly, [network companies] have to try to act as a group and develop their people – educate them, have them work together and do their marketing together, then you build a state-of-the-art network. That’s the philosophy behind the idea.”

Currently, Albers is still in the process of renewing the network and the development of products. “Synco was a novelty in the live entertainment industry, and we will keep on developing future Synco products. These new products will be innovative niche audio products for the benefit of the Ampco Flashlight Group and the network partners.”

Just one of many next steps ahead for both the Synco Network and the Ampco Flashlight Group, whose team of directors all share a common goal (as described by Albers): “We have the philosophy of co-operating closely with other European companies, working together, expending the existing network and being a solid competitor in other markets.”