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Dennis Zink:     Scott, what exactly is Crowdfunding?


Dennis Zink:    Bob is the former CEO and chairman of J.R. Clancy Incorporated in Syracuse, New York. The 129 year-old international company is the leading designer, manufacturer and installer of theater rigging equipment, everything that you need backstage for performance.

Bob bought the company in 1982 after sales, marketing and financial positions with RCA and Sony Corporations. He very successfully turned around the company from a two million dollar company in sales to over $32 million before selling it three years ago. Bob holds a Bachelor of Science and finance from Villanova University and an MBA in marketing from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. As I mentioned, Bob is also a SCORE mentor.

Bob, we’re here today to talk about quality as a marketing tool. Could you please define what you mean by using quality as a marketing tool?

Bob Theis:       Sure, Dennis. Although my company had started quality initiatives back in 2002, I’d only believed that the product quality was something that was only perhaps cost beneficial. In other words, it was kind of a defensive strategy. In 2005, three years after becoming ISO certified, I had begun to believe that quality could be used to actually drive sales. Quality could be used as a marketing tool, and that’s exactly what we did.

My company was 116 years old when we actually got quality religion. I believe that quality which includes the product itself and the service aspects of it as well can be number one, ultimately used for cost containment, number two, I think it’s the right thing to do, and number three, it can be a very, very effective tool for driving sales and profits.

Dennis Zink:    What exactly did your company do if you can go into a little more depth explaining that?

Bob Theis:       Sure. J.R. Clancy was started in 1885 in Syracuse. It is probably the ultimate niche company. It designs, manufactures and installs theatrical rigging equipment and systems. For example, we did everything backstage. You actually probably have seen some of our equipment back in high school. If you go backstage, you see the pulleys and ropes. That is the Vanilla version of what we did.

We also specialized in performing arts centers. We did everything at the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, The Kauffman Center in Kansas City, The Art Center in Miami, we did many, many Las Vegas showrooms … That’s really the fun part of what we actually did.

Dennis Zink:    That’s quite a resume.

Bob Theis:       Yes, it was great. We had great fun. Our company employed mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, construction project managers, we had accountants, we had machinists, we had steel workers, and these were the people who actually did all of the backstopping for Bob Theis, and they were just terrific. We’re located in Syracuse. The company is still alive and well in Syracuse. 

The interesting thing is that we were such a niche company. We’re probably the ultimate niche company that people really … You’d have to explain to people what we do, but everything backstage.

Dennis Zink:    How many employees did you have?

Bob Theis:       We had about 50 or 60 people in Syracuse, and then we would actually hire crews as we needed them. Our philosophy was that there were certain things that we didn’t do well like there are some machining operations that we didn’t do well, so we would go out and we contract out that and bring it back in and do the final assembly in house, but 50 or 60 full-time, and then crews as well.

Dennis Zink:    I’m dying to learn about what you did at Sony because I know you were involved with both the Walkman and the Betamax and the stories I’m sure are fascinating. If you could explain a little bit how that influenced your thinking going forward.

Bob Theis:       Sure. Back in the 1970s, I had the very good fortune to be with Sony. At the time at which we were sort of so to speak ‘The King of the Hill’, and we were really rocking at the time. One position I held was as director of advertising for Sony when we actually introduced the Walkman that obviously was a huge hit and then it became morphed into the MP3 players that we see today.

Another position I held at Sony was actually proved to be much more important to me as well. I was the project manager and product manager of the infamous Betamax which ultimately was one of the great business failures in American history. I was at the epicenter of it.

At the time of the introduction of the Betamax which was in the mid ‘70s, it was a revolutionary product. It would transform … You could time shift TV shows from then to now, and ultimately it became today what we use as DVRs. The VHS came out a few years later and they had a product which could record longer, so it was up to six hours while the Betamax only had a two-hour recording. That was a huge competitive disadvantage for us.

We invented a contraption which would affix to the Betamax, and you could actually stack cassettes in them so that you could actually have four cassettes stacked which would give you eight hours versus the VHS which had a six-hour. While it sounded great, the contraption didn’t work. In fact, it was a mechanical failure. Very often, I would get phone calls all the time from customers who are really, really, really upset. 

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