When the opportunity to join Optimal Audio arose, Raf Willems didn’t hesitate. A twenty year career in the Audio industry which began with residential sales moved swiftly into the commercial audio sector with Apart Audio. When Apart was acquired by Biamp, Raf took on the position of Head of Business Development for Europe, as well as the additional responsibility of managing Biamp’s Retail and Hospitality team. An impressive career indeed, and one for which Optimal Audio it seems, was tailor made as the next challenge.
“The chance to help develop a new brand from its inception was irresistible – you don’t often get that chance in our industry” comments Raf. “The fact that Optimal Audio was part of the Focusrite group was naturally attractive, but it was the concept behind the product ecosystem that grabbed me first off. The chance to be involved from the outset with a really diverse team of audiophiles, and share direct responsibility for developing and growing the business from scratch was unmissable.”
Whilst it could be argued that commercial audio doesn’t possess the same allure as its professional counterpart, there’s no doubting the significance of its market. Raf is quick to point out that on the face of it, the sector might not have the thrill of the rock and roll arena, but as a one billion dollar business, it unquestionably offers huge opportunities. Introducing and communicating Optimal Audio’s potential in this significant and profitable audio market across the EMEA regions is Raf Willems’ task:
“First of all we need to be clear to potential customers about where Optimal Audio fits, where we slot in and why we were created. Effectively we are offering an entry level digital audio package to the commercial audio world. The competition is either remaining in the analogue domain or dealing in high-end complex digital packages. Optimal Audio is offering a pathway out of analogue into digital – with the advantages that brings – whilst keeping things clear and simple in installation and operational terms, and maintaining a very competitive price. It’s always natural for people to stick with what they know, so a principal element of my role is to communicate why it would be good for business to adopt a new brand over their traditional choices.”
Central to the Optimal Audio approach is that it is very firmly a distributed brand. The company believes that distribution is still the right way to promote brands to markets and develop coherent strategies, and over recent months Raf has been heavily involved in developing Optimal Audio’s distributor network. As he sees it, his role involves working closely with distributors in a supportive capacity, building strong relationships based on achieving results through brand activity, brand promotion, sharing technical know-how and creating confidence. He continues:
“The hard-sell approach isn’t what we’re about. After establishing the fact that Optimal Audio represents good business for distributors and their customers, it’s about being available to the distributor’s team to support the brand with insights into the product ecosystem, and help develop an in-depth understanding of the role Optimal Audio can play for their customers.”
With this in mind, the next few months sees Raf engaged in blazing a trail of customer visits through the region, focusing on brand promotion, education, and getting close to customers, as he explains:
“You might say it’s a bit old school, really; very much the way we used to run our businesses many years ago, very much hands-on – personal visits, launch events, open days – all these things which I still believe to be extremely valuable. Not only does this inform our distributors and their customers, but it helps us gain a better understanding of the markets they are operating in. As much as it is our role to be proactive in detailing the potential of Optimal Audio, the process also works the other way round by increasing our awareness of how their particular markets work and what specific areas of support they need from us. We have to be responsive and not prescriptive.”
With the full Optimal Audio range due to ship by March, Raf is anticipating a busy schedule. If early reaction to the brand’s message is anything to go by, the pace won’t be relenting anytime soon, which is just how this experienced and dynamic operator likes it.
Raf Willems – Head of Sales and Channel Marketing