Gallien-KruegerIn 2006, when bass amplifier manufacturer Gallien-Krueger began moving a significant portion of its production to Asia to compete in the increasingly price-conscious market, CEO Bob Gallien and his team thought they had avoided all the usual pitfalls. They established their own facility, sourced their own materials, hired and trained their own workers, documented their processes.... In short, they had taken every imaginable step to safeguard against the oft-bemoaned foreign factory cutting corners “to save a nickel per thousand pieces.”
Made (better) in the USA
Despite all their efforts and planning, though, meeting the high quality standards the company was founded on required the Chinese-made products to undergo extensive quality assurance processes at the company’s Stockton, California headquarters. Facing increased shipping costs, rising Chinese labor rates, lagging productivity, and extensive rework required stateside, in 2012 Gallien resolved to bring his company’s production back to California.
GK didn’t trumpet this change to the market, Gallien explains, because the transition was accomplished in phases, moving electronics first, followed by cabinet assembly and finally speaker production. (GK makes its own speakers, with custom tooled cones, voice coils, frames, and magnets.) As each production line was relocated, Gallien and his team exploited advanced technologies and developed efficient new processes to maintain price points that would be competitive with manufacturers whose production remained overseas.
Moving the speaker line was the most challenging, Gallien explains, as the adhesives and processes used in the China factory could not be used in California. “We spent the better part of a year experimenting with advanced EPA-compliant adhesives and installing robots to apply them precisely during the speaker assembly process,” he says. These modern adhesives cure in minutes, not days as was required with the old-technology glues used in the company’s Asian factory. Now, with the aid of the new adhesives, robotics, and skilled U.S. workers, domestic production far outpaces productivity in China.
Today all GK product assembly is done in California, delivering a level of vertical integration ideally suited to the company’s total focus on a single product category: bass amps. “We design the amplifier, cabinet, and speaker to work together as a unit,” says Gallien, “often comparing several variations of each in a single day to find the optimal sound. We don’t have to tweak our amp or cabinet to work with someone else’s speaker.”
On the most fundamental level, returning production to California removes obstacles to fulfilling Gallien’s longstanding commitment to delivering uncompromised quality to his dealers and the world’s bass players. “Building a better product in the U.S. that we have complete control over is far more important to us than being able to shave $50 off our price to match our competitors,” he concludes. “We’re building a unique product that we’re all proud to be associated with. After all, it’s my name on every amp we make.”
Subscribe to The Music Trades today!