Clair businesses make Lititz the Hollywood of live-event industrySmall Business Week 2013
In the mid-1960s, two brothers from Lancaster County caught the attention of an up-and-coming musician who appreciated their quality of work in sound systems.
Frankie Valli listened to what the Clair brothers told him would work best in his show at Franklin & Marshall College and examined the speaker cabinets they provided. He and his bandmates from the Four Seasons had recently done a show in Miami with Herb Alpert, who was an industry anomaly at the time because he traveled with his own sound system.
Valli wanted to emulate the more-established Alpert and saw the Clair brothers as an opportunity to do that, so he had a conversation with his bandmates while at F&M that night.
"They took us on the road with them because they liked what they heard," Roy Clair recalled.
Five decades later, the business that started as a hobby for Roy and Gene Clair is an international force in entertainment technology. Industry professionals over the years have suggested they move out of Lititz to be successful.
Early this month, country music star Garth Brooks visited Clair Global and asked why it still has its headquarters in Lancaster County.
Roy Clair said moving everything to New York City or Los Angeles was just never an option.
Instead, he and his family envision a "Rock Lititz" initiative in partnership with other local companies, including TAIT and Atomic Design. They want to build a facility in Warwick Township with a coliseum-sized stage to set up sound, lighting and video systems and sets as a dry run prior to an artist's tour. They did similar test set-ups throughout the 1980s until the artists' needs outgrew their stage size.
"It seems what we envisioned then can come to fruition now," said Roy Clair, who continues to work in product development.
In the 1990s, the Clair family split its business into two segments.
Clair Global focuses on renting technology to the entertainment industry for things like concert tours, festivals, broadcast and corporate events. Clair Global employs 350 people, and it provides equipment, technology consulting and specifications for systems, and staff who know how to operate the equipment.
Clair Brothers Audio Systems Inc., which moved to Manheim for more land, handles sales and installation of systems more permanently placed. It employs 82 people and works with a large number of subcontractors.
Roy Clair said establishing the sales business allowed some employees to get off the road to create and build speakers and new products. He described touring as fun and gratifying, but he said it can be challenging for those with families at home.
"The exciting part now is we're selling to remote parts of the world," said Barry Clair, president of Clair Brothers Audio Systems.
Shaun Clair started landscaping at his family's business property when he was in fourth grade. Today, he works in business development for Clair Global.
The companies' success comes from integrity, innovation, attention to detail, and unyielding customer support and service, Shaun Clair said.
"When you look at those things, Lancaster County is second to none," he said.
Clair Global will work in 2013 with Bon Jovi, Carrie Underwood, Fleetwood Mac, Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, Eric Clapton, Elton John and more.
"With respect to the touring market, we're doing some of the biggest tours of the year," Shaun Clair said.
Clair Global also does television industry work that has included providing consulting and equipment for "The Real World."
The Clair businesses often collaborate and share clients with Atomic Design and TAIT. The former addresses products such as lighting, rigging and scenic custom fabrication for sets; the latter handles automated rigging and scenic, staging and LED elements.
Combined, they employ 710 people across the globe.
Atomic Design has done work for NBC's "America's Got Talent," the Miss America pageant and corporate events.
TAIT integrated 78,000 individual pixels wired together with 347 kilometers of cable to turn the main stadium in the 2012 London Olympics into a seamless video screen. It provides the rigging to make characters and props "fly," such as the chandelier in the "Phantom of the Opera."
It is currently sending out equipment for Roger Waters' The Wall Live tour.
London-based production designer Tom McPhillips founded Atomic Design in the United States in 1994. He already had work for Diana Ross, Ozzy Osbourne and Michael Jackson on his résumé.
"He was designing these big shows and working with Michael Tait to realize his vision. Michael convinced Tom the future of entertainment was in Lititz, Pennsylvania," said Soren West, who is McPhillips' business partner.
The Clairs and their partners continue to believe in that dream.
"For what Hollywood is for the movie industry, Lititz is for the live event industry," said Adam Davis, executive partner with TAIT.
Shaun Clair said he often talks to his brother, Matt, about their goal of turning Lititz into an entertainment technology capital — not in terms of size, but in quality.
"We want to attract the best from all over the world and create a very unique campus of entertainment technology professionals," he said.
The relationship between the businesses attracts and retains talented professionals, West said. Together, they are making huge investments in technology, especially systems related to video content, he said.
"We're all committed to our future here in Lititz," West said.
A breakdown of the businesses
Clair Global: Rents technology to the entertainment industry for things like concert tours, festivals, broadcast and corporate events
Clair Brothers Audio Systems: Handles sales and installation of more permanently placed systems
Atomic Design: Handles lighting, rigging and scenic custom fabrication for sets
TAIT: Handles automated rigging and scenic, staging and LED elements.