Established in 1987 by CEO & Founder, Niall J. Holden, & his bass player pal, (the late) Marcus Defigurado, VDC Trading has arguably become one the most iconic names in pro audio market. Recently reaching its 31-year milestone, TPi reports on the story so far…
Sat in the unassuming offices located in King’s Cross, VDC’s CEO, Niall J. Holden, is surrounded by classic American 1950s memorabilia, from old Coca Cola vending machines, to vintage guitars, and even a duke box, the vibe is curiously fun and the company’s humble beginnings even more so. “I’d moved to London and had been struggling to find work,” began Holden, in his still-quite-pronounced Yorkshire twang. “I ended up becoming a bus driver for a few weeks before getting laid off, and somehow found myself moving music kit around London for a couple of quid.”
Yet he wasn’t alone. Picture the scene: two young, new friends decide to form a company moving musical instruments and backline gear around the capital. The idea, which was initially ‘just a bit of fun’, soon led the pair to a bank manager’s office during Thatcher’s Boom Britain. The money was flowing and it seemed the Gods were on their side; a £5,000 bank loan was granted and some imperative ‘thinking time’ in the sun ensued.
Holden continued: “When we got that cheque, it was like being handed free money – I’d never known anything like it!”
When the idea to pool their ideas and set up a business properly came about, so did a lot of behaviour that wouldn’t be out of place in a film script: “We got the money, we opened a joint bank account, got drunk and then booked some flights to Rhodes, Greece, for two weeks…” he said, with a fond smile.
“It actually tuned into three weeks, because we hadn’t quite finished thinking,” he laughed.
With adequate tans in tow, reality hit: “When we got back to London, we bought cars, because we thought it was the sensible thing to do. When we sat down properly, we realised we only had £128 left in the pot…”
And then what? “Well, somehow, we made it work.” Their first sale as fully-fledged businessmen was for 38 microphone stands to Annie Lennox’s rehearsal studio in an old church. “We made 50p a pop. When our first invoice was paid, we were like “oh… ok, this is fun!” And it might sound like a cliché, but hard work does pay off. And although we weren’t doing much of it right at the beginning, that first sale kicked us into gear. We weren’t bothered about making loads of money, we were bothered by quality. Obsessed by it even. Quality was always the priority, even if it meant there was less margin. Quality means happy customers, and we’ve always stuck by that.”
The formula clearly works, as today, the cable company is known worldwide for its quality and endurance, and the benefits of never faltering on this ethos has led to a continually blossoming business.
Today, as a leading supplier of analogue and digital audio and video cables to the professional and domestic user, whether it’s consumer AV or broadcast quality coaxial or fibre optic cables for multiplexing multi-channel audio and video, VDC delivers with ultra-high quality solutions. The legendary Van Damme Cable range is popular with backline techs the world over, not to mention being the trusted cable specified in British recording institution, Abbey Road, which was the venue of choice for the Company’s 25th birthday. More recently, VDC celebrated its 31st year at the London’s St.Pancras Renaissance Hotel and celebrated with the likes of Funktion-One, DiGiCo and Gravity Rigs. “The party went brilliantly,” he smiled. “The pro audio industry is a very cosy size, I do love it!”
What has been key, is its North West London location. “I bought this very building in Kings Cross over 20 years ago. At the time, all my friends thought I was mad,” he revealed. It must be asked: ‘Mad’ in what way exactly? Surely it didn’t involve another bank loan and further ‘thinking holiday’? “No, not quite. I was lucky enough to buy the building outright, but it was a total toilet; it was used by squatters and hosted illegal raves because it was this multi-floor derelict building that no one care about.
“People had even broken in and stolen all the copper wiring. So, it was in a really bad way. And although I wish I could sit here and say I had the foresight then to know the likes of Google would move into the area, I didn’t. I just saw a bit of potential with the building, and the rest was down to luck.”
Some years after the initial partnership began, Holden’s partner wanted to emigrate to Canada, after all, it only started out as a ‘bit of fun’.
“Working with Marcus was like having your own personal comedian, he was great,” remembered Holden. “I suppose he wanted out because we never meant for the business to grow into what it did, as I was happy to take over. Today, the set-up is somewhat different; there are almost 60 staff in VDC’s North West London office, and no less than four other Directors: Adam Jafrabadi, Export Director; Tony Maraia, Finance Director; Nick Chmara, Tech Director; Cain Cookson, Sales Director. Holden continued: “The team of people I’ve got with me makes all the difference. I can honestly say we’ve got a great team here, probably the best we’ve ever had.”
Detecting yet another Yorkshire accent, TPi asked Cookson about his own voyage to the Big Smoke. “I did a degree in Audio & Music Technology, worked in a recording studio and for a production company before realising I wasn’t making any money! At VDC, I’ve had a few roles, I came in as an – RDM – Relationship Development Manager, then was the company’s UK Manager and I’m now a Director as of last year.” Cookson’s area of expertise lays with brand partnerships and OEM sales. In laymen’s terms, he describes the relationship with audio console manufactures, for example: “With a lot of desks, it’s like an extra option, something you want and that you know you should really have, if you want to pay a little extra. I think of good cabling as the “do you want fries with that?” of the mixing desk model. For example, all DiGiCo’s SD range come with Van Damme Cables as standard. Any of their touring desks ship with our units. You have to have top quality on tour, but people forget how important cable is – it’s like the unsung hero of live performance! You can’t plug a top-quality desk in with a bit of coat hanger!”
Holden agreed: “Live sound is big for us – VDC can sight Muse & Coldplay as users – but then there are other outlets too, such as HDMI headphones for theme park attractions, universities and hospitals. Our biggest customer accounts for only 4% of our business sales, and a lot of our clients have grown 45% per year since we started, which is a great sign. Year on year we’ve personally had a growth of 7-8% and I’m happy with that. Predictions for this year seem like we’ll be doing our biggest turnover yet, and export is going to be a really big area for us. We’ve invested in a new website and re-branded, we’ve put another half a million cables in stock, and that’s actually critical – you’ve got to have the right stock.” VDC’s main export markets currently are Europe, the Middle East and Russia, as well as the UK, with its sights now set on other parts of the world. And as three decades have flown by for Holden, thank goodness he took the time to ‘think’…
Kel Murray – TPi