Interview: '˜Most Amazing Hi-fi Shop' to make big noise in Edinburgh
The public will decide whether to hurl bouquets or brickbats, but for company director John Carroll the transformation of a stone-walled shell in Leith’s Commercial Quay into audiophile nirvana marks the culmination of a great deal of blood, sweat and tears.
In business now for more than two decades and encompassing two retail operations that cover the Edinburgh and Glasgow markets, largely autonomously with differing product line-ups, as well as a distribution arm – Renaissance Audio – Loud & Clear has built-up a loyal customer base, that, thanks to word-of-mouth and the power of the internet, spreads well beyond these shores.
In that time it has been at the vanguard of technological changes and trends, be that digital music storage and streaming, the home cinema explosion or the recent revival in vinyl record collecting.
As a result of this growth, the business as a whole now supports 15 full-time staff and has a turnover knocking on the door of £3 million.
Carroll, who oversees the Edinburgh end of the burgeoning audio empire, sees the flagship capital store as the next big step in the company’s journey.
“We have always wanted to raise the bar in everything we do,” he says. “That brings with it the issue of never emulating but always forging your path. The rewards are always fruitful as our clients, suppliers and staff feel proud to be part of the story.
“With the unique environment we had created at our previous store at Bonnington Mill I felt the urge to push for something really special. I use the phrase ‘make music an experience’ and the new outlet will stimulate and provoke emotions within our customers and staff.”
While Carroll concedes that the investment ploughed into the business over the past 20-odd years is “too vast to track”, a significant six-figure sum has been directed at the Leith venture. The result is a store that features state-of-the-art wiring and lighting, service area and cutting-edge demonstration room where customers will be able to audition and compare some of the finest audio products from around the world, including several top British brands such as Linn, ProAc and Rega.
And in a bid to create more of a “social feel”, the store also incorporates a coffee bar, designed and crafted by Edinburgh-based designer Tom Foottit.
“We have worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day for the past two-and-a-half months agonising over every detail of the fit out,” says Carroll – a firm advocate of the bricks-and-mortar approach to retailing.
“When it comes to audio and music, an online purchase is cold and meaningless,” he argues. “Music and indeed movies is about that point of triggering emotion to make the correct choice.
“That can only be done correctly through the personal experience of testing the equipment we supply. It is also best done in a relaxed environment. The bricks-and-mortar approach also gives our clients and suppliers a confidence of our ongoing existence.”
Edinburgh is a city blessed with a disproportionately large cluster of independent hi-fi retailers, including James Morrow, long-established Hi-fi Corner and recent addition Audio-philia.
Carroll acknowledges the competition but points to L&C’s “experience and knowledge”, adding: “We are fortunate to have the best staff and products in the industry.”
The new store also promises to cater for budgets of all sizes. “We work from £50 headphones or a vinyl album for £18 all the way through to £500,000 systems,” notes Carroll, who has been involved in the industry “on and off” for some 35 years.
He says: “During that time I have been a retailer, manufacturer, importer, exporter and business consultant. I have also stepped away from the industry several times – in the early days to do three years of management training, then later to run an off-road driving experience centre. However, the world of audio and music is my great love in terms of work. We celebrated our 20th birthday last year and are looking to grow again this year.”