Dealer of the Month
There's been an explosion in the North West. Entertainment in Lancashire is as vital and dominating today as it was in the 30s and bands, cabaret artists and disc jockies are hard put to satisfy the demand. Before you start a second Klondike rush, you need specialist knowledge to be successful. S.A.I. has more than most.
Partly by luck, but mostly by judgement, Bob Dewhurst and Mick Atherton were in the right place at the right time to service this explosion. In September 1968 the pair — both ex-TV repairmen — decided that the music market was set to expand in a big way in the Northwest. That was the time of the mobile discotheque's climb to fame (many musicians would say notoriety) and it was an obvious move for the partners to look at that market first.
They called themselves Sound Advice Installations (S.A.I.) shrewdly leaving the club and industrial sound equipment installation market open. The outfit was based in Standish and they started out very cautiously making one or two amp and disco units. The premises were in Preston Road and slowly the S.A.I. equipment started to sell. Mick made them and Bob sold them.
Bob's always been a dealer and he's always made personal contact a priority. The original shop sold other things besides S.A.I. equipment and Bob rapidly built up an understanding of artists' needs on the equipment front.
The distinctive S.A.I. logo was designed for the company by a department at Wigan Technical College and later in the company's career it became a point of contention when another, larger, electronics company applied to the High Court to stop S.A.I. using it.
"They thought that our initials might be confused with the initials they used on products, even though they weren't in the same field as us. It took a couple of years for the thing to be decided but in the end we won."
S.A.I. won battles in many other fields as well. As the disco business boomed so did the fortunes of S.A.I. Bob and Mick — now joined by designer Jim Collings — decided that the group market wasn't being catered for properly.
"We decided that although the needs of the musician were changing," said Bob, "the equipment wasn't keeping up with the changes. We set about designing certain items of group gear and they quickly proved very successful."
Just over 18 months ago S.A.I. moved into a large warehouse in Regent Street, Coppull near Chorley. They did some major conversion work on the interior which included building a stage at one end of the warehouse.
"One of the problems that bands always have is testing equipment under gig conditions. By providing a stage it's possible for a band to set up, use an item of equipment in gig surroundings and judge it's performance on that basis. We often have bands who come down and set up all their equipment and we spend many evenings helping them to choose the right gear"
The venture into group equipment proved to be as successful as their disco market and they have gained a high reputation as both a manufacturer and retailer and bands from all over the Manchester and North West regularly visit the showroom.
On the hoary old subject of disco versus live music Bob says: "I'm aware that many musicians feel that the disco has done them out of work. Like everything else that is new it had a boom during which time things were hard for some bands, but now it's levelling out again and the good bands are getting plenty of work and the good DJs are O.K. as well. It's the bad bands and DJs who have suffered and that's probably a good thing."
The national breakthrough for S.A.I. came when the company exhibited at a trade fair in 1973. The trade started to take the brand seriously and within a few months SAI equipment was finding widespread acceptance.
S.A.I. today is far more than just a retail and manufacturing operation. The banner now covers activities such as hiring and sound equipment installation.
Export is becoming an important word at S.A.I. A large number of professional disco consoles have recently been exported to Scandinavia for use in the Blow Up Discos there and if you're in the USA and you dial the central business computer in New York for information on companies who make professional discotheque equipment, out pops S.A.I.'s name.
"We're just exploring the export possibilities now," says Bob enthusiastically. "The disco market in the States is about to explode and we're in at the beginning. The Board of Trade are very helpful to exporters, and things certainly look very good for us."
Malcolm Maguire manages the S.A.I. showroom. He was in the car trade until last December when he joined S.A.I. He's always had strong musical connections, though.
"I may be old-fashioned but I still believe the customer is right," says Malcolm very emphatically. "Service is what we believe in here and if we haven't got something a customer wants instead of shrugging our shoulders and saying 'no', we'll go out and get whatever he wants.
"There are going to be major changes in the showroom here. We're having it completely redecorated and we're also building a studio on the side. At first I should think it'll just be a DJ studio but later on we'd like to enlarge it for bands."
S.A.I. also has a rapid turn round on repairs.
"I think we can fix something almost as soon as it's wanted," says Malcolm. "Usually with a few hours notice we can do something in half a day, but if something's really urgent we'll do our best to mend it very quickly.
"Most of the people who visit us are based locally. People we've had in recently have included Bunny, Wigan's Ovation, The Real Thing, The Chance, Russ Winstanley and Wilma Reading. Picadilly Radio also uses all our gear for outside stuff. We had to do a sound system for Peter Noone and Herman's Hits (be careful not to say Herman's Hermits) recently and we've just installed a P.A. system at the Park Hall Cabaret Lounge. Some of the cabaret venues round here are really big and can hold thousands. So the sound system has to be really good."
The S.A.I. retail showroom is a Fender Soundhouse and a Gibson Star dealer. A fantastically wide range of amplification is stocked and there's also a wide range of new and secondhand guitars.
"We'll take anything in part exchange," claims Malcolm, "doesn't matter what the gear is, even if it's tatty, we'll give a fair price for it."
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