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Industrial Gadgetry

Inside a former parts warehouse on the campus of Harman International Industries Inc. is now an “experience center” for the audio components company’s Harman Professional Solutions brand. The 15,000-square-foot center in Northridge has areas highlighting the various uses of Harman Pro speakers, microphones, headphones, lighting and other equipment products sold through its brands such as JBL and Martin in performing arts, retail, hospitality and other settings. David Glaubke, director of corporate communications for Harman Pro, said that more than 1,000 customer visits have taken place since the experience center opened at the end of last year. “We are at the epicenter of the recording industry, the motion picture industry, the touring industry and even corporate and education,” Glaubke said. “All these organizations need Harman in some kind of way.” Harman International, based in Stamford, Conn., is owned by Korean conglomerate Samsung as a subsidiary in its electronics division. Its San Fernando Valley campus is home to the professional products division of Harman that serves live entertainment venues, stadiums, corporations, hotels, churches, retail stores and musicians and bands. In the Los Angeles market, Dodger Stadium and Staples Center use JBL speakers and components. Six Flag Magic Mountain in Valencia also uses Harman Pro equipment. Elsewhere in the world, the company’s products are found in the situation room of the White House, Grand Central Station and the Lotte Tower in South Korea. The College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta and the 550-foot High Roller Ferris wheel in Las Vegas are both illuminated with Martin lights. Trade show pullback The experience center is Harman’s way to show off its products in a single location and expose clients and potential clients to what it can offer. “We look at what they need as it applies to all of our products rather than as a standalone sell,” Glaubke said. From a corporate strategy standpoint, the experience center replaces Harman Pro’s presence at trade shows. The millions of dollars that had been going toward appearing in convention centers around the world was instead redirected to Northridge, and experience centers that have opened in Singapore and Shanghai. The newest center opened early this month in London. But Harman isn’t totally getting out of the trade show business. The company will still make appearances at large shows like NAMM, held every January in Anaheim, InfoComm in Las Vegas and ISE in Europe, which bills itself as the largest audio-visual component trade show in the world, Glaubke said. “There are a lot of others we are not going to be putting that much of an investment into anymore because our investment is here,” he added. Cathy Breden, chief executive of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, said that her organization’s research shows no downward turn for trade show attendance or exhibitors. In fact, its economist expects the global trade show industry to go into an expansion phase for the first time since the Great Recession. In 2017, U.S. trade show attendance was at 33.8 million, up from the 33.1 million the year prior. The number of U.S. exhibitors was flat at about 1.4 million, while the net square feet of exhibition space sold grew to 304 million square feet last year from 298 million square feet from a year earlier, said Breden, who also serves as chief operating officer of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, a Dallas-based trade group. At some point in the future, Harman Pro may rethink their decision to skip trade shows, Breden said. “One of the benefits of trade shows is you have access to people you would not normally see otherwise,” she explained. “It is good for lead generation.” Audio-visual tour The hallway leading into the experience center features Harman’s three Grammy Awards for technical achievement and gives a glimpse of what is to come as it demonstrates how different products work together. A large Samsung LED screen takes up the wall at the end of the hallway, with music playing from JBL speakers and lights flashing from Martin lighting. It is all coordinated by controllers from AMX, another Harman Pro brand. “At a touch of a button, you can reconfigure the experience,” Glaubke said. Retail is the focus of the first display inside the center. It employs cameras that heat map customers to give an idea of where they are going and how long they stay in front of certain products. The cameras can detect the gender of a shopper and tailor marketing messages for them projected on a screen and using JBL speakers and Martin lighting. There is sensor technology that can identify a product when it is picked up and shown on a screen are the product’s price and other specs. “That is all the stuff that is possible in a retail location when you bring all this technology together,” Glaubke said. Elsewhere in the center are displays for a futuristic conference room; huddle spaces, or small meeting areas where for less than $2,000 Harman Pro products can create a connection for remote gatherings; for theme parks to distribute video and audio to multiple screens from a single location; and a connected room found in hotels and cruise ships. On this last example, Harman Pro partnered with IBM Watson to create an environment where a guest can turn off lights, close drapes or switch channels on the TV with voice commands. It is also a concierge service that can make dinner, spa or tee time reservations, Glaubke said. “These are customizable, so you can say, ‘Hey, Marriott’ or ‘Hey, Hilton,’” he added. As a pilot program, the company has deployed the connected room product in 50 patient rooms at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. Health care providers claim that 10 percent of their time is spent setting room temperatures or looking for lost remotes, Glaubke said. “With something like this, you are giving that 10 percent back to (the health care worker) who can use it for critical care,” he added. Music industry clients Michael McDonald, president of ATK Audiotek in Valencia, called the experience a tremendous asset for his company to show clients equipment they could use in audio system designs. ATK has done design and installation work for big name Silicon Valley tech companies and for sports venues like the Coliseum in Los Angeles and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. “This experience center gives us the opportunity to bring people in and really understand the products, the advantages of the products before they make a commitment to buy,” McDonald said. His company has built a lot of its business around Harman Pro products as they are high value, cost effective and come in a broad product portfolio, he added. Musicians are a big market for Harman Pro and they are represented in the experience center as well. On display is a full range of microphones costing from $400 to $8,000 and headphones with different applications from club DJ to sound engineer that range from $150 to $1,500. There are also home recording studio setups that cost less than $1,000. From its decades-long experience of creating stadium sound systems, Harman Pro developed a high-performance multichannel portable public-address system that comes with a six-hour battery life for use by musicians or singers when they perform in public. It is also handy for church and corporate events. For a club setting, the company has inserted chips into its AKG microphones and DBX direct injection boxes for the guitar that when plugged into a mixing board are already pre-mixed for a performance. “All a band needs to do is set up, plug in their instruments and the mix is already there,” Glaubke said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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