Clarion GB - 35 Years On, Still Innovating
[Sept 2015] While several once bright stars of the UK car audio and electronics market have imploded over recent years, Clarion remains a stalwart of the business, having opened its UK subsidiary in Swindon, Wiltshire, thirty five years ago. It was 1980, the same year that the Post-It Note was launched and has 'stuck' with us ever since, much like Clarion GB has stuck to its task of bringing innovative in-car products to the UK ICE aftermarket.
The opening of Clarion Shoji Co. Ltd, Clarion's new UK head office in Faraday Road, Swindon, in April 1980, came at a time when 'in-car' was set for a revolution across the UK and Europe, thanks to the launch of true hi-fi quality products headed by the phenominal improvement offered by Compact Disc. CD players for the car became a 'must have' for a new generation of drivers and music fans, driving high performance hatchbacks such as the now legendary Peugeot 205 GTI and equally muscle-pumped first generation Volkswagen GTi. This 'hot hatch' duo led a growing performance motoring culture that Clarion and its expanding UK dealer network became very much a part of in the UK. As the need for speed grew, so too did the market for customising, of which a beefed-up audio system was high on the enthusiasts' shopping list.
Clarion was amongst the leading companies positioned to provide the latest generation of ICE products, from very affordable models aimed at the widest audience, to high-end competition grade units that set new benchmarks in performance. The company had a formula that helped them prosper and build a bigger team and, by 1988, Faraday Road was incapable of housing the fast-developing business. So, in October that year, they moved to a far bigger headquarters in Hillmead, a suburb of Swindon, where the management of the time had a major say in the design of the building. The facility included a substantial manufacturing area. Current General Manager of Clarion GB, Graham Case - who started at the company in 1983 as an Area Sales Manager - remembers the early years.
"The 1980s and 90s were a great period for us, as the whole aftermarket was growing so fast. I remember we celebrated the new building and the Clarion culture with a giant Japanese garden and koi carp pond and waterfall in the central atrium! No car audio brand had anything close. It's odd to think that in those days we had no internet and no e-mail. Mobile phones arrived in 1985, but at around £3,000 a go - that's getting on for £8,000 in today's money - they weren't exactly common. But then in those days we did a lot more direct talking to our market." Digital communication has speeded things up immensely, but Graham, like many of us, feels it hasn't all been for the good. "I must say that despite all the other ways of communicating at our disposal," he added, "I believe that talking face to face is something we all need to get back to in order to help build relationships... which makes the whole 'enthusiast market' tick."
The 90s was also the period Clarion GB took to the road to promote to an ever-growing scale of car shows, as modifying culture continued to grip a generation of car enthusiasts. Graham remembers those times fondly, as it was also a lot of fun for those who worked in the business too.
"It was such an energy-fuelled time - the bigger, the wilder, the louder the better. We and competitor brands all had major event rigs and show cars making a massive noise and impact. Lights, sounds, action, we had the lot. It was a really significant period in so many ways. I remember we had dancers performing on the Clarion roadshow rig at events in the 90s, and it was as if overnight, in front of us, there was now a sea of young guys taking pictures with their mobile phones, which by then were taken as an everyday thing. That really was the start of a new era in connectivity which is now so much a part of Clarion's DNA, and indeed all of our lives."
Today, Clarion GB is based in fresh headquarters a few miles from Swindon, in Royal Wootton Bassett, to where it moved in 2013. The workforce has, on average, 18 years of working with the company, which says a great deal about the strong family ethos nurtured and enjoyed by Graham and the team. A thriving R&D and engineering development department continues to be a significant resource at the Clarion GB HQ., and the design engineering of the CZ505E, for UK and international markets, speaks volumes for their capability.
Today, thanks to its diligence, consistency and professionalism, Clarion GB has the distinction of being one of the few in-car entertainment brands that has supported and successfully contested the modern UK aftermarket continuously since it started. Continuing to promote aftermarket product and its installer network, the company has kept with the times by also launching, last year, the first-ever official Clarion online shop selling the entire UK product range. Unlike conventional e-commerce, the shop benefits Clarion's appointed dealers by channelling the on-line transaction offers to them as a new business stream. Pay the shop a visit at www.clarion-shop.co.uk
So, moving ahead, will Clarion GB ever be as famous as the Post-It Note? "That could be tricky," says Graham, "but we'll most definitely be up there with it in terms of sticking around!"