Dealerscope 2019 Hall of Fame: John Potts, Peerless-AV
John Potts, who joined Peerless Industries in 1995 and was appointed president when the company was renamed Peerless-AV in 2012, has been instrumental in its evolution from its legacy business as an A/V mount manufacturer into a global technology company and an integrated solutions provider. He has played pivotal roles all along the evolutionary path, including having a hand in the growth of the company from under 100 employees to over 500. Potts was also involved in overseeing three moves that have tripled the company’s combined headquarters/plant space to 320,000 square feet.
Potts came to Peerless-AV after working for a tool-and-die maker for injection molding – a fascinating career transition and one, he said, that was stimulated by an interest “in running a manufacturing company that was a leader in its industry and one that drives innovation. As the originator of the TV mount, and pioneering almost every major mounting innovation since then, Peerless-AV fit the profile of the type of company I wanted to join when leaving my previous employer.”
He started at Peerless-AV as a paint line supervisor, right about the time he identifies as “the beginning of when the average consumer started to realize significant benefits from mounting the units to walls and ceilings. I was lucky to see explosive growth in technology and be one of the enthusiasts in the organization to evolve us into an innovator in technology.” Those innovations, to name just a few, included manufacturing the first-ever plasma TV mount to creating the first-ever IP68 large-format display.
Another initiative Potts was behind involved returning manufacturing to the U.S. in 2010 and 2011, after having headed up an overseas manufacturing initiative in 2005.
“Bringing back manufacturing to the U.S.,” he says, “was extremely important for us. We were primarily motivated by two things: keeping good-paying jobs with benefits in the United States during turbulent economic times and protecting our intellectual property. With the issues of consumer safety and IP theft in China, we were willing to sacrifice margins and profits to give the end-user quality and safety.”
However, Potts explains, “at the peak of this iteration of our transformation, it became clear that we would either have to expand our 320,000-square-foot facility, or get some of the lower-margin, more commoditized products out of the building to make way for our explosive growth in the outdoor display and large-format kiosk arenas. Today, we continue to manufacture 50 percent of what we sell in our facility in the USA. It is important to note that our respect for people extends to all of our manufacturing facilities, not just our primary one in North America. We have chosen to produce our commodity products in Taiwan, a TAA-compliant country with strong workers’ rights, and have chosen to pay a premium to produce there, because it is at the core of who we are.”
At the 2018 Digital Signage Expo ribbon-cutting (l. to r.): Jose Avalos, VP IoT Group at Intel; Jean Beaudry, COO at Broadsign; Gregory Taylor, VP at Samsung; Andrea Varrone, Show Director for Digital Signage Expo; Nick Belcore, Executive VP at Peerless-AV; John Potts; Garry Wicka, Head of Marketing at LG; and Rushmi Malaviarachchi, Partner Group Program Manager at Microsoft
His decision to move the lower-margin product manufacturing overseas, Potts says, stemmed from his willingness to “always ask the ‘what if’ questions. For every action, there is a reaction. Run the different scenarios to the eventual outcome. It helps me in making my daily decisions and instilling that within my management team.”
Potts, in his tenure as president, has developed a management style founded in being accessible to his employees. “I have never put myself in an ivory tower, or have been afraid to get my hands physically dirty,” he says. “You have to believe in your management team and let them do their jobs. My door is always open to bounce ideas off me, but I am successful by empowering the people around me. When we face big opportunities, we tackle them as a team. As a team we are stronger than individuals. We all think differently and ask different questions. I myself constantly put my team together and bounce ideas off them.” He cites as a seminal influence on him Scott Mercer, founder and CEO of Volta Charging, with whom Peerless-AV is partnering to create charging stations for retail centers; the stations make use of Peerless-AV’s custom kiosks and outdoor display solutions. Potts calls Mercer “a dynamic and innovative leader that I learn something from each time we interact. Scott is a sentinel example of taking existing technologies and marrying them to create a completely different user experience that massively benefits the consumer and partner alike. He is tireless in his pursuit of perfection and is unrelenting in his constant pursuit of improving his company, his product, and the lives of those whom his product touches.”
Besides being committed to his work, Potts says he believes in striking a healthy work-life balance, citing activities like hunting and fishing and time in the gym as stress-relievers for him.
On Best Practices & the Future of Retailing
In his capacity as president, Potts feels that it is important to make outreach in the A/V professional and consumer sectors in pursuit of furthering industry best practices.
“By advancing technology, we improve customers’ experience while simultaneously making our competition innovate to stay relevant,” he explains. “As they improve, they provide us the ongoing impetus to evolve and stay best in class. This evolutionary cycle drives down price while improving cost and product for the customer. Peerless-AV has been at the forefront of gathering industry data and feedback to incorporate that feedback into product development. Our LCD video wall mounts are the culmination of that type of direct outreach to the customer.”
As for the future of the business, Potts recognizes Millennials’ influence, and the importance of attracting and keeping that consumer sector engaged as crucial – in both narrow and broader terms. “The way they interact with each other and technology is far different than previous generations,” he observes. “This is changing the brick-and-mortar retailer and the custom integrator.
“We are seeing a re-emergence or a blending of the traditional and the e-commerce platforms,” Potts continues. “This can be seen in examples like the Sam’s Club Scan & Go app, which offers an ideal experience across a broad swath of customers. The companies that figure out how to make their technology bend around the user experience will emerge more powerful and relevant than ever before. Those that do not will be relegated to the annals of once-great companies that are no more.”