Interview with Pascal Miguet, Distribution and Product Manager at SOMMER cable on the BASIC and BASIC+ series

Interview with Pascal Miguet, Distribution and Product Manager at SOMMER cable on the BASIC and BASIC+ series

Finally you did it … what has made SOMMER cable offer low-priced cable connections? After all, SOMMER cable is known for producing high-grade cables – how can the Basic cable series keep up in terms of quality?

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We originally came from the broadcasting and professional media engineering sector; the sound reinforcement and the MI market divisions were driven forward only in the subsequent years. Initial steps were taken back in 2000, when SOMMER cable took over the ZECK Audio company from Waldkirch. And those who closely monitored our development can imagine that we were already permanently busy enough and had to cope with huge growth spurts, i.e. regarding storage capacity and logistics we were often working close to our limits.

Only after buying the neighboring building, the construction of a state-of-the-art warehouse and the automation of our cable assembly we could further expand the product range for the MI market and reduce delivery times even more. Today we carry almost 25,000 products in our portfolio, and from this point of view such a strategy and the new launch of such a brand really need to be well-considered. So we didn’t want to be disrespectful towards customers with a thinner wallet, but so far our situation simply hasn’t allowed us to take care of such a project.

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Don’t these low-budget products have a bad effect on the image of a quality manufacturer?

A bad quality is bad for the image. And it’s also bad for the image when the customer feels that you don’t put all your heart and soul into your work or pursue developments for strictly commercial purposes. First and foremost success will come upon those products where the customer recognizes that we do this for him and not just for ourselves.

And regarding image: an image is not merely created by some friendly marketing, it also involves the general dealings with the customer, the delivery capacity, a reliable product quality, an accomodating service if something does go wrong, comprehensive brochures, in-house know-how and potential in the product development, and so on and so forth. The customer doesn’t just buy a product, in a sense he buys a whole package.

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As is well known, it’s almost impossible for a low-budget supplier to sell a quality product if these basic conditions are not met. You don’t believe that this vendor is indeed capable of establishing high-class products in the long run without know-how in the upmarket quality segment. On the other hand it’s much easier for a premium supplier to deliver quality also in the low-budget price segment. Simply because he can generally evaluate a lot better above what level it’s indeed a high-quality product and how it can be made at an affordable price. To what extent this can be produced at even lower costs is mostly just a matter of quantity.

Why wait until now? What was the catalyst, why did you suddenly change your mind?

SOMMER cable or HICON, respectively, is known for working in the field of development and as an OEM manufacturer for competitors or intermediaries, too. Anyway, for several years we received countless inquiries and requests from intermediaries telling us that we should by all means build up brands in the lower price segment.

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During these talks – in this case with a rather stubborn customer – we had time and again reasons for suspecting that these low-budget brands were not exactly intended as an added value for our or his customers, but rather to destroy existing brands and markets. Actually, one hadn’t really thought about the question whether the musician – i.e. the end user – needed that at all; instead one had rather focused on gaining market shares or simply on getting one’s own back on a competitor by undercutting him. But as we all know, personally the customer doesn’t care about those running battles among suppliers. He just wants to get the best possible value for his money. And that’s perfectly alright.

One should also know that at SOMMER cable the majority of our employees are musicians. Which means that we use to reflect already in our own interest which products and markets could make sense. And that approach of winning market shares through a price battle didn’t seem goal-oriented to us. Under no circumstances did we want to waste our energy and resources by simply importing some Chinese standard product from one of those few “genuine“ manufacturers, put a sticker or a label on it and later resell it blindly. In our opinion this was too destructive and boring, and at that time other companies could simply do it better than we could. We wanted by no means to lower our established quality just to “stir up“ the market a little.

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One of the most important aspects for our decision was that we have today a very tightly knit pan-European dealer network with a large number of resellers, among them very dedicated retailers and well-made online and electronics shops. They literally implored us again and again to also offer products for the low-budget market so that they could reduce the number of suppliers in the future. Which is basically a very sensible way if the previous basic conditions and the delivery capacity fit in.

For years we asked ourselves the question “Do we really want that?“, and each time we made another attempt and discussed the pros and cons. Eventually we would break up after a meeting, determined to do it maybe some point down the line, whenever we saw a chance to transfer the quality of our premium brand with only a few restrictions into the lower price segment. But there was no deadline and no internal pressure, either; we simply wanted to wait for the right time.

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Believe it or not: just when were about to say good-bye again to this project mentally, one of our most dependable OEM manufacturers (who, among other things, also produces very high-quality metal parts for the HICON connectors for us) called in telling us he had bought a new machine park for some project. Which enabled him to produce high-grade overmolded multi-compound connectors as they are e.g. used in medical engineering as well. This message really put us all into a state of euphoria. Because we understood that we could use components and parts of our high-quality HICON connectors also in this basic brand and wouldn’t have to fall back on those standard pins, which are most often only made of sheet metal and have no strain relief or where, due to different plastic compounds, plasticizers will sooner or later creep into the cable.

So that was very good news, for we had thus achieved one of the desired unique selling points. The other benefits were that we could process our own bulk cables and use our own connectors and their color codings.

Another reason to think about a Basic series was spurred by a new product category: small and desktop synthesizers such as the KORG VOLCAS or the ROLAND Boutique. Instruments which almost seem to be lighter than the cable connections themselves and where there’s a risk of the cable pulling the hardware off the table. DJs are facing the same problem with those miniature mixing consoles.

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So the cable weight must also be taken into consideration, and plastic-coated connectors definitely make sense in such an environment. Moreover, many musicians reported us that they were making or producing music on their computer or with a small keyboard during flights or long train rides and just didn’t want to lug around heavy looms.

I also had to move already several times within our living room with my synthesizer studio, and each time I was pushing my keyboard and effects rack along the corridor, I was thinking: “Uhhh … cables are really damned heavy!“  J.  And it has happened to me more than once that solid connectors levered the fragile PC boards with the flush-mount sockets from the synthesizers, provoking circuit board breakages or loose contacts. This is, by the way, one of the most frequent defects in second-hand music instruments, provided that the classified ads can be trusted.

How do the BASIC and BASIC+ series differ and what are general features of the Basic series?

For the BASIC series we use high-quality, non-slip and compact plastic-coated connectors almost exclusively. These are made of an impact resistant and cold flexible two-component plastic. The pins used are pretty solid and have an elaborately designed receptacle which serves as a strain relief and also as a fixation. This means that the pin receptacle is not held and fixed in place during the plastic extrusion – as is usual with low-cost products – by needles through which moisture can penetrate afterwards; instead we use a special self-centering inlet, which also doubles as a strain relief and is both water and moisture repellent.

With the BASIC+ series we’ve actually managed to integrate the inlets, pins and strain reliefs of our HICON quality connectors. Thus the customer gets an absolutely reliable product at a highly favorable price. The contacts are soldered and not crimped, the wires and screens are fully insulated against each other, as is also standard with our premium and broadcast products.

What’s the clientele for the BASIC series or what level does the typical target of the Basic series have?

The BASIC series is the perfect cable connection for DJs, keyboard players, home recorders or the ambitious musician with little space or also for the beginner who’s on a budget, but still wants to get a great product without having to compromise too much.