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Crosby, fills and Bush: The Warehouse at 35

Jon Chapple catchs up with new Warehouse MD Derek Blair as the Edinburgh sales and hire company celebrates 35 years in business

Not many companies can lay claim to having supplied audio equipment to Muse, Walt Disney Studios, the Edinburgh International Festival and Her Majesty The Queen – but then Leith-based The Warehouse Sound Services is not many companies.

The Warehouse was founded in February 1980 by Cameron Crosby – a veteran of the Grateful Dead’s 1978 shows at the pyramids of Giza and Kate Bush’s The Tour of Life, for which he designed her now-famous headset mic – and Allan Brereton – a freelancer, along with Crosby, for The Who’s ML Executives hire company. The business, reportedly the largest supplier of pro-audio equipment in Scotland and the north of England, turned 35 last month – a remarkable achievement, says new owner Derek Blair, especially considering it still has “quite a few customers that have been with us from the [very] start”. (The Argyll Street HQ is pictured.)

Sales director-turned-managing director Blair, who completed a management buyout in March, has been with the company since 1994 (although “I had known Cameron since my school days as I used to hire equipment from The Warehouse for school shows,” he explains) and plans now “to boost turnover with expansion into new market sectors and the addition of a third branch in the near future”.

“About five years ago Cameron, Allan and myself [pictured, L–R] sat down and looked at how the company would go forward when they both retired,” he says, commenting on the background to the acquisition. “At this point I said that I would like to buy them out, as I didn’t want to work for anyone else. Over the next three years we started to look at how the three of us would devolve our roles to other people within the business, as well as look at any skills shortages [that might occur following their retirement].”

Comprising sales and hire businesses, as well as The Justin Case [flightcase] Company, The Warehouse is – along with SSE – one of only two British d&b sales partners, and was responsible for the UK’s first d&b install, at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, in 1993.

Outlining the relationship between the two companies, Blair explains: “About 25 years ago Simon Johnston, who is a friend of Cameron’s, came to see him to demo some loudspeakers he’d never heard of. At this time we had Meyer, Turbosound, EAW and Bose in our hire stock. Three years later Cameron designed the new sound system at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness with d&b loudspeakers and amplifiers – the first installation of d&b in the UK.

“When I joined The Warehouse in 1994 I was presented with d&b, as we were a dealer. I had very little knowledge of this brand and products – I thought it would be very difficult to sell because you had to sell a system with d&b amplifiers. Up to this point I had been selling Bose and Turbosound using different brands of amplifiers [and] felt that the mass market wouldn’t take to being told they had to buy d&b amplifiers as well as loudspeakers, especially as most hire companies would already have an existing inventory of other amplifiers. How wrong I was: d&b is by far our largest-selling brand and has been for more than 15 years.”

Like Amber Sound’s Graham Paddon (‘Amber gambler’, PSNEurope May 2015), The Warehouse wound down the installation side of its business when it realised it was competing with its customers. “Now we offer design, sales and sometimes commissioning services to these companies without competing against them for the same contracts. The same goes for other hire companies – we sell and hire equipment to some of the largest rental companies in the UK – again, we aren’t competing against them.”

Other equipment for sale (“one of the best product portfolios in the UK”, says Blair) includes products by Avid, Audio-Technica, EM Acoustics, RCF, Midas, Yamaha, Shure, Sennheiser, König & Meyer and Klotz, while non-d&b hire stock comes in the form of L-Acoustics, RCF, Bose and EM Acoustics loudspeakers, Avid, DiGiCo, Midas and Yamaha digital desks and “over 1,500” Shure, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Neumann, Coles and DPA wired mics. (When asked for his opinion on the most exciting new products on the market, Blair chooses the Avid VENUE S6L and Yamaha TF Series mixers, d&b Y-Series speakers and Shure PSM300 IEM system.)

The company also specialises in high-end radio mic and communications systems – over 250 channels of Shure UHF-R are complemented by additional channels of Shure Axient, Lectrosonics and Wisycom and Sennheiser EW300, Shure PSM900 and Shure PSM1000 IEM systems.

The Warehouse’s sales department, comprising “more than 50 per cent” of The Warehouse’s turnover, sells nationwide to hire companies, installers and broadcasters, with the hire business focussing on dry hire and operator hire into to the broadcast, theatre, corporate and live sound markets. The company also has a royal warrant – as a sound equipment provider to HM The Queen – and a storied history in TV and film, including as a supplier to the BBC for over a quarter of a century.

Blair comments: “As a company we have always been heavily involved in film and television. Allan has worked on many feature films including Gregory’s Girl, Local Hero, The Godfather Part III and The Commitments… the Shure 55SH microphone used in [Good Morning, Vietnam] and on the publicity material is owned by The Warehouse, as the prop department needed a microphone to use in the radio studio – [and] Cameron has worked on […] BBC Hogmanay Live, Dr Finlay’s Casebook and Tonight’s the Night, to name a few.”

Although Blair admits that pro audio, especially in Scotland, is a “mature” industry. “When we started there were only about four [Scottish sales/hire] companies,” he says. “Now there are now over 30.” The new managing director has big plans for his 21st year at the business, including a new branch in England and expansion into the education/training sector and nightclub installs.

“We are looking very closely at the education market,” he explains, “in terms of supplying equipment and services to aid the next generation of people who want to work in our industry. Another growing market is supplying the club installation market – not directly, but via the specialist companies that service this sector. We are currently in talks with some manufacturers who have products specifically targeted at this market.”

“I think our success is very much down to having the right staff – some of whom have been with us for more than 20 years – [and] constantly look[ing] at what we offer our customers in terms of equipment and service,” Blair concludes, when PSNEurope asks him for the secret to The Warehouse’s success.

“We have grown organically, we’ve never overstretched ourselves in terms of resources – including financially – and have over the last 35 years built the business bit by bit by carefully developing client and supplier relationships.”

Here’s to the next 35 years.