With Sterling Modular currently preparing new custom desks for the Avid S4 and S1, we caught up with owner Rick Lawrence to find out what makes their furniture so special, what separates them from other pro audio manufacturers, and what’s in store for the future.
Tell me a little bit about how you got involved with Sterling Modular.
I bought Sterling Modular almost four years ago. It was started by Jim Maher back in 1991. He was working with a bunch of high-end mastering studios and such in New York City. After a stint in corporate America, I decided I wanted to buy and run my own company. I had always been in marketing and business-to-business sales. I was looking for a company that was leading-edge and well respected in the marketplace. After looking at 19 different companies, we ended up with Sterling Modular.
I bought it in November of 2015. Jim and I went to AES in New York in October the month before and everybody there was coming up to him and saying how great the products are and how much they love them. I thought, “Wow, what a company to have.” That was the moment I decided to buy Sterling Modular.
What do you think makes Sterling Modular products so special?
There are so many different aspects of studio furniture. Because Jim worked with a number of very well respected studios, he had come up with a really unique and market-driven design for the product. He’s taken so many different aspects into account, and I’m still leveraging those today. Those aspects have not changed, and that’s why people still continue to come up to me today to talk about how great our furniture is. They know it’s going to last a long time and meet their needs.
We have three major product lines that are really going very well. Our Plan Series, specifically our Plan D, is one of our most popular products. Our Mixer Conversions are designed for each specific console, while the Pro Series line is designed to work with a variety of popular consoles, like a Rupert Neve Designs 5088 or an API 2448.
One major design aspect that we consider on all of our desks is cable access. Find me an engineer who doesn’t buy new equipment or replace equipment. Cable access is critical for us. We have a lot of fabric panels or back panels that can be easily removed. Those panels also cover the cables and electronics during normal use, so you don’t have any unsightly cables sticking out, or different electronics poking out. Everything is very well hidden, but in a way that there’s heat dissipation, proper acoustic treatment, and easy cable access.
Those are all the factors that Jim incorporated into the design, and we’re still true to that today. There are limits to what we’ll do because we want to stay true to the acoustic or the ergonomics or the product.
Since I had come from sales and business-to-business marketing in corporate America to owning my own company, I’ve learned that customer service is absolutely theist critical aspect of running a company whether it’s pre or post-sale. Even though it was important in a large company, it is truly the utmost important thing when running your own company. Nothing can slip through the cracks. You have to be responsive to emails and phone calls.
The other thing that we’re doing that we’re trying to be very responsive to is what I call “drawings on demand.” A customer may have a unit set of requirements, so we’ll make a drawing of our piece of furniture that meets their requirements and sent it off to them to get their approval. That way everybody knows what’s expected and what will be delivered. Those are the types of things that we go through now to make sure that we meet the customer’s expectations. We’re trying to expand that program as well, so it covers not just the custom or semi-configurable products, but to our standard products as well. Even though they’re on our website, we want to make sure that everyone gets a drawing so they know every detail about the furniture they’re purchasing.
How would you describe the company culture at Sterling Modular?
It’s very open, my door is always open. People can come in and ask questions about a design, or the way things go together, or even to complain about a certain situation in the company that I may or may not be aware of. That’s what I feel is the culture I’m trying to foster here. Anyone can talk auto anybody else about questions, improvements, or even interpersonal issues. I recommend that people try to work things out themselves, but if not they’re welcome to come to me and I’ll step in the middle of it and try to resolve it to everyone’s satisfaction.
Because we’re a small company, it’s both easier and more difficult to make sure that everyone is comfortable having these conversations with each other, or coming into my office to talk about a certain issue that bothers them. I want everyone to be comfortable going to anyone else with questions, as well as receiving comments from others.
What’s a typical day at the office like?
Emails, emails and more emails. The phones do ring, but most of my day is spent reviewing and answering emails. I also work with customers for drawings on-demand or doing quotations for different projects. Even though our prices are on the website, I still do most orders by quotation. Especially on custom products or semi-configurable designs. That’s where the drawing on demand really helps me understand what the customer is looking for. I also spent plenty of time signing checks and paying bills. Which, in a way, I’m very happy to do. If I’m ordering a lot of material, I know that things are going well out in the shop and that we’re doing well with sales. So writing out those checks to vendors do not bother me in the least.
Customer service is number one, including the way we work with our customers to sell a standard product, develop a new product, or design a custom product. Because of our design philosophy, we’re really focused on not only what the customer thinks they want, but also other aspects that may not have been considered, like heat dissipation. If electronics get too hot, they don’t perform properly. That may or may not be something they have considered, but it’s something that we have already taken into account. Those are the types of things that really separate us from the competition.
We also happily customize or configure any product (including the wood species for the side trim), to meet a customer’s specific requirements. For example, last year a customer wanted Zebrawood for the side trim. It was very easy for us to do this for the customer. We frequently get requests for furniture that is customized in some way. And, are very happy to do this. I believe this is one of those things people have come to know about Sterling Modular, our ability and desire to do this.
What’s in store for the future of Sterling Modular?
More products, especially for the changing marketplace. As electronics get smaller and you can fit more electronics in a particular size, the need for as much rack space as we offer isn't necessarily a requirement anymore. So we’re developing products for people who don’t need as much rack space, and who want more producer desk areas.
We’re trying to be more responsive to what we see are the changes in the marketplace. That’s why we attend every trade show we know of. We need to make sure that we stay on top of, or even ahead of the marketplace as far as product development. I think we have a great brand and great product lines that are focused on customer needs. That’s really the direction we want to go.
We’re always developing new products. We stopped for a little while because we’ve been so focused on getting out production much more efficient. We’ve been doing a lot of custom work so our design team was focused more on that, but now we’re able to focus more on drawings on demand for every product and developing new products.