TECHNOLOGY holds no fears for Richard Chadwick.
The 32-year-old managing director of Huddersfield Hi Fi Centre and Audiovation enjoys the challenges thrown up by the ever-advancing digital age. Wrestling with the technicalities of installing the latest home cinema system with 100-inch screen is second nature to him.
But he also values tradition – as head of a family firm which has been part of Huddersfield’s retail landscape for more than 40 years.
Richard’s father Hugh began working at Huddersfield Hi Fi Centre in 1970 and bought the business in 1988.
Young Richard started working in the store at Cross Church Street when he was just 12. His mother Anne still works for the firm, handling administration for both the retailing division and Audiovation, the installation business.
Says Richard: “I was a pupil at Rastrick High School and grew up in Brighouse. I went to Huddersfield University and did a business degree. As part of that, I did 12 months working in marketing for the catalogue store GUS in Leeds. It was useful to see how a big company operated.”
Richard joined the family business and soon found himself running its Halifax shop.
He muses: “There was a time when I thought I might become a professional golfer, but I quickly realised that was not going to be. I have played golf from the age of 14 and played at Fixby. But more recently I haven’t had time to devote to it. Instead, I keep fit by going to the gym three times a week.”
Richard has also grown up with changing technology.
“When the business started in 1970, it was purely hi-fi and we still have that hi-fi heritage,” he says. “People have grown up with us! We are still happy to be a town centre shop, although online sales have widened the scope for us. People want quality products, support and service.”
Richard recognises the value in running two strands to the business.
“It means we don’t have all our eggs in one basket,” he says. “On the retail side, you get customers who have read all the hi-fi magazines and know what they want. On the installation side, people don’t know exactly what they want, so they need someone to set it up so that the system is used to its full capability.
“Everyone knows where we are. Until four years ago, the shop was very traditional – a hi-fi shop with grey slats on the walls and lots of products on the shelves. We completely refitted it and put more installation products in as well as a demonstration system with a screen which comes out of the ceiling. We have the most respected brands because we have been around a long time.”
Says Richard: “We started opening Sundays a few weeks ago and I do one in three Sundays. On those occasions, I work a six day week because I’m busy Monday to Friday in the shop or working on projects. At the end of the week, I often have meetings with customers. When it’s your own business, you end up wearing many hats.”
He adds: “During July, we will be launching our new website, which is a full click-and-buy website to allow people to buy from us or use it as a shop window to get people into the store. Another website for Audiovation will be aimed at end-users, developers and builders who may want to work with us.”
Although the hi-fi market remains buoyant, the potential for Audiovation to grow is clear. “We have increasingly moved into the installation business over the past 10 years,” says Richard. “Now people are installing technology into new buildings or integrating technology into existing buildings. We are now designing packages which include IT, security, entry controls, curtain controls, lighting, audio and cinema systems.
“People are cramming more and more technology into their houses and they want the IT hardware ‘hidden’. They need people like us to help them do it right. We have links with interior designers, architect firms and developers. We have people we have worked with over the years, such as cabinetmakers, electricians and IT programmers.
“We have converted a number of garages or swimming pools into home cinemas with screens which drop down from the ceiling. It is a family thing now – families settling down together to watch a film.
“We put a big cinema system into one house, a system worth £60,000. Once the system was working, the other tradesmen working on the house came into the room to see what we’d done. There can be difficulties sometimes, but there is still a buzz when the system works for the first time!”
Richard knows he’s in an industry that never stands still. He undertook training in America to become a THX certified professional. THX is the cinema system developed by George Lucas because he did not think that conventional cinema systems did justice to the scope of his space epic Star Wars.
Richard also attends major trade shows such as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Home Technology Show in London and exhibitions in Berlin and Amsterdam.
“The shows are important because people asking me to design a system for them deserve the best help possible,” he says. “They show what technology is coming in. By being able to see and assess it, we can make a business decision about what brands we should be aligning with and what products we should be promoting.
“Technology moves at such a ferocious pace. There’s a saying that once Sony load their latest television onto the lorry and close the doors, it is already out of date!”
Keeping up with technology keeps Richard very busy.
“Last year, I didn’t take a holiday – apart from attending trade shows! I have been to Dubai a couple of times because I have a friend working out there. But I realise the importance of having downtime to re-charge your batteries because things can get very pressured.”
But there’s still time for relaxation. “My musical taste ranges from bands like Coldplay to dance and rock,” says Richard. “I was brought up with lots of different types of music. I’m also into films – the big blockbusters look good on our systems with high-definition and good quality sound. But I still go to the cinema. I’m at the Odeon quite a lot. I’ve also been to IMAX with its eight-storey high screen.”
And he adds: “We still have a real passion for what we do.”