Noah Kaplan’s favorite line from the Dark Knight Trilogy is, “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you stranger.”
While I wouldn’t characterize Leon Speakers’ co-founder and president as particularly “strange,” it was clear during our recent conversation at the HTSA meeting in Chicago that Kaplan runs his company in a truly unique way, and I think that is exactly the kind of approach our industry needs these days.
Kaplan has a passion for running his business as an artistic expression rather than according to some sort of loudspeaker manufacturing operations manual (if there were such a thing.) Brand vision and company culture are key ingredients to his company’s success.
“That stuff far outweighs whatever products you’re building,” Kaplan told me. “Proper company culture can provide employees something to give a [crap] about.”
Kaplan immerses himself in his company’s culture every day, particularly through his most recent innovation: the Leon Loft.
“We built this space upstairs at the factory and have partnered with a radio station to put on shows,” he explained. “Everybody just lives the experience now. Instead of a building a ‘speaker place,’ we built a place to hang out, because that’s what people really need to do. You don’t just sit in a chair and listen to speakers anymore. That just is…over.”
Located in the heart of Ann Arbor, MI, where 100,000 fans of the University of Michigan football team walk by on a Saturday afternoon, Leon Loft holds about 150 people. It has a full-scale digital recording rig onsite, and the company partnered with a radio show called Acoustic Café to host events there.
“We’ll give 75 tickets to the radio station, 107.1, to give away,” Kaplan said. “So some days, at noon, the shop shuts down, the lights go dim, and we’re recording shows.”
Plus, Leon provides all of the musicians that play shows at the Loft with free speakers to take home. Fitz and the Tantrums played the Loft not too long ago, and so did Mike Doughty from Soul Coughing.
Kaplan showed me a social media post from the last artist that performed at the Loft. “You can’t put a price tag on what it does,” he said, referring to the performer’s message to his newsfeed followers about participating in one of the events.
Kaplan draws inspiration from these moments, but he also tries to avoid over thinking his business decisions.
“To me, half of ‘modernism’ is just being true to whatever the vision is and not planning for everything,” he told me. “You can’t plan a campaign. It’s just going to happen the way it happens. It’s always these little crossroads that actually end up breaking ground and changing the way things are going.”
That doesn't sound so strange to me.