It’s two years since MI Pro last visited Lamba – and it’s time for a catch-up as this stalwart of the UK industry has entered its 60th year.
Lamba began life in 1952 when Charlie Irish, father of the company’s current chairman, Frank, set up a business selling components for the then fledgling UK hi-fi industry. Since those days, Lamba has reinvented itself more than once. From the hi-fi business, it transformed itself into a major importer/distributor of DJ and audio products, but even then, Frank Irish (who began running the company in 1973) was starting to get uneasy about having the future of his business based on distributing other people’s products.
It was a realisation that many others in the music industry didn’t fully grasp till after the millennium, when brands started to change distributors at a bewildering rate, but Irish’s determination for Lamba to be in control of its own destiny resulted in the launch of its own brand, KAM, in 1982.
KAM’s assured success in the (then) booming disco industry was one thing, but Irish had his eyes cast further afield and KAM started to make the crossover from being primarily a DJ brand to serving the MI side of the industry as well, with reliable, functional and affordable PA gear. And then there was the launch of the impressive Parbar lighting system, which finally promised to make lighting a product MI retailers could confidently sell to musicians and performers.
Parbar was very much part of Lamba’s strategy to move the company closer to the MI industry – offering a range of products actually tailored to the needs of musicians and performers, not simply adapted from the DJ world. So how has the transition been going?
Lamba’s technical director, Paul Bierton, who developed the Parbar system, admits it hasn’t been a quick conversion, but says they are getting there. “The Parbar system did help open some doors as it was very much aimed at the band market,” he says, going on to explain that one design feature of the original system, the foot pedal control, has now been replaced with an IR controller – a change brought about as the result of feedback from users and retailers.
Another strategy to help KAM move more firmly into the MI market has been the appointment of Callum Talbot – well known in MI retailer circles – as Northern area sales manager, while Frank’s son, Jack Irish, has joined as Southern sales representative and Gordon Clarke has taken over as Irish area sales manager.
The augmented sales team has a lot of new products to offer the trade. Last year the KWM1900 wireless series was launched, offering handhelds, bodypacks, headsets with built-in transmitters and a guitar bug. All the receivers and transmitters are battery powered and coming later this year will be new in-ear monitoring and 2.4GHz wireless systems.
“We’re hitting some key areas for cross-fertilisation between MI and DJ products,” Bierton says. “We’ve also got a new portable line array system, which has tremendous applications in the MI industry and we’ve introduced two ranges of injection-moulded active speakers.
“The portfolio that we showed at Frankfurt was of a very high standard manufacturing-wise. The way we see it now is that there isn’t a DJ industry and an MI industry – there’s just one thing, the entertainment industry. The KAM philosophy has always been ‘professional, affordable’ and what we try to do is give you a price tag that delivers higher specs than you would expect for the price.
“We have to thank the dealer network for a lot of what we’ve been doing. A lot of the ideas and development come from going out and visiting our dealers and listening to what they say. The dealers are on the frontline, they’re the unsung heroes – they know what their customers want and when it came to designing a line array I’ve taken something like 20 or 30 points that have been suggested by them and put those into the product.”
When quizzing retailers, Bierton must have heard grumbles about the reliability of some of the cheaper Chinese-made products on the MI market, so has Lamba taken any special steps to set itself apart from this problematical area?
“It’s all about being there,” says Frank Irish. “You just have to go to the factories in China and ensure the quality. I go at least twice a year and Paul goes about six times – all the time trying to improve the products. Another factor is that a lot of our products are actually made in Taiwanese-owned factories, under their supervision, and that makes a lot of difference. Quality is vital and we take a lot of trouble to make sure KAM offers great products.”
KAM cheerfully inhabits the ‘affordable’ sector of the PA market, where competition isn’t scarce, so what does Irish feel makes it a strong bet for retailers?
“One obvious answer would be margins. We fight tooth and nail to maintain a healthy margin for our customers,” he says.
“Some things haven’t changed in our 60 years,” adds Bierton. “We still employ strong reps who call every four weeks and who will iron-out any issues and properly support the retailers. We know that service matters and we also understand that if there’s no profit, there’s no point – we never lose sight of that.”
The T-word? Lamba doesn’t supply Thomann, and Frank Irish says no amount of boost to Lamba’s turnover will change his mind. It’s all about margins for his retailer customers, he says. The same applies to Amazon, he reveals.
And for the future? Think lasers.
“We’ve developed some completely innovative laser safety features and incorporated them in a new product that’s very similar to the traditional moving head or scanner,” Paul Bierton reveals. “It takes a laser image and means you can put it into an aspect of the room through a 120 and 90-degree pan and tilt. To do that, because of UK regulations, you need to have a beam cut-off and we’re the first company to have achieved that.
“We now have a range of pioneering 3D hologram lasers and they meet all the latest safety standards. We’re the first company to do that and they are very suitable for the solo performer or band market, as well as the traditional DJ area.”
The drive to make KAM a major MI brand continues, working with a convergence between traditional MI and DJ stores, which Irish and his team have been watching with the satisfaction of people who saw it coming many years ago.
Lamba may be 60, but it’s showing nothing but benefit from its age and seems as determined as ever to cover new ground.