Hartley Peavey will be the first to tell you that Meridian, Miss., is no place to manufacture high-qaulity sound equipment. "The state, unfortunately, runs dead last in everything," explains the president of Peavey Electronics Corp. "You don't have the skilled people you need, you don't have the suppliers, you don't have the access to the freight network. . . ." "And what do you do when you've got foreign distributors or a rock band visiting?" adds Peavey's wife, Melia, who is the company's vice-president. "Take 'em out for catfish?" The couple have "lost count," they say, of the times they have wished they had built the company somewhere other than Hartley's hometown.
Still, they have done all right. Their 1,200-employee operation, which had sales last year just shy of $100 million, is the world's leading name in power amplifiers, not to mention the only maker of solid-body electric guitars in the nation, and the last major sound-equipment manufacturer that can boast all-American parts and labor. And they own the company lock, stock, and barrel.
"Back in 1965, when I got into this," says Peavey, "I was too damn dumb to know it couldn't be done." The people he couldn't hire, he had trained -- whether they required managerial and technical skills or remedial reading instruction. The parts and assembly needs he couldn't satisfy outside, he simply brought in-house. Today, Peavey Electronics is an organization that is as fiercely proud and fanatically self-sufficient as its founder. A training facility -- open 10 hours a day, at least five days a week -- meets the company's demand for all but the most skilled engineering positions. Vertical integration at Peavey is so complete that the company anodizes and bends its own metal, prints its own circuit boards, builds its own speakers, and runs its own advertising agency. At one point, when Peavey was suffering a shortage of particleboard for its speaker and amplifier cabinets, there was even semi-serious discussion of hiring a company forester.
Being virtually independent of suppliers and subcontractors may be a matter of necessity for this Mississippi-based company, but has its strategic benefits. "By doing it ourselves, we do it better, and we do it cheaper," says Peavey, pointing to improved quality control and retail prices that run at least 20% to 30% below those of the competition. When the competition consists of huge conglomerates, many of which manufacture offshore, Peavey knows that such a price spread can make the difference between doing it and not doing it at all. "Remember Gettysburg," he says. "Us ol' Southern boys have learned not to attack an entrenched opponent frontally when you can come from another direction." Like, for example, from underneath.
Peavey, who was himself a "pretty lousy guitarist" before he launched his company, sees another competitive edge in the fact that about 30% of his employees have a background in music -- mainly Delta blues, country, and rock and roll. "We know how to tinker, and we know how to listen, and that counts for a lot," Peavey says. He actively solicits ideas and comments from his dealers -- sometimes responding in three-page, handwritten letters. "I'm not gonna just put out a catalog and disappear," he explains.
But Peavey's biggest sales tool is Hartley Peavey, the Mississippi boy whose name is on every product that comes off the assembly line. Convinced that "fat cats don't hunt," he is determined to be the front man of a "lean, mean organization" -- not just another faceless corporation. "I am a big part of the concept we sell," he ays matter-of-factly. That is why he is at the trade shows, pressing the flesh and plying goodwill with the down-home metaphors and maxims that he candidly labels "part of my mystique." Says Peavey: "I can't be just another coat-and-tie type. "I'm a redneck, I'm crude, and I make no bones about it." For better or for worse, he is Mr. Peavey. "So far as I know, where's never been a Mr. Yamaha."
CORRECTION-DATE: July 1985
In "Homegrown" (Spotlight, May), the position of Peavey Electronics Corp. in the solid-body electric guitar market was incorrectly described. It is one of several U.S. manufacturers.