For most people, accessories are what you buy after your main purchase. For Mike Belitz, accessories are the main purchase. In 2007, he acquired Ultimate Support Systems, a high-end accessories company that offers every kind of music gear-related stand you can think of, as well as studio furniture, cases and more. Then this past January, the big buzz of the NAMM Show was that he’d netted Radial Engineering, the longtime producer of DIs, effects pedals, 500 Series boxes and more, as well as its other brands: Primacoustic, Jensen Transformers, Hafler and Dynaco.
“Despite being separate entities, both Radial and Ultimate share the same core values and appealed to me for similar reasons,” he says. “I am a strong believer in the value of the ‘accessories’ category as a high-turn, high-margin and low-obsolescence area of the market that encourages innovation for the sake of quality-of-task improvements. Both companies exist in the accessories category as premium brands, both enjoy the advantages of the product segments they operate in, and both focus on delivering dependable, innovative products to multiple segments of the market.”
Belitz knows his markets well, having been immersed in them since a young age. Starting out taking lessons from his dad, a world-class player, he became a professional keyboardist, but eventually he moved into the pro audio world. As it happened, he became a product specialist at Alesis around 1990, just before it skyrocketed with the release of the ADAT digital recorder. From there, he moved with Alesis’ exiting management to assist in a startup, Event Electronics, where he worked for three years before going out on his own. “I recognized an opportunity in the western states markets, developing a rep firm called Sonic Sales, which I owned and operated until 2009,” he recalls. “During my time there, we represented several lines—including Ultimate Support Systems.” Sonic became Ultimate Support’s top rep firm, and when the opportunity came to buy the company in 2006, Belitz jumped at the chance.
Now, in the wake of teaming with Vancouver-based private equity firm Regimen Capital Partners to purchase Radial Engineering earlier this year, Belitz sees a number of similarities between the two manufacturers. “Both companies have followed a similar lifetime trajectory with an eye on diversification to help succeed regardless of changing economies and marketplaces,” he says. “In this way, we are not reliant on one particular market segment. The shared core values of each company are the pursuit of innovation matched with quality. We pride ourselves by offering ‘best in class’ products and solutions for several applications. These values, like many of the core products at each company, are not affected by fashion or driven solely by economic trends.”
That said, while the companies have much in common, they are distinct in that they continue to operate as separate entities, and Belitz now divides his time between their two headquarters. Ultimate Support is based in Loveland, CO, while Radial Engineering resides in Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada. Together, the companies have roughly 150 employees and contractors.
“As a relatively small company, I am directly involved in most facets of the business,” he admits. “While I am still in the early phase of my leadership role at Radial, I am approaching it very similarly to Ultimate Support—with growth in mind. If our intention is to improve and grow, it is paramount that we are actively empowering our people while also seeking new talent to optimize the teams. I often joke that I want to surround myself with talent, with the goal of being ‘the dumbest guy in the room.’ If I’ve learned anything in my roughly 25 years of running businesses in this industry, it’s exactly this: Empower, recruit well, hold accountable, grow, repeat.”
Much of the brain trust at his companies can be found in the R&D departments, he says. “We invest heavily in innovation because we are well aware that the strength and backbone of the business comes from solid R&D activity. Having musicians working in each department, too, not only brings a passion to day-to-day operations, but it expands the availability of input at each stage of the development process. Our R&D isn’t limited to the engineering team, but relies on input from sales, marketing, logistics personnel, service team members and just about everyone in the building.”
The engineering and development teams have the tools and resources to act on those insights. The companies’ internal capabilities include full-time machining/prototyping via CNC machining and 3D printing, allowing them to conceptualize, create mechanical designs, test, produce and implement quality control processes entirely in-house.
While Belitz runs the companies with growth in mind, he doesn’t want to necessarily barge into new marketplaces; rather, the two companies are achieving growth by naturally broadening what they do best. “Presently at Ultimate Support our studio furniture lines, pedal boards and our new series of modular device stands account for new market segments, but in all cases, these new offerings are more of an organic or logical progression of product development in market segments we were already serving. We aren’t new to synthesizer, guitar or studio-based products—we simply have developed new products to offer those spaces.”
One line that would seem primed for expansion is the Primacoustic acoustic treatment brand. “The commercial and studio acoustics markets are seeing positive performance and significant growth,” Belitz notes. “The installation market in particular represents a virtually unlimited opportunity, as the awareness of the benefits of treating the acoustics in almost any environment—for health and safety reasons, for example—is gaining traction throughout the world.”
For manufacturers to gain and maintain traction, however, connecting with the customer long-term is key. “We constantly strive to keep our valued dealers and end-users at the forefront of our policies and practices,” says Belitz. “We spend a lot of time internally contemplating whether a new policy, for example, is ‘company-centric’ or ‘customer-centric.’ If the latter, it’s usually a good idea. Nonetheless, I’ve been lucky enough to work with and develop meaningful relationships throughout our industry, with artists, engineers and customers, that have stood the tests of time.”
Looking forward, Belitz expects “an endless stream of updates from both brands in the months and years ahead about new products, categories, logistical improvements and more.” As might be expected, potential synergies between Radial and Ultimate Support are being explored, and the opportunity for them to not merely collaborate but also learn from and inform each other seems likely. As Belitz puts it, “We are all hard at work exploring the many ways in which we can create new tools and pathways to success at every level of both businesses. Whether speaking of our retail and distribution partners, new products, or even the most basic aspects of customer experience, I can assure you that the best is yet to come.”
Radial Engineering – www.radialeng.com
Ultimate Support Systems – www.ultimatesupport.com