The Sweet Sound of Success Resounds – Ayotte Drums Rises From Ashes
By Robert J. Galbraith for the Montreal Gazette
In 1982, Ray Ayotte founded Ayotte Drums Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia. By the late 1980’s and early1990’s, Ayotte had become the world’s leading producer and seller of quality, hand-built, high-end custom drums.
However, by the late 1990’s that bubble burst, as the drum market started to become saturated with low-end, less expensive drum kits from the numerous new producers who started selling their products in the big box stores. During these tumultuous years, Ray Ayotte lost majority control of his company to its investors, and was forced out of the company he had founded. The drum manufacturer that was worshiped world-wide by drummers since 1982 had fallen victim to a changing marketplace and demand.
Then in 2002, William Jennison of Vancouver took over control of Ayotte Drums. In 2008 he started looking for a new location for his drum business out of British Columbia. Jennison was in search of a more efficient facility, close to a reliable source of raw materials and a dedicated manufacturing staff to facilitate the shifts in the market. British Columbia was the most expensive place to make drums, due to the government of the time and the high cost of living.
After a two-year search, in September 2010 he moved the company to Bedford, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships region, where skilled craftsmen and resources are in abundance. Regardless of Jennison’s enthusiasm and the big move, his dream never came to fruition, and by the spring of 2012 he was forced to declare bankruptcy due to financial troubles.
Present president and CEO of Ayotte Drums, Jean-Denis Beaudoin (who acquired the company and assets in March 2012) explained that founder, “Ray Ayotte initially had a lot of success with the brand and a following of great Canadian players, such as Nickelback, Barenaked Ladies, Tragically Hip and Our Lady Peace. Then when the West Coast grunge movement took off in the early 1990’s, it gave Ayotte very good exposure into international markets,” said Beaudoin.
“The drums were a high-end product but the market became saturated by the late 90’s. So he (Ray Ayotte) tried to introduce a lower end of drums kits, such as the ‘Pro Series’ and ‘DrumSmith’, but there were just too many middle-of-the-road producers. Many became victims of this change and didn’t make it through the 90’s,” explained thirty-nine-year-old Beaudoin. “Ray ended up being bought out by his group of investors and eventually had to leave the company he founded. Then Bill Jennison bought the company and decided to move here for a fresh start.
The innovations that Ray Ayotte introduced to the modern drum world were wooden hoops, (also referred to as rims), instead of die-cast or metal rims that other drums had. “This, along with the drums being constructed of wood originating from locally-grown eastern sugar maple, is our signature,” explained Paul Frederick, VP of Business Development for Ayotte. “It is the combination of sugar maple and the wood hoops that give Ayotte their classic sound. When it comes to drums, it’s all about resonance.”
The drum mid-market sells for roughly $1000-$2500 for a 5-piece kit. The high-end market goes from $2500 and up. These are the two markets Ayotte is focusing on, with the upper-end cost only limited by your imagination and budget.
Ayotte produces three lines of hand-made drums; the ‘Classic Series,’ ‘Velvet Series,’ and ‘Bedford Series.’ They also produce a line of drumsticks made from maple and hickory, which, like their drums, are highly acclaimed by drummers worldwide.
“We do the assembly, manufacturing and finishing in shop here in Bedford. The maple drum shells are formed in New Hampshire then shipped back to us here, but it’s all local wood from this area,” stated fifty-eight-year-old Frederick, who worked for close to thirty years with Pearl Drums, one of the top drum manufacturers in the world.
The Bedford workshop and showroom is located just 10 minutes from the US border and the states of Vermont and New York and an hour from Metropolitan Montreal, a major shipping area and home to countless talented musicians. “As the USA counts for 40% of the market and Canada about 5%, everybody targets the US,” commented Frederick.
The road to recovery is not all smooth sailing. “It takes a while to revive a company like this. It’s got to be done slowly,” explained Beaudoin, whose previous profession was restructuring businesses.
This transaction happened in March of this year. “Richard Desourdy, the building owner at the time, called me and said let’s partner up. So we did and created a new corporation, (the Ayotte Custom Drums Corporation), towards restructuring the company. I brought in Paul at the same time to bring his experience and knowledge of the industry. Together, we really got things rolling along.”
“The first thing we did after acquiring the business was to take an inventory and familiarize ourselves with what we had. We put together a profile of where we were and tried to interpret the state of the drum market before going ahead. As the new president, I had to show leadership and inspire the guys. I wanted our team of four be compatible and work well together,” commented Beaudoin. “The biggest challenge was to spin off the bad press resulting from the lack of customer service over the past few years.”
Paul Frederick knew he had to bring these clients back into the fold. “We had about 30 clients who invested money on their sets but were caught up in the turmoil that the company was going through. We looked into these concerns right away, for the brand and on a personal level,” he explained. “We had to turn these disgruntled clients into ambassadors. We had to make a deal with clients and distributors, because of what happened in the past. Common sense, knowledge and experience and motivation have brought us up to the balanced footing we are on now. We are moving forward and adjusting; and as we go forward, we learn. ”
Ayotte President, Jean-Denis Beaudoin is very optimistic about the future of his business. “We are very optimistic but realistic. The customer service, which we’ve dealt with individually, has gone smoother than expected. With the business plan, we’re batting a thousand.”
Paul Frederick has great faith in the future of Ayotte and is dedicated to that goal. “Now we’ve pretty well put out the fires and have limited production up and running and now we are ramping-up production and getting ready for the big NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Trade Show in January 2013, in Anaheim, California.” (This show promotes the pleasures and benefits of music and strengthens the $17 billion-dollar global music products industry).
“Today till the end of the year we’re pretty much building up our inventory of finished goods and revving-up production. The whole point now is that we are comfortable with work flow and how the finances are going,” explained a beaming and confident Beaudoin. “We haven’t updated the website as we don’t want to open the floodgates before we are ready.”