You know you’re onto something when you place third in an international design competition and when you make an impression at the America’s Pitch Tank event sponsored by the Fox Cities Chamber.
Michael Pelland, founder of Princeton Audio in Princeton, is ready to make some more noise — or, rather, great-sounding music.
He’s the creator of hand-crafted speakers made from tonewood — the kinds of wood used to make guitars and violins. The speakers also are constructed with an external digital interface, which allows speaker owners to upgrade without having to replace the entire product.
“When I was a kid, things were meant to last,” Pelland says. “We went through a phase — especially in the United States — where things were made to become obsolete on purpose so people would continue to consume.”
Pelland wanted to make something special and long-lived, “where somebody would have it, and be proud to have it, and would be able to hand it down from generation to generation,” he says. “I think that mentality is coming back, especially with a lot of younger people now. They’re tired of buying junk, and using it and throwing it away.”
Pelland, who spent 18 years as an engineering consultant, is a Chicago transplant who spent summers and holiday breaks in Princeton. He and his wife Elizabeth, his partner in Princeton Audio, put their children in the Princeton school district for six months in 2006 to try it out and they ended up staying.
For a long time, Pelland had the desire to build something himself and was curious about how speakers made from tonewood might sound. He also hoped to add manufacturing jobs to Princeton’s small community.
“I’m pretty well versed in intellectual property and patents, and I kind of put two and two together in June of 2014 and started Princeton Audio,” Pelland says.
The speakers are all American- made, with the bulk of construction completed in Wisconsin (some parts come from Minneapolis). The speakers look different based on the type of wood they’re constructed with, and they also sound a little different, which also makes them attractive to music lovers.
The company has presold about 100 speakers, which retail at $399.99, through the web and the company’s storefront in Princeton.
But now the company is gearing up for a sonic boom. Princeton Audio is getting ready to produce the next 1,000 speakers, prepping for a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo.com, which is launching this summer.
It will be the second Indiegogo campaign for the company, which held its first in September. “That didn’t go so well — it wasn’t a bad thing,” Pelland says. “It wasn’t a great thing. It was just a thing.”
But then Pelland was contacted in May by the director of technology at Indiegogo, who wanted to back another campaign with the help of a Hollywood- based marketing firm, Agency 2.0. Coupled with a presence at this year’s EAA and Mile of Music events, Pelland expects word to spread quickly.
The campaign will help fund manufacturing jobs at Princeton Audio and help launch the brand nationally.
“We wouldn’t be surprised if we saw multiple thousands if not tens of thousands of speakers sold, just based on what we’re seeing in the market,” Pelland says.
Princeton Audio also received a boost from discussions at the America’s Pitch Tank event with Kyle Sexton, a marketing strategist and author, and Tim Fahndrich of Salem, Ore.-based Third River Marketing. They developed the tagline “How do you resonate?” to help highlight the individual tone variances of the speakers.
“We thought that was fabulous. It was worth the trip up there by itself,” Pelland says.
Currently the company employs six part- and full-time employees and may hire up to 40 by fall.
“We’re gearing up for rapid growth here,” Pelland says.
Freelance writing and marketing professional Jean Detjen, who works with Mile of Music and met the Pellands during a promotional video shoot, says the product will have wide appeal to music lovers.
“I think people are starting to realize they want to have more of an investment piece, rather than something that becomes obsolete quickly,” Detjen says.
Northeast Wisconsin is a perfect springboard for the product, she says.
“We’re on the cusp of this growing movement that’s really focused on artisanship, handcraftedness, and integrity and hospitality — all those things this product represents,” she says.