The spring NAB Show is approaching. Between now and then Radio World will conduct several short Q&As with manufacturers about their plans and offerings, to help you get the most out of the big annual trade show. Ben Palmer is sales manager for Arrakis Systems.
Radio World: How has business been for the company since last year’s NAB Show?
Ben Palmer: 2015 was a wonderful year for us. We have been continually introducing new product each and every year, and that has been what has kept us on top. Adding Bluetooth to our ARC series consoles has been well received, and given us a competitive edge over alternatives. It’s the same story with our automation. For our latest generation in automation, we introduced Digilink-Xtreme. This product has evolved significantly over its lifespan, and has done really well. It started on Windows XP, and now has seen four operating system updates, including Windows 10. We have since introduced two new members of the family, New Wave and Digilink-HD. New Wave is focused at Internet radio and smaller stations who don’t need all the features of Digilink-Xtreme. Digilink-HD rounds out the family as our new flagship automation. Digilink-HD is especially beneficial for medium to large groups, who want to manage multiple stations from central locations. Overall, we have seen a significant increase in automation and console sales as a result.
RW: What are you hearing from your customers about their business outlook this year? In what areas should we expect growth or the most interesting projects?
Palmer: We work with some of the best customers in the world. These guys are the definition of entrepreneurs and know how to make their businesses successful. And the reason why this particular segment comes to us is because they know they will get a great value out of our consoles and automation. A lot of our customers are return customers and are fortunate enough to be expanding their operations. I just spoke to one recently who is doubling their number of stations and wanted more of our automation.
Another positive aspect to 2016 is it is an election year. This means that we will see more stations investing in their studios, and update some of their aging equipment. I fully expect this to be a great year.
RW: You’ve been active in several radio broadcast markets, hardware, software and furniture for years. What’s the biggest problem or challenge facing users in one or more of these segments right now?
Palmer: Just like every significant purchase in life, it often takes a bit of foresight to predict when it is time to update your aging studio. It’s easy to think that your 20-year-old DOS automation system and 30-year-old board will keep ticking along, but the last thing you want to do is be off air and desperately trying to make a choice on automation or consoles. About once a week I will get the panicked call asking if we can get a system shipped out quickly. Luckily enough, we keep most of our product in stock, and are able to accommodate a need, but I definitely recommend doing scheduled upgrades — which may mean replacing your studio equipment prior to its poorly-timed death.
To help our customers even further, we also make our product affordable. A decade ago, you needed to save a significant chunk of change to buy a console or get an automation system. Now we sell our automation for only $100 a month, and our boards at a fraction of the cost of what they used to be. This doesn’t mean that the customer should procrastinate the day of their purchase, but that should make it a little easier to do the purchase at the right time.
RW: Is it more difficult these days for companies that make different types of equipment rather than those that specialize in a niche category?
Palmer: Ask any economist, diversity is great. We don’t want to give any other companies any ideas, but we have thrived with having our three families of products (automation, consoles, furniture). We have often seen cycles in sales throughout every given year. This happens for many different reasons, but in short, this diversity keeps us in the black year round. It is the same reason we have multiple tiers of automation. We often find that some segments do better than others, depending on the time of year and economy. Overall, the diversity leads to long term sustainability, and as a result, the years are fairly predictable for profit.
We also do very well domestically and internationally. So if you see a slow-down in one area of the world, you can usually count on the other parts to still make purchases.
One thing that companies like ours need to be smart about is purchasing. We have a state of the art purchasing system that we developed in house. With such, we are able to keep real-time numbers on every part and product in our facility. That gives us the ability to keep our company lean and profitable.
RW: What new goodies will your company be showing? Why should attendees visit your booth?
Palmer: This is going to be one of the most exciting years for us at NAB. We have been receiving a lot of requests from customers about IP, and we are answering that call. We are debuting the most affordable IP solution that you can find in radio and professional audio. We are calling it Simple IP. It is Dante-enabled, and AES67-compliant. We fully predict this to open up new opportunities for our customers. As most know, IP can be very expensive, and a big commitment. We are going to be offering a product that is extremely affordable, modular in nature, and versatile. The versatility stems from the fact that you will be able to use it with any analog or digital equipment. With all the IP chatter over the last couple years, we are excited to join that chatter, and will be showing it off at NAB.
Another big announcement will be coming with an addition to our automation family. It will be called RADIO~wav, and is the ultimate solution for any station that is doing Internet radio. It will have a ton of features, and an even more impressive price point.
Customers will definitely want to stop by. We are at booth N2835 in the North Hall.
RW: What do you anticipate will be the most significant technology trend at the 2016 NAB Show?
Palmer: For the radio industry, you are hearing a lot about IP for consoles, and Internet radio for automation. I expect NAB 2016 to be on the same path that our products are taking, and will be very exciting to show off all our new development.
RW: How has IP technology affected your company (if they have relevant products/services)?
Palmer: The beauty of IP is that it makes wiring simple and effective. Traditionally, it had been expensive and limited, due to proprietary protocols. With the introduction to AES67, it is now realistic for radio stations to convert to IP. This is a big reason why we have jumped in head-first with IP and are excited about our Simple IP product. Simple IP will both break the price and proprietary barriers for radio. You can now connect any of our analog or digital consoles (or any device, for that matter), using our Simple IP boxes, to another Simple IP, or AES67 compliant studio. This is very exciting, and great timing for the industry.
RW: Social media is the new marketing frontier these days. Is it affecting the way your company does marketing/business?
Palmer: A lot has changed over the last 30+ years we have been in business. The Internet has been just about the best thing to ever happen to the consumer. It provides a plethora of information that the customer can now access, and has been our greatest asset. Social media is a product of this connectivity, and definitely another marketing medium that has a lot of potential. It is a great way to connect customers to each other and for us to advertise our product more effectively. Though, we find, old school print advertising still has a significant pull. The ultimate goal of all these different mediums is to draw more to our website, which we have seen a large increase year over year.
RW: You're in the North Hall, how do you like the new hall/floor layout?
Palmer: We’ve been in the North Hall before, and loved it. This year we have a prime spot and are excited about. With 30+ years at NAB, we have been in just about every hall at one point or another, and our customers know how to find us.
RW: You’re a show veteran, what’s your favorite thing about the show?
Palmer: The funny part about having so much excitement going into NAB, is that I myself am not sure if I will be able to make it. The good news is that I have my third child on the way, and the baby is due on April 21. The bad news is that I am not sure if I will be able to make it to the convention as a result. I’m crossing my fingers that the doctor’s expected date is off by a couple weeks, and that I can still sneak down and see all of our friends at NAB.
NAB Show Booth: N2835
Radio World invites you to register for a free NAB Show Exhibits-Only pass using our VIP code: LV9443.
To see more show Q&As visit our NAB Show 2016 Web page.