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Jim Wohlford, Sanus: The Accidental Innovator

January 10, 2013
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Like many notable businesses in the tech world, Sanus started out in a garage.
But even before the company got to that point, Jim Wohlford had a simple idea that proved to make a lot of sense.

It was back in the early ‘80s. Wohlford was studying for a master’s degree in psychology at the University of Minnesota and working part time selling AV at the local Sound Center to pay the bills. He had his eye on a career in education or social psychology, and viewed audio as a hobby. But for someone who began subscribing to Sound Review magazine when he was 10, it was a pretty passionate hobby. “I’ve always been an AV geek,” he said. “I’ve always been into this stuff.”

By the time he was at Sound Center, Wohlford had developed a keen ear for quality sound and a sharp eye for aesthetics. As he walked the sales floor, he couldn’t help but notice the poor quality of the speaker stands. Most were made out of plywood, cheap particleboard, flimsy laminates or vinyl. There was no thought behind the design. You couldn’t adjust the height and they vibrated when the sound was turned up. “The problem was that people didn’t think about the stands,” he said. “They just thought of them as a cosmetic.”

The core designs of Sanus’ speaker stands, TV mounts and furniture today are pretty much the same as those of the original products. If you start off with the right design, high-quality materials and sensible features that solve everyday problems, those foundations should carry generations of products.

“The same thing that makes a speaker stand good today applied back then,” he said.

As a hardcore audiophile, Wohlford knew what he had to do to make a better stand. He built the platforms from medium density fiber core to minimize resonation, and used adjustable stands so the consumer could set the speaker at the right height and angle. Unique screw heads, a high-gloss black lacquer finish and hard wood columns provided the aesthetics missing in exiting stands. “Now the stands had a quality that matched the quality of the speakers we were selling,” he said.
Wohlford decided to call his new line Sanus, based on the Latin word for healthy and sound. Shortly after he had set up a few of his new stands in the Sound Center, the national sales manager for Allison Speaker happened to come in. “He said he never saw stands like that and had never seen his speakers look so good,” Wohlford said. He ordered up a dozen or so to use in the Allison booth at the 1988 CES, where a buyer from The Good Guys happened to see them. He got in touch with Wohlford and ordered a thousand. Sanus was on its way.


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