Seventy years is a long time — nearly the life expectancy of a human being, and many times longer than most businesses are able to last.
But that’s exactly the milestone Almo Corp. reached this year. Unlike a bleary-eyed septuagenarian, however, the A/V and major appliance distributor is looking as sharp and nimble as ever, scouring the industry for ways to innovate like a bunch of fresh college grads launching a startup.
Almo was founded in 1946 in Philadelphia as a distributor of radio tubes by partners Albert Margolis and Morris Green (“Almo” is a portmanteau of their first names).
The distribution company transitioned through the following decades by successfully buying and selling off divisions as market opportunities came and went, including an industrial parts business and a computer parts division — all while maintaining a core business built around consumer appliances.
It wasn’t until June 2009, however, that the company applied its decades of distribution know-how to the commercial A/V market in the guise of a new division: Almo Professional Audio/Visual.
Sam Taylor, now the unit’s executive VP and COO, had approached Almo with the proposition of integrating his background in the pro A/V field into the company’s already extensive business.
At the time, that background spanned nearly a quarter of a century, most of it with former video display distributor Electrograph Systems, where he served as president for 15 years.
“Seven years ago Sam came to us, he believed in what his people could do, he saw what our culture was, and this team really worked well together,” said Almo president/CEO, Warren Chaiken, who is the grandson of founder Morris Green.
Back then, Chaiken noted that “expanding into the pro A/V space is a logical extension of our core distribution business. However, we recognized that the customers in the professional space have unique needs. We wanted an experienced leader to help us establish the division specifically for those integrators. We are delighted that Sam has joined us to bring the expertise needed to build the business not as a hybrid of the consumer division, but created specifically for the pro A/V customer.”
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Today, seven years later to the month, Almo Professional A/V boasts the most advanced product distribution, training, education, and technical support options available to the pro A/V community, thanks to a highly skilled sales team, reseller education programs, and a full array of channel-specific product lines that are provided to integrators across the country through its parent company’s seven distribution centers.
“And really when it boils down, it’s not about the inventory that we have in our warehouse,” Chaiken continued. “It’s about the people that we have and the dedication that they give to us, as well as to our customers and our vendors, to add the value that we do in the marketplace day in and day out.”
Adding value is indeed one thing that Almo Pro A/V does to separate itself from the competition. Two years ago, it began offering its content-creation services in response to customer demand for assistance in creating and selling digital-signage solutions.
“Our customers were buying digital-signage products from us and integrating it into projects, but they were coming to us and asking for places where they could develop content for their end-user customers,” Taylor said. “So we looked around, and there really wasn’t a good place to send them. And we decided that this would be a good value-added service for us to provide for our integrators.”
Not only does this simplify the lives of Almo’s integrator clients, it also opens an avenue for them to earn recurring monthly revenue (RMR), Taylor noted.
Since adding this service, Almo has gone on to offer two more service programs: installation services, which provides companies with a pool of independent A/V contractors to temporarily supplement their workforce for tackling extra-large jobs, or to work outside of their geography; and Almo Connect, enabling integrators to earn RMR by specifying custom bandwidth solutions from the likes of Comcast and Time Warner for high-use clients, such as universities and hotels.
Almo’s Philadelphia headquarters also houses the distributor’s newly expanded Almo Pro A/V division.
Taylor said the company is also exploring the possibility of rolling out a programming service to help integrators handle difficult or large-scale control systems.
So, while Almo Pro A/V could be spending this milestone year by looking back on its past, it’s made it quite clear that its primary concern is the future. Its small celebrations — highlighted by Almo Corp.’s ceremonial donation of 70 trees to Philadelphia last month for the city’s “Love Your Park” week — have been overshadowed by forward-thinking moves like its acquisition of IAVI.
But according to Chaiken, calculated deals like the IAVI acquisition are just something the company has always done throughout its history, and he plans to keep Almo on the same path going forward.
“I think we continue to keep doing what we’re doing,” he said. “We run a marathon; we’re not sprinting to do what we need to do. We’re patient; as a private company, we have that ability.
“We don’t need to worry about Wall Street,” he concluded. “We run our business in the vision that we’ve created over the past 70 years, which is slow and steady growth — one that we believe in as far as a value add, and one that we believe in regarding our people.”