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Caroline Guitar: Quality at the Root of Sustainability
September 27, 2011
In 2009 Philippe Herndon graduated from the Moore School with an IMBA in Marketing and Operations. With his classmates, he found himself in the wake of a recession. Armed with his knowledge, experience and intuition Herndon dove head first into the dried-up job market as a self-employed entrepreneur. Founded in 2010, Caroline Guitar Company designs and manufactures guitar effects pedals, one of the few “recession-proof” products in the music world. A small business with big dreams, Caroline Guitar is the manifestation of Herndon’s love for music and right-brained ingenuity.
With the help of lead-user testing and targeted marketing Caroline Guitar has managed to create buzz amongst die-hard “pedal heads” and popular media outlets alike. Caroline Guitar’s premiere pedal, the Wave Cannon, was showcased as a “Buzz Bin” item in the July issue of Guitar World and also awarded the Platinum Award for Excellence. The industry’s leading publication praised the Wave Cannon for “its wide output and uniquely overdriven range” noting the pedal’s retro style.
This, in addition to an expanding customer base, is Herndon’s proof of forward progress but, he insists the journey has been one of many carefully placed steps. The key to Herndon’s success lies in his innate (at times inadvertent) ability to run a sustainable enterprise. His ‘what-goes-around-comes-around business model’ guarantees to operate with social and economic futures in mind while producing quality equipment.
“In every different Wave Cannon, there are around six different local businesses that are associated with it. We locally source because it allows us to contribute back to our economy but also because it’s easier, more cost effective and less wasteful in the long run.” said Herndon.
Herndon also strives to prepare his employees for future endeavors in fields such as product development, project management and quality control through what he calls “people development”
“While the front of all our pedals read ‘Dreamed, Designed and Created in Columbia, South Carolina’ along with the serial number, each is signed by the person primarily responsible for its construction,” said Herndon.
Through this Herndon hopes to give his employees resume-worthy knowledge of their craft as well as tangible evidence of their work while personalizing each consumer’s experience.
Herndon is among those skeptics who believe that the public notion of sustainability can be manipulated by influential businesses, and that using green in a logo or recording a public service announcement for Earth Day should not excuse day-to-day practices. Large scale production of modern build-to-break appliances results in gently used mobile phones flocking to landfills en masse for example, discourages maintenance or repair, and shifts corporate burdens and expenses to the public.
Herndon feels strongly that quality is at the root of sustainability. Rather than use the more “environmentally friendly” decals to label his pedals, Herndon uses powder coating. Why? Powder-coating protects the pedals’ metal enclosure, improves its look and lasts a lifetime, as opposed to decals which can wear away and allow unfinished parts of the box to rust.
“My dad was a Vietnam photo journalist; he used a Nikon F-Series camera. He used the same Nikon F-Series in Vietnam as he used at my college graduation in the late '90s. I’m trying to build these products for a lifetime of usage. I believe planned obsolescence is the opposite of sustainability.” said Herndon.
It is on this foundation Herndon will continue to brand Caroline Guitar as a top-tier pedal manufacturer with ultimate goals of expanding sales to guitars and amplifiers. His success thus far demonstrates the power of fundamentalism when times are tough. For now Herndon is focused on branding and brainstorming as the music industry waits in face-melting anticipation.
Thanks to an impressive Kickstarter fundraising campaign, Caroline Guitar will offer two new pedals, the Olympia™ Fuzz and the Icarus™ Clean Boost, in fall 2011.
Written by Colleen MacMillan
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