This industry profile originally appeared in the December/January 2019 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.
There is a word that Mark Macdonald uses to describe key events in his life: horseshoes. I get it. Timing and circumstances. But on my recent visit to The Sound Room in Vancouver, the shop he owns, I came to realize that there was more to it.
Having grown up in Scotland, at 13, Mark tapped into the scheme that has armed entire generations of kids with spending money - the paper route. He'd spend the fruit of his labour at Bruce's Record Store, and often visit the local HiFi Corner and persuade the manager Phil to let him listen to Spendor BC-1s and a Mission 772/771 pre/power combo driving them with an Ariston RD-80. "One day, this guy walks into the sound room where I was listening and asked if I had any jazz. So I stuck on some Oscar Peterson and he asked ‘how much?' I said 4,000 quid and he said, ‘I'll take it!'" Phil offered Mark a job on the spot. First sale: 1981. Horseshoes.
HiFi Corner also organized a hifi show. On the first day, Mark, who was now studying electronic and electrical engineering at Dundee College of Technology, met who he called his hero, Farad Azima, Founder of Mission Electronics. Farad's sales manager offered Mark a job, and at the end of the final semester, he headed to Cambridge to work for Mission as an assistant engineer. "Just three days in and I was sitting there with Henry Azima (Chief Designer) working on a new speaker. Seriously? You want my opinion? I was on cloud nine working with these rock stars."
By 1988, Mission had set up offices in Discovery Park in Burnaby to build computers, and decided to run a hifi division out of there, too. Henry had already emigrated to Vancouver and was doing R&D. "In January 1989, with my mother saying, ‘You're going where?', I took my first transatlantic flight. I didn't know where British Columbia was."
By 1992, Mark was working out of the Vancouver office. Then, Mission assigned him the western territory. Three weeks later, he went to CES. "Joe Strigl, the buyer of A&B Sound, said that he thought we could do some business. We kicked off with a promo that gave away a VW Golf. Other speaker suppliers got on the phone to A&B's Fred Steiner wondering what happened to their sales. At that time, A&B was expanding, and worked its way all the way to Winnipeg." More horseshoes.
Mark met his wife, Debbie, an Edmonton girl, at A&B Sound. "We got married in 1995. Lived in a wee apartment in the west end. In 1997, we had Dexter, my son, and in 2000, Grace was born."
Mission North America's Howard Pleet decided to extend a U.S. distribution deal with Denon up to Canada and opened negotiations with Denon Canada's Doug Griesbach. "I thought I was losing Mission and didn't know what was going to happen. A short time later, I was at CES doing presentations in the Denon/Mission theatre. Doug Griesbach and the President of Denon, Japan were in the room. I guess I did okay because afterwards, Doug offered me the BC territory. So I kept Mission, and got Denon." Horseshoes.
After the implosion of A&B, Mark thought his luck was running out. Shortly thereafter, he was at a bar in Denver sitting next to Sound Plus' Doug Argue. "There was a guy at the other end of the bar and Doug excused himself and went over and started talking. They kept talking and then looking over at me and then talking again and then looking over at me. Doug came over and introduced me to Bruce Schepers [who was running Pioneer Canada's business at the time]." Bruce hired Mark to be his trainer and presenter, right in the middle of the Kuro explosion when everyone wanted Pioneer plasma TVs. "Then suddenly, I was selling AV receivers and even car audio. Then I joined Evolution. The growth phase of Savant was so much fun!"
In November 2014, Mark was called to a jobsite in West Vancouver by Paul Jasich, a partner in CGM Electronics. Paul was installing a Sharp TV, Pioneer Elite receiver, and Savant system - all lines for which Mark served as a rep. Mark solved his problem, and asked if he'd heard about The Sound Room closing its doors. "'You know what would be funny?' I said. We should buy it! You wouldn't have to run it, I'd run it.' I went home and told Deb. She said, ‘Well, you've always talked about owning your own store.'
Monday morning, Paul invited Mark for a meeting, and said that after speaking with his partners Garth and Reiner, there was a possibility they may be interested in his ‘plan.' "'What plan?' I asked. "‘To buy The Sound Room!' Oh that plan! A one-line ‘plan.'" Three days before the end of the month, we came up with a fair number. We got the name, the telephone number, the website, customer list, et cetera.
Four years in, Mark reflects. "It's terrifying. I was on my own through most of my career. Now I'm managing a team. Not just putting bread on my table, but everyone else's, too. So many moving parts.... Three revenue streams: Website. Retail Store. Custom Division. But I'm grateful for the opportunity."
Horseshoes? As I jumped out of Mark's BMW M3 at the Skytrain, I had an old saying going around in my head. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.