Tim Ireland tells us that “putting on a fancy label and some shiny baubles fools nobody” in his corner of the luxury industry.
Today, Meridian has become one of the most regarded manufacturers in the high-end consumer electronics market, with a planned expansion into the luxury automotive sector in 2011, in collaboration with Range Rover and McLaren Automotive. The company was founded by engineers Bob Stuart and Allen Boothroyd in 1977 and remained independent for 30 years, until the Muse SA group, owned by Reinet Investments SCA, a sister company of Richemont, purchased a holding in 2007.
With the investment came the appointment of Tim Ireland as CEO, bringing to Meridian significant engineering and manufacturing experience in addition to almost a decade in the consumer electronics industry. He spent several years as head of product development at Bowers & Wilkins and eventually joined Monitor Audio as COO, where he managed the rapid growth of the business and helped the organisation make the successful transition from hobbyist company to professionally operated international brand.
In the case of Meridian, Mr Ireland has brought a sharp commercial focus to the brand that has seen the opening of eleven boutiques since 2009 and current growth in double-digits. “My appointment reflected the recognition that Meridian’s team needed to be as much focused on the market as on product. We completely transformed our brand and distribution management whilst retaining the technical expertise and innovation that gives Meridian its heritage.”
“ In terms of performance we have a very simple credo: to be the best in class ”
Priorities for Mr Ireland were to simplify the product offering, clarify the value proposition of the brand and leverage the existing philosophy of low volume, high quality. “In terms of performance we have a very simple credo: to be the best in class. Three years ago Meridian had over 130 different products, now there are less than 30. This has made it considerably easier for the customer to understand what he (or she) is buying.”
Central to increasing consumer awareness was the establishment of Meridian branded retail stores, the first in Bangkok in 2009, followed by Santiago, Mexico City, Kuwait, Taipei, New Delhi, Bangalore and Moscow in 2010. A veritable line-up of some of the world’s strongest emerging luxury markets, with exports outside of the UK now accounting for 85% of total sales.
Control 15: Sooloos by Meridian
Whilst Mr Ireland has not come from a luxury background per se, his innate understanding of the need for craftsmanship and careful sourcing appear to be a brilliant fit for a manufacturer of high-end consumer electronics. “My first luxury memory was when my father decided to build a 9-metre steam launch out of wood in our garage at home. He took great care to source specific woods for each part of the boat, he found some cherry wood with a particularly tight grain for the crooks on the upper deck. I think this obsession with details is what makes true luxury products stand out, just putting on a fancy label and some shiny baubles fools nobody.”
Ireland has taken this attitude towards quality, focused on Meridian’s existing design and production competencies and leveraged the brands British heritage in forging significant partnerships with two of Britain’s most respected automotive brands.
“ Meridian’s products are assembled in the UK and it is important to me that this continues ”
“We are very proud of our British heritage. Meridian’s products are assembled in the UK and it is important to me that this continues. Britain is renowned all around the globe for its expertise in audio and Meridian is a key part of that. Sometimes the Brits take this for granted but one should never underestimate the regard that exists for our scientists and engineers in all markets. We have had several approaches to work with automotive companies but we chose McLaren Automotive and Range Rover because they are British brands that are the very best at what they do – just like Meridian.”
The company is providing in-car entertainment systems to the next-generation of premium Range Rover vehicles, starting with the Evoque model, which debuted at last year’s Paris Motor Show followed by its 5-door version announced at the Los Angeles Auto-show. Meridian also entered into a partnership in January 2010 with McLaren Automotive for its MP4-12C supercar.
Meridian America’s showroom in the SoHo district of New York City
Whilst Meridian may have already been in the homes of discerning high net worth consumers, the entry into luxury automobiles and supercars is sure to increase brand recognition with a new and important market, an ongoing point of importance for its CEO:
“I am not sure we have reached a critical mass yet but I do know that by the end of this year the number of people who have heard of our brand and know what we stand for will be several orders of magnitude higher than three years ago. Branded stores around the world, product placement in films, automotive collaborations with McLaren and Range Rover and the recent announcement of our plans with HP will all contribute in our objective to be the luxury goods brand for audio.”
“Our sales have grown consistently since 2007. Last year the growth was 14%, which was remarkable given the economic circumstances. We would have expected this growth to continue as the world moves out of recession but our retail strategy and automotive relationships will only accelerate this growth.”
DSP7200 Digital Active Loudspeaker