An Alternate Approach to Power

RGPC's grassroots approach to selling its parallel power delivery concept has helped it gain respect in the home install market.
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RGPC's grassroots approach to selling its parallel power delivery concept has helped it gain respect in the home install market.

If you are looking for Dick McCarthy on a Saturday morning, it is quite likely that you could find the president of Richard Gray's Power Company sitting alone in his Uptown New Orleans office, answering the 50-plus weekly e-mail inquiries that he receives about his company's power delivery products.

The 65-year-old New Orleans native takes great pride in this weekly ritual, because, he says, it provides him with an opportunity to interact directly with three of the most important elements of his successful business: his 10 regional sales representative companies, his 350-plus dealers, and end-user "enthusiasts" asking for advice on how many "Richard Gray's" that they should buy from their dealers.

In only five and a half years, Richard Gray's Power Company (RGPC) has quietly grown from its humble roots as a "tweaky" two-channel audio novelty product to an established manufacturer of eight unique power products that are now considered, by many in the industry, as essential to improving the performance of audio and video in home A/V systems of all sizes.

Although the name on the front of their products is "Richard Gray," co-owner and president, McCarthy, has been the company's front man and driving force since its inception. McCarthy is the one who not only personally replies to all of those e-mail inquiries, but he is also the one who has accumulated an infinite number of airline miles to build RGPC, one dealer at a time, across the country. He is also the one who many people have witnessed preaching the gospel of parallel inductor technology at RGPC's trade show booth and in product training sessions, year after year.

That's not, however, to take anything away from the company's namesake, Richard Gray. It was, in fact, Gray who conceived the RGPC's original product concept and its seven subsequent "siblings." And it is Gray, with his inventor's never-ending curiosity, who continues to re-invent the way power is delivered to A/V products in the home.

The RGPC story begins in the late 1990s when Gray, a licensed TV technician in New Orleans, came up with a new concept. Being an audiophile and inventor, Gray was constantly looking for ways to improve the sound of his system. One day he began tinkering with two iron core inductors (a.k.a. chokes) that he had found inside an old Stromberg-Carlson amplifier from the 1920s. He found that when he took these two series inductors and wired them in parallel to an AC line, they began working like large storage capacitors. When he plugged this device into the same circuit as his audio equipment, he noticed an immediate increase in dynamics, soundstage and bass impact from his audio system.

Gray soon took his invention over to McCarthy, a friend and fellow audiophile, to share what he had discovered. In his role as executive VP of sales and marketing for Oreck vacuum cleaners, McCarthy helped the once little-known vacuum company gain worldwide recognition. It was during that tenure that he also discovered the importance of building a company with profit-oriented dealers whom could offer professional services to their loyal customers.

It took McCarthy only about 10 minutes to notice the potential of Gray's power management invention. "My jaw dropped when I heard how it improved my electrostatic speakers," McCarthy said. "Being a two-channel audio guy, I was used to any component changing sound quality, but it wasn't necessarily an improvement. What Richard plugged into my system, and what I heard within 10 minutes, convinced me that this was one of the most incredible inventions that had ever come along."

What McCarthy says that he heard from Gray's invention was a wider and deeper soundstage with more three-dimensional imaging and much better bass. "I thought to myself, 'I've just found another business to go into'," McCarthy recalled, fondly. "I needed another business like a hole in the head. I was already running three companies at the time."

The next person to learn about Gray's discovery was a man named Alex Gianaras, president of TMI, a 45-year-old coils and transformers manufacturer in Chicago, Illinois. To get their invention manufactured, Gray and McCarthy would team up with Gianaras and his experienced team at TMI.

Gianaras recalled his first impression of the two entrepreneurs with a smile. "Talking with both of these guys was just a real show," Gianaras said. "We could see that Richard had a good idea, but because they only ordered 25 or so of them, it was kind of amusing to us. We figured they would get tired of their project and move on at some point."

Before RGPC's initial product was introduced, the only real powerline options on the market were conditioner products that were based on series technology. In this arrangement, electricity would flow through a series of filters and air core chokes before it reached components in an A/V system. Also, any component drawing a particularly heavy load in this configuration could rob power from all of the other components in the system. These limitations are what convinced Gray to experiment with parallel technology instead.

In parallel-type devices, all items in a power loop are connected independently to the source of power. If there is an interruption of one item, all others will still work. Any load from one component does not affect other components. This means that there will be more power available to all products.

"Richard is of the very strong opinion that when you monkey around with electricity in an active way, you change it," McCarthy explained. "In audio, especially if you've got trained ears, you can really hear it. In video you can see it."

Gray found that when he took a choke and paralleled all circuits, without limiting or restricting current he was able to remove 40 decibels of line noise. With TMI manufacturing their products, Gray and McCarthy were able to utilize processor-controlled winding equipment, which spooled coils to exactly specifications. When RGPC wrapped copper wire around this iron core, it generated a magnetic field that stored energy. That energy could then be released back to any load that demanded it in a system.

The first and subsequent RGPC products use a dual-stage suppression system. The copper wire iron core inside RGPC's products naturally suppresses the majority of surges on a system with this technology before they reach the metal oxide varistor (MOV). An MOV is placed behind this core to protect against any huge spikes that the core was not able to suppress.

Initially, RGPC gained many two-channel audio enthusiast customers. Soon, however, Gray realized the potential benefits that his technology could bring to video, and the market opened up for the company. "So we got very lucky," McCarthy said. "What started off as a two-channel, tweaky product we found was much more relevant on a video picture."

RGPC's initial product was the 400S (now 400 Pro), which contains one 6,000-watt parallel choke and four Hubbell commercial-grade outlets. Later developments, featuring stunning industrial designs from Neal Feay, included the 600S and 1200C-Custom. The 600S is a rack-mountable product that sports six Hubbell outlets and the 1200C-Custom was designed to provide twice the power of the 400 and 600. Next up was RGPC's SubStation, which is a 2.5-kilowatt, 240-volt isolation step-down transformer that delivers balanced power directly to a system. It was designed to eliminate hard-to-find ground loops, lower the noise floor in a system and provide better protection against lightning strikes. The little brother of the SubStation is RGPC's Pole Pig, which has six Hubbel commercial-grade outlets wired in parallel to each other and is designed to offer the benefits of isolation for source components and smaller, 100-watts-per-channel home theater systems systems rated at less than 700-VA.

RGPC's IsoGray System represents the coupling of a SubStation or Pole Pig with one or more RGPC models 400, 600 or 1200, to achieve as isolated power with the elimination of crosstalk and ground loops. Available with 15- or 20-amp IEC connectors, RGPC's High-Tension, 8-gauge power cords are designed to deliver power to equipment as neutrally as possible. Last, but definitely not least, this past September the company unveiled plans to manufacture the PowerHouse, which will combine the power of almost three 240-volt SubStations with an RGPC 1200, in a seven-space, rack-mountable chassis. It also will be able to handle up to 6,200 watts of continuous power, equal to 50 amps.

All of this product development has created tremendous opportunities for RGPC to grow. But like with any business, exponential growth can create its share of challenges. To smooth the transition into becoming a worldwide company, McCarthy hired two highly qualified deputies to help him run RGPC. First, he turned to Rick Komendera, who boasted extensive international business experience, to serve as vice president of operations. Komendera was assigned the task of creating the company's strategic growth plan and increasing operational efficiencies.

"Luckily we had a couple months to get our feet on the ground, and I came into the business already knowing what our challenges were," Komendera recalled. "I was able to help reorganize our finances, got better deals on our capital and organized an incredible deal with TMI that really allows us to grow together."

With RGPC already on more stable footing, McCarthy and Komendera next turned their attention to improving sales, marketing and training processes. "I found that as I went around to dealers, I would leave and the dealers would go, 'What did he say?'" McCarthy noted. "We had no formal method for anything. We had no brochure. We had no manual. We were so proud of ourselves the next time we went to a sales meeting and finally had a brochure that we could leave behind."

The company next hired 15-year industry veteran Ingo Schmoldt to serve as VP of sales and marketing, taking much of the dealer education and training load off of McCarthy.

"I realized that at my age it was physically impossible for me to increase my travel, much less keep it up," McCarthy said of his recent hirings. "Rick has already made great strides with the company. And now Ingo, having put the training together for Monster Power, is somebody who was already familiar with power products and should be a great addition as well."

Despite these changes, McCarthy says that he intends on remaining in touch with his dealers, reps and customers, while reducing the stress of running the whole show. "Make no mistake that I am not going anywhere," McCarthy said. "I'm really trying to get out of the day-to-day operation while making sure that we stay the course. So many of these companies respond to the next person who has the latest and greatest. They're always in a defensive mode. I know who we are. Richard Gray is a genius, and I'm a lucky bastard. I'm glad he doesn't do what I do and that I don't do what he does. It's been a wonderful partnership."

Jeremy J. Glowacki is editor of Residential Systems in New York City.