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Jim Wohlford, Sanus: The Accidental Innovator

January 10, 2013
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“That spring, we had orders for over 1,000 pairs. We were in a garage assembling them on a card table. It was a daunting task building the stands and financing the business,” Wohlford said, adding that soon after that, Sanus moved its operations into a small warehouse. “That’s when we went from a tiny garage operation to having a really big customer.”
One really big customer soon turned to many as executives from Boston Acoustics, B&W, Klipsch, and Polk, to name a few, began placing orders. Sanus still manufactures stands for most of those companies.
What started as a hobby and a way to pay his college bills soon turned into a 60-hour a week job. “The business kept getting more and more complicated, and it took a very short time for our dealer base to grow to thousands of outlets,” he said. Wohlford decided to take a semester off; he never returned.
Although he left school, the University of Minnesota still played an important role in Wohlford’s career. One of the smartest things he ever did, he said, was to pick up a book on business accounting 101 from the student bookstore and study it cover to cover.
“The hardest thing with business is understanding the dollars and the cash flow. Failure to do that is the single biggest reason a lot of businesses don’t make it,” he said. “The best thing we did was get our financial act together within a few years. I think we grew the top and bottom lines every single year.”
Wohlford and his team took the same approach developing its TV mounts as it did the speaker stands: identify a hole in the market and fill it with the best solution possible. When large-screen plasmas started to hit the mass market in a big way during the early 2000s, Sanus AV dealers began complaining about having to carry separate mounting brackets for each TV model. It was a supply chain and inventory nightmare. A universal bracket would make their lives so much simpler, Wohlford thought.
In 2002, Sanus delivered the VMPL50 Flat Panel Plasma mount, which included the patented Virtual Axis finger tilting mechanism, enabling the user to adjust the TV with their fingertips. That innovation was carried over in 2007 to the Virtual Axis 3D feature, which allowed the user to easily move the TV in many directions.
Wohlford followed up with many other patents, innovations, awards and product lines, including the Vertical Foundations line of on-wall furniture. In 2004, Sanus merged with Milestone AV Technologies, where Wohlford now works as a consultant. He resigned as general manager of Sanus a few years ago but still puts in about 30 hours a week there helping to oversee operations. He’s currently mulling over a few new business ideas and working on several patents. “Who know if lightening will strike twice,” he said.
Who knows, but there’s always a vacant garage somewhere if it does. DS


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