Classic design, modern business

Here we catch up Chris Black, Managing Director of Leeds-based premium jukebox brand Sound Leisure, about how the company’s bespoke design process is leading to new export opportunities in Hong Kong, China and ASEAN.

26 March 2020

For the 2019 Hong Kong Business of Design Week the UK is the partner country for, Asia’s leading annual event on design, innovation and brands, providing a gateway for design-led brands to explore export opportunities across the ASEAN markets and in particular Hong Kong and China. We are working with the Northern Powerhouse to help businesses in our region to access these opportunities and join the UK delegation to the Business of Design Week later this year.  We have spoken to key business people in the region about their plans and experiences and why they are hoping to join the delegation.

Chris, tell us about Sound Leisure and your role

Sound Leisure was founded in 1978 by my father and is predominantly known for manufacturing a range of classic jukeboxes, in addition we provide a range of interactive audio solutions to visitor attractions, operate hundreds of jukeboxes and background music systems in pubs throughout the UK. We also have a pattern making division and a commercial children’s play division and offer our R&D services to customers across the globe,

Early on, Sound Leisure had an international outlook. The company has exported for 35 years, and is now active in 28 countries.

I started at the company for a six week trial and enjoyed it so much I’ve stayed for 33 years. It’s a family affair. My wife, brother, son and father all work here. I’m the Managing Director and we employ 85 people.

Design and customer focus drives the business

Design plays a significant role in our company. Increasingly, our customers want to customise their machine to their taste and décor. Our unique in house design capability results in a premium, bespoke Jukebox meeting the client’s specification.

People’s homes are the destination for 85 per cent of our market and as well as exporting we also sell directly to the UK market. We had a pop-up showroom in Victoria Gate in Leeds last year and received an unbelievable response. Two gentleman actually bought jukeboxes whilst their wives were out buying shoes for Christmas.

We’re witnessing a growing trend as big brands are choosing to install our jukeboxes in their offices, featuring company colours and branding. Jukeboxes make a statement, they are the centrepiece of any room. This year, Micky Dee, the drummer from Motorhead had one installed in his new bar in Paris and brands such as Doc Marten have placed them in their flag ship stores worldwide.

It’s not just the external design that differentiates our company. We use the latest technology inside the machines. Sound Leisure offers a one-stop-shop service. We have an R&D division and can offer a full service from design to prototype to manufacture. Offering more than jukeboxes, we design immersive experiences for visitor attractions such as climbing walls, escape rooms, play areas, museums and work closely with divisions of Leeds City Council to provide interactive audio solutions through many of their stately homes

Why target Asia?

We wanted to diversify our markets as a result of Brexit. Europe is our second largest market so we were keen to explore new opportunities to increase resilience.

To date, Japan has been very successful with the vinyl playing machines and in a very short space of time we feel that we are now established in this market.

We have a foothold in China through a local distributor. We’ve shipped one container and are continuing to investigate new avenues. It’s a long term process to break this market but we are committed to giving it time to develop.

India is also of interest however we have only exported small quantities there as yet.

Top tips for exporting to China

Firstly, it’s important to have all your paperwork in order, minimise risk by registering intellectual property (IP).

If you want to export you need to go out and meet people in the country or at least have a good network of business contacts that you trust to point you in the right direction. View their facilities and build a relationship. It can be a slow process.

As you would in the UK, it’s important to be clear about payment terms and request payment up front for your first orders. Once the relationship becomes more established then you can set in place payment terms, possibly 50 per cent up front and the remainder prior to shipping. It can be many years before you offer terms to export customers. The most important thing is to cover your costs, prior to manufacturing – just in case! It’s vital to plan cash flow.

Use the networks that are there to help you. The Department for International Trade (DIT) are embedded in key markets with a significant global network that you’d possibly take years to reach or even access on your own. Take part in DIT trade missions. We received funding and support to visit international trade shows and meet new customers through this route.

Join, a peer-to-peer community to get practical advice from the Leeds City Region business community. I’m a Patron and along with the other patrons am happy to share my experiences with new exporters

Why is Hong Kong Business of Design Week of interest?

Hong Kong is the gateway to China. I see it as the springboard to building a successful presence in the Chinese market. We’re a design-led business so it makes sense for us to be part of the Northern Powerhouse delegation from Leeds City Region and benefit from the support that’s available. It’s important to meet people face to face.

The last time I visited Hong Kong was 20 years ago. I want to see how it’s changed and meet business contacts face to face. There’s no better way to do business.