A Factory Visitby Roy Hall
“It was the Armani coat that sealed the deal,” said Mike Creek.
“What Armani coat?” I asked.
Music Hall, my company, had been in business for about two years and I was doing quite well but I had no cash. My first product was a Revolver turntable, which I introduced to the US market in 1985. As I was new to the industry I had no idea that turntables were on their way out, and CD players were in. Never underestimate the value of ignorance. Introducing a new turntable in the mid-eighties was madness but I was too inexperienced to know this.
About six months prior I had picked up distribution of Creek Audio out of London. The line consisted of 2 integrated amps and an FM tuner and they were selling quite well, but I needed a pair of speakers to complement the line. At that time, the hottest small speaker on the market was the original Wharfedale Diamond. I decided to call up Wharfedale to see if they could make something for me. I spoke to the export manager, told him my tale and he said, “How would you like to buy some Diamonds?”
“But isn’t Harvey Rosenberg your US distributor?”
“Yes, but he owes us a lot of money.”
I asked the price and the minimum order quantity and said I would get back to him.
I made some phone calls and discovered that there was quite a demand as the speakers had been unavailable for a while. I soon sold about 50 pairs when I called the now-closed J&R Music World.
J&R was a very successful audio and music store, which had been around since the early seventies. In the eighties they dominated the New York electronic and music scene. I spoke to the buyer and asked if he needed any Diamonds.
“You have Diamonds?”
“I can get them.”
“How many can you get?”
“How many do you want?
“Four hundred pair to start?”
My heart stopped.
“Can I have a purchase order?
He mailed it to me (This was pre email and even FAX)
I called Wharfedale to order five hundred pair. They were thrilled but asked for all the money up front.
I was broke.
I contacted my father-in-law, showed him the PO from J&R and he very nicely agreed to lend me the money. I sent the money off to England. About four weeks later the speakers arrived and I delivered the order to J&R. Never having done business with them, I sweated for about six weeks and finally the check came. It was quite large, enough for me to repay the loan and come out ahead. I continued selling Diamonds for over a year and sold thousands of them. The factory invited me to visit to see if I wanted to be their US distributor but after listening to the rest of the line, I realized that the Diamond was a mistake. The other speakers were terrible and I am convinced the Diamond was just a lucky combination of parts that magically played music. We parted amicably and I have to say that Wharfedale gave an early boost to the fledgling Music Hall.
A few years later I met the Wharfedale folks at summer CES in McCormack place in Chicago, which, to this day, I think, was the best venue for that show. The sales manager introduced me to the managing director of the company. He said,
“This is Roy Hall. Remember all the Diamonds he bought? He was the one who saved our bacon.”
It turned out that the company at that time was in financial trouble and my large purchases (on borrowed money) helped to keep them afloat.
I had been selling Revolver turntables for about a year when I heard that Mike Creek was looking for a new US distributor. My friends at Linn Products made the introduction at a Hi Fi Show in the north of England and Mike Creek and his brother-in-law, Ian, presented the line and explained the ethos of the company. I listened to the amps and decided that they sounded amazingly good. I told Mike that I would be returning to the UK soon and would like to visit him and his factory in London.
The factory was in the back of Mike’s house, it was small but seemed to be well organized and was very busy. This was in 1986 and Creek was a market leader in the UK. At that time, Mike had a lousy US distributor, who wouldn’t order anything until he had received prepaid orders from his customers. This was no way to run a business.
Mike took me upstairs to meet Susan, his wife. She was particularly beautiful and spoke with a sultry English accent. Quite a stunner! Susan ran the business side of the business while Mike the manufacturing arm and Ian, the sales. I was mightily impressed. I was new to the business and this seemed like the big time. I spent a few days with Mike and Susan and Mike basically agreed to let me distribute the line. When I returned home, I found there was a real dearth of musical products in Creek’s price points and business really took off. So much so that within a couple of years the US had become Creek’s number one export market. Mike expanded his lineup over the years but one day asked me if there was any little product he could make in addition to his current line. I asked around and one of my reps suggested a stand-alone phono amp. Mike thought it a good idea and he quickly produced one.
We showed it around and it was an instant success. Over the years thousands were sold worldwide and it spawned a whole range of small box phono amps, DACs, and headphone amps.
The first one was called OBH-8 then OBH-9, 10 11 etc.
Mike had asked me to name the product, as it was my baby. Eight years prior to this, I had contracted testicular cancer and had a testicle removed.
The 8 was for 8 years of being cancer free, The OBH stands for, “One Ball Hall”
It’s been one of our most successful products.
A few years ago, on the telephone, I asked Mike why he chose me to be his distributor. I knew that quite a few other companies had approached him.
He answered, “It was the Armani coat that sealed the deal.”
“What Armani coat?” I questioned.
“The one you were wearing the day you visited us in London?”
“I don’t own an Armani coat.”
“Yes you do. Susan said that you must be rich because of the raincoat you were wearing.” The only coat I could think of was a raincoat I picked up years ago on sale in Macy’s bargain basement. I went to the closet and checked the label.
It said, “Armani”
This article first appeared in PS Audio’s Copper Magazine, Issue 49.