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Industry talk: Gineke van Urk, Iemke Roos Audio

Van Urk has been MD of one of the Netherlands’ oldest pro-audio companies since 2003. We drank her coffee and ate her sandwiches at ISE in February

As MD of Iemke Roos Audio – Dutch distributor of Active Audio, Audio-Technica, Vicoustic, Nexo, Symetrix, Genelec and DAS Audio – Gineke van Urk is one of the Netherlands’ most prominent pro-audio personalities. Working under Iemke Roos until his death in 1988, van Urk has since steered the company through acquisitions, bankruptcy, the euro and the Great Recession ¬and lived to tell the tale…

For those unfamiliar with Iemke Roos, tell us a bit about the history of the company…
Our company was founded in 1969 by a guy called Iemke Roos, and it was actually one of the first pro-audio companies in the Netherlands. The first brands we had were Electro-Voice and Crown, which came from the US – and that was kind of special, because nobody [else] had that. Slowly but surely, [we signed up] more brands – mostly American brands, because in Europe there was not that much produced – and Iemke was [also] very successful as a manufacturer of DJ mixers at that time.

In ’88, Iemke passed away at the age of 43. About a day before his passing, he sold the company to a French firm called SEV Audio. In 1992, the borders in Europe opened – there was free traffic of people and products – and they had a vision that they would have companies in several European countries, so they bought us first and then bought a company in London and one in Belgium. Finally, they sold the whole group to a large company involved in audio but also in all kinds of other stuff, which went bankrupt in 2002.

That was a problem for us because we were strong within the group of companies – we were making money, we had some money in the bank – but, all of a sudden, because we were part of this group we couldn’t get any supplies unless we paid beforehand. So that made it a bit difficult…

So, I made a plan and I bought Iemke Roos from the group. That was in 2003. And [at first] it seemed to go all well, but [before long] there were brands leaving us and a crisis set in… But, finally, we’re here.

When would you say things started to get back on track?
I would say that 2008 to 2012 were very bad years for us—

Obviously exacerbated by the world economy at the time…
Yeah, yeah. And in 2013, it got a bit better – we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. We had been a rich company in terms of not too many debts and a building in the company that we’d already paid for, so that’s how we managed to survive. And in 2014, it went much better… and this year it’s going really well.

How healthy is the Dutch market in 2015? What’s the view from inside the country?
It’s getting much better in the country and in our main markets.

We used to do a lot of business in MI – music stores – but that is almost gone; the traditional MI stores can hardly survive because of the competition from the large internet retailers. So, we’ve lost a serious part of our marketshare there – we have some […], but it’s not our main business.

What we’re doing more and more of are complete projects. We don’t do it ourselves because we only sell through dealers or contractors, but we’re seeing that most of the contractors we do business with are getting into a much better shape.

We recently started selling a brand called Vicoustic. Since we took them on board, that business has been unbelievable. (PSNEurope visited Vicoustic’s headquarters in Oporto last summer: see Veni, vidi, vici: PSNEurope visits Vicoustic and Vicoustic’s César Carapinha on the future of the recording studio.)

They make some great products. It’s amazing how much difference acoustic panelling can make…
I haven’t been there, but some of the guys from our company went there last year […] and were impressed by the demonstration Vicoustic made. We have one customer who is very much into the hardcore DJ business – he’s actually working on the studio of DJ Hardwell right now – and he says it’s a great product.

And it doesn’t have any software! It doesn’t have a power cord! Just stick it to the wall, and if you don’t like it you can pull it off and buy something new.

How long ago did you take them on?
I think it’s now, what – four-and-a-half years ago? I wasn’t too keen […] but the guy that does all the studios had found the product and had found a distributor in Holland to do it for him. But it was a difficult relationship because the distributor didn’t have anything in stock, so he came to me and said, “Why don’t you take it on?” And I said, “Oh, man, it’s bulky and my warehouse will be full and I don’t know what to stock”, and he said, “I’ll help you.” So now when we order, we call him first!

It’s been doing very well for us. Better than expected.

And Nexo seems to be going from strength to strength…
Yes, it’s wonderful product and company that we love to do business with. But it’s not always easy: There is a lot of competition, and The Netherlands is not a huge market where we see that some of the major rental companies have their own distribution companies, too, so they won’t buy from me!

You’re a female managing director in a male-dominated sector. Is that something you often think about? Do you see yourself as carrying the torch for women in pro audio?
In the beginning, when Iemke got ill and I started to do part of his job, at the first international meeting I went to somebody opened the door and said, “Good morning, gentlemen!”. And I was like, “Ahem!” [laughs].

So, in the beginning it was strange – I was quite young; I was 28 when [Roos died] – but, fortunately, Iemke made many friends internationally and they all sort of took care of me in the beginning. And, nowadays, I’m in pro audio but I’m not a technician […] but I still feel totally accepted.

My team has been with me for many years, but during the time when I was hiring people I would ask them how they’d feel about working in this business and having a woman as a boss… but it doesn’t matter to most people.

You become one of the guys!