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How to build a brand that lasts over 50 years

In this ongoing series, we share tips, tricks, and insights from real entrepreneurs who struggle in business daily. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)



Paul BartonPSB

Who are you and what is your job?

My name is Paul Barton. I am the founder and chief designer of PSB. We are a Canadian consumer audio company that designs and manufactures high-end loudspeakers for the residential market.

What were your first inspirations?

I was initially inspired by my love and passion for music as a violinist in my youth and watching my father build a violin for me to play with his time, care and passion for detail. I would call it a catalyst. Combined with my discovery and curiosity in early HiFi audio reproduction, I realized that I could potentially make a living by marrying my love for music with an ability to conceptualize, design and build loudspeakers. It was all about a hope and a wish, however, and I think the real “aha” moment came a few years into my journey as an entrepreneur, after we had developed a prototype based on intensive research that we were doing on the acoustic measurements. It outperformed the competitive set we were using as benchmarks, which were the best examples of speakers we had access to at the time. It confirmed to me that we could be competitive and that our methods, which weren’t considered orthodox at the time, were sound (no pun intended…okay, maybe a little willful.)

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How did you differentiate yourself?

We started the business as an early form of secondary hustle allowing me to go to college (engineering) while spending evenings and weekends working in the business. The differentiation came when we had access to the National Research Council (NRC) research facilities in Ottawa early in our growth. It gave me a deep understanding of what was important in loudspeaker design and the different ways to achieve that performance. I could make the right compromises to ensure we could retain 95% of the performance at 10% of the cost and that helped differentiate the brand as good value speakers.

Passive 50 Anniversary Edition Floorstanding Speaker ($2499). Credit: PSB Speakers

How has research-driven product design given you a market advantage?

Loudspeaker design has been and still is in some ways a kind of “art”, as designers play with various design structures and materials to try to optimize the fundamental laws of physics of sound reproduction and try to guess what consumers around the world might like in terms of listening preference. PSB took advantage of being the first consumer audio company to cooperate and partner with a research institute, the National Research Council of Canada, which wanted to use subjective and objective loudspeaker measurements to create a extensive database of listener preferences to help Canadian designers better understand what global consumers like to hear when listening to music. Once PSB learned what factors brought our designs closer to listener preferences, we never really looked back.

What were the risks you took in the beginning?

My time at NRC gave me so much access to academics and experts working in the field of acoustics that conducting my product research there provided me with a more focused and specialized learning opportunity than any other. any university could offer. When I realized this, I decided to focus on the business rather than finishing my studies, which was a tough decision and felt like a professional hazard, especially since I didn’t know if the business would succeed. However, looking back, I don’t regret it since I was able to pursue my passions through my company with tons of engineering opportunities that I might never have acquired otherwise.

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Perhaps another risk, which I think a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with, is knowing when to bring in other partners and who to bring in as a partner. It can sometimes be difficult to be sure that a partner, especially if taking a majority stake, will retain the essence of the brand or operate with similar philosophies. When I decided to partner with Lenbrook, another Canadian company, and sold them a majority stake in the company, it was because I knew they were a perfect complement to my skills and interests, and that they had the capital resources to help make PSB a global company much faster. .

What other benefits emerged once PSB became part of the Lenbrook family?

The main benefit of the Lenbrook partnership was to properly capitalize PSB and then grow from a brand available only in Canada to a globally recognized speaker brand available worldwide. The strong capital base allowed us to expand the portfolio and transform new generations of products more quickly, which was fundamental to being taken seriously by the best dealers. This was especially true in the fiercely competitive US market, where we had no “at home” advantage. Lenbrook’s worldwide distribution relationships in the HiFi industry were unmatched and this proved to be the fastest and most cost effective way to scale the business.

What’s the best advice you can give to other passionate entrepreneurs looking to start or grow their own business?

My story would be one of following my personal passions and being propelled by the natural energy of working on the things you love to do – it really hasn’t felt like “working” for 50 years. The other thing is to be secure enough to know your own limits and partner with other people you can trust to run all other aspects of a successful business; many entrepreneurs fail because they exceed their limits. It was actually a relief to partner with Lenbrook so I could focus on the things I loved to do and the things I do best, and leave the other things to other people who could do better. do it or who liked it better.

Who has been your biggest influence and was there a single moment of inspiration that you consider most significant?

Obviously, my dad was the biggest influence on my career choice and inspired me to pursue my dreams. I also have to say that Lenbrook founder David S. Simmonds taught me a lot about being a true entrepreneur in the most business sense. He also inspired me in terms of character traits that really set some entrepreneurs apart from many others, namely ensuring people’s ability to trust everything you say and do and to do with your word. your link.

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To what do you attribute PSB’s longevity? 50 years is a long time!

I think our longevity is the result of finding a good formula and sticking to it. We have worked very hard to maintain a principles-based approach to product development that is based on sound science. That’s why every PSB product, whether it’s a bookshelf speaker, subwoofer or headphone, at any price, retains a distinctive PSB sound signature and is acclaimed for its “performance for value” compared to products that cost much more. It’s our recipe for staying relevant in a highly competitive and crowded marketplace.

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