Even though we are going through very difficult times, find out why Armadillo Enterprises CEO Evan Rubinson is optimistic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for manufacturers and retailers, to say the very least. But we asked Evan Rubinson, CEO and president of Armadillo Enterprises, if he has seen positives during these times, if he is optimistic about the future and much more. Fortunately, optimism abounds in this interview.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Please tell us about your family, career, time at Armadillo Enterprises and music background.
Evan Rubinson: I grew up entrenched in music. My father, Elliott Rubinson, owned Thoroughbred Music, the third-largest music retail chain in the country at the time. I remember jumping up on a drum riser at one of his stores as a little kid and banging on the drums so loud that a sales guy came up to me and started yelling. At that very moment, my father happened to walk up, and I jumped off the riser into his arms … the sales rep’s face dropped. My mother would always joke about how mortified and apologetic he was for yelling at the owner’s little kid. I guess you could say that was my first foray into the music industry. When I turned 10 years old, probably because my father was such a phenomenal bass player, I really began to gravitate toward that instrument. I worked a full summer in his warehouse sweeping floors and moving boxes to get my hands on this metallic silver Dean Razor bass. After I got that thing, I was on cloud nine. I remember jamming to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” with my pops in the basement, and the Ampeg was so loud that my mom would just leave the house.
The Retailer: What is the greatest advice you have received?
Rubinson: Hands down the best advice I have ever received is to never make decisions off of assumptions. Unless you have something verifiable, never predicate your response on what you believe, what you hear or what people say.
The Retailer: Armadillo manufacturers and distributes a diverse product line, including Dean Guitars, Luna Guitars and ddrum. Tell us about your diversification strategy and if it is difficult managing the product line.
Rubinson: Armadillo Enterprises holds a myriad of brands: currently Dean Guitars, Luna Guitars and ddrum percussion. The diversity and complexity of these brands cannot be overstated, and that creates a lot of opportunity, as well as a lot of challenges to manage. Each brand has a very different vibe and caters to a very different audience. Dean is a flagship brand with an iconic history, iconic shapes and iconic artists. Luna is a newer brand that has been met with immense success over the past 15 years, growing 680-percent the last six years. ddrum is an iconic electric drum brand, but we are not only returning to our roots with a focus on the electronic side of things, we have also been hard at work actively redesigning our acoustic line, starting with the all-maple Dios series. The unique nature of each brand enables us, as a company, to reach that many more people, who we are able to bring the gift of music to: artists, consumers and fans alike. It’s certainly a lot to manage, but I have a great team, and it’s well worth the effort. To boot, as a little sneak peak: I am starting a new brand that will be announced in 2021!
The Retailer: COVID-19 had a huge effect on all manufacturers and retailers alike. How have you gotten through these times?
Rubinson: We have been extremely blessed despite the terrible effects COVID-19 has had on families, their loved ones, businesses and the broader economy. Although we did suffer from some short-term manufacturing issues overseas, we had a great stock of inventory in place before coronavirus hit, and we have been able to remain open and fully operational throughout the entirety of this pandemic. We enacted appropriate health and safety measures early on, throughout the offices and warehouse, and fortunately, we have had no issues. We have been one of the few musical instrument companies to remain open during these times, while also being able to adequately ensure the safety and integrity of our staff. This has not only been a blessing for our company, as it has enabled us to be hiring at this time instead of laying people off, but it has also been a blessing for certain dealers who have remained open and desperately need product to keep their shops alive.
The Retailer: During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, did you still see strength in some areas of your business? If so, what areas of the business? Did you see strength regarding people playing instruments at home?
Rubinson: I can tell you that our online business with retailers is booming right now, and that’s because we were able to recognize the paradigm shift toward ecommerce channels early on in the pandemic, and made the appropriate adjustments to our business model to better accommodate our dealers’ and consumers’ needs. We put forth a great deal of effort toward equipping our dealers with the tools to successfully navigate these treacherous waters, and ultimately find success online.
The Retailer: Are you optimistic about your business in what we hope will be a post-COVID-19 time in the future?
Rubinson: I am very optimistic for the future of Armadillo post-COVID-19. However, I am also optimistic in the midst of COVID-19. Consumers and their demands do not dissipate, they merely morph. As long as I continue to work to understand how to better serve my customers’ ever-changing needs and demands, there will always be viable ways to make things work. People are itching to get back out there and make up for lost time, but I believe we are in a “new normal,” and businesses and consumers alike are beginning to accept that concept and adapt to it. With that said, there is no online substitute for aspects of this pent-up consumer demand. Once retail stores begin to sustainably open back up, a rising tide will indefinitely lift all boats, but those that did the proper planning during COVID-19 will certainly emerge as standouts.
The Retailer: How about the MI industry in general? Do you see a bright future and why?
Rubinson: The musical instrument industry is contracting every single year, year-over-year. My long-term view is that it is direly important that we — as an industry — create the next generation of players through teaching, and by creating better financial opportunities for artists. How companies choose to handle the continuing COVID-19 situation will certainly exert a big impact on the industry as a whole, as well.
The Retailer: What were some of the lessons you learned during the pandemic, and are there changes you will make permanently as a company based upon what you learned?
Rubinson: I always try to find the silver lining in things, so for me, COVID-19 was a tremendous learning experience in terms of driving greater company efficiency. I have a saying, “Necessity is the mother of all innovation,” and I believe that holds true here. Without being faced with some of the challenges and impediments that COVID-19 posed, we wouldn’t be able to run as efficient, lean and focused of an operation as we are today.
The Retailer: Sadly, there has been no MI trade show since January, and there are no more scheduled in the United States this year due to COVID-19. Therefore, how have you gotten the word out about your products?
Rubinson: This is a great question because it doesn’t just encompass tradeshows, but also concerts, tours, festivals and educational gatherings, as well. Everything changed with COVID-19, and a lot of it is how you adapt. I have refocused our marketing budgets toward categories that will yield the greatest benefits considering our current landscape. This includes empowering dealers with the tools and knowledge to utilize online platforms to their benefit, repositioning ad spends toward digital opportunities, working with key artists for unique content, and working heavily on integration between our PR firm and our internal marketing department in order to remain nimble to consumers’ and dealers’ needs.
The Retailer: Can you highlight some recent product launches your company has introduced recently and how each individual product stands out from the competition?
Rubinson: This year we released a few really eye-catching products for each brand. I’ll break it down:
As for Dean, the induction of iconic thrash metal legend, Kerry King of Slayer, constitutes one of the most high-profile product launches for the Dean brand to-date. The 50-piece, limited edition USA custom run consists of the following: three-piece, maple, neck-through construction; high-intensity fiberoptic side markers; Sustaniac neck pickup; Kahler Kerry King signature tremolo; EMG Kerry King signature bridge pickup; EMG built-in pickup booster; hand-signed by Kerry King on the back of the headstock; custom Dean/Kerry Kingbranded premium hardshell case; certificate of authenticity signed by Dean CEO and Kerry King; Dunlop Kerry King signature strings; and custom Kerry King Dunlop picks.
We will also be releasing an import line of Kerry King guitars in Q1 of 2021. Stay tuned!
In terms of the Luna brand, we have a series called the “Vista Series,” which has been wildly successful. This series has encompassed myriad acoustic guitars, as well as an acoustic bass, but until recently, it never incorporated ukuleles. One of our newly released, and most striking additions to the Luna family, is the Luna Ukulele Vista Deer Concert. This model truly embodies the spirit of the Luna brand, a perfect synergy between aesthetic beauty and tonal functionality.
And ddrum just re-released an old classic and crowd favorite called the “Dominion Series.” This series comes in a five- and six-piece configuration, both complete with the following: European birch shells; exotic ash outer ply; Remo heads; and matching snare with die-cast hoops.
The Retailer: Any tips for MI retailers that sell your products during these difficult times?
Rubinson: The main advice that I would give any MI retailer during these trying times is to leverage your online presence as much as possible, connect and engage digitally with your audience, develop your future strategies and plans, and rely on your key partners to help you through this pandemic. Selecting the right partnerships — for a dealer and manufacturer alike — are key. If the relationship is strong, there is no storm that a dealer and manufacturer can’t weather together, and that has been proven by my experiences throughout COVID-19.
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