Martin Professional’s Smoke Division

in Company 411

Martin Professional U.K. factory for smoke division productsMartin Professional may be known primarily for its light fixtures, but that wasn’t always the case. When it was founded in 1986, fog machines accounted for the bulk of its sales. The Aarhus, Denmark-based company dabbled in disco-style lighting and even live sound products, but its big push into intelligent lighting fixtures didn’t happen until the late 1990s.

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the company’s smoke division may have seem to have taken a back seat to its wide range of entertainment, commercial and architectural lighting products. But despite its lower-profile, the smoke division is enjoying considerable success, with a better-than-20-percent share of market and sales for 2012 trending ahead of the division’s record sales levels in 2011.

Henrik Sorensen, Martin Professional vice president, Smoke“We’ve experienced steady growth over the years and last year was an all-time high for us,” says Henrik Sørensen, vice president, Smoke at Martin Professional. “We want to continue this growth in the future by bringing new products forward that are appreciated by our customers.”

Haze to Heavy Fog

Martin offers a complete line of haze, fog and heavy fog machines that are used by bands such as Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard and Coldplay and at venues like Marquee Nightclub at The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and Ministry of Sound in the U.K.

The Jem Roadie X-Stream is one of the newer products driving sales to new heights. It mixes fog and air to provide an array of atmospheric effects, from translucent haze to “white-out” fog. The Roadie X-Stream can be used in applications such as stadiums, large arenas and outdoor events.

The Jem Glaciator X-Stream is another innovative product; it’s designed to create low-lying fog effects for concerts and theatres.

Martin Professional Smoke division products“The Glaciator takes smoke and freezes it down to minus 40 degrees so it stays on the floor to give an effect like you are walking in the clouds,” Sørensen says.

The Magnum 2000 is another popular product for applications at theatre venues, concert stages, nightclubs and cruise ships — an “industry standard,” Sørensen says. It’s an easy-to-use portable fogger that produces 700 cubic meters of fog output per minute from a 1600W heat exchanger, and it can be controlled via DMX. “Customers around the world know this machine and appreciate it.”

The Smoke division also produces a variety of water-based and environmentally friendly smoke machine fluids. They are made from the food-grade polyfunctional alcohols, which are diluted with water and purified. A new line of fluids is planned for 2013.

A Recipe for Success

Although hardly unique, Martin’s Smoke division relies upon a growth strategy that is both sure-fire and tried-and-true: to develop products based on extensive feedback from customers.

“We listen to what they need, what they want and what they ask for,” Sørensen says. “Everything we do is 100 percent for the customer.”

One example is the company’s shift toward hazers. “Back in the day, it was all about fog machines, but today so many concerts, shows and theatres want to use haze machines,” Sørensen says. “They create a thin smoke that allows you to see the visual lighting effects.”

Martin's Jem brand includes smoke machines, hazers and fansHe cites the Jem Compact Hazer Pro as a case in point. Launched earlier this year, and featured at LDI, it serves as a compact, versatile and user-friendly haze-producing solution, and, as Sørensen notes, more Martin haze products are now under active development, targeting a 2013 debut.

Another strategy for continued growth is in customer education, with online video clips playing a key role. “For our young customers, we would like to teach them about smoke in a simple way so they feel confident with the effects faster,” Sørensen says. “We have had very good feedback already on this, and we plan to tell even more about the products in new videos.”

Changing it Up

Sørensen has been with the company for nearly a decade—including two years at the Martin manufacturing facility in Louth, U.K. He has seen the company go through several changes.

“We have become much more efficient in the way we do things,” he says, noting that the company has fewer employees now than it did a decade ago. Martin is still feeling the effects of the global economic recession, he adds, but after a period of mostly sticking to older gear, customers “are starting to buy new products again.”

Noting the importance of product innovation, Sørensen points to the development of the Jem Glaciator X-Stream as a case in point. Developed close to 10 years ago, it was designed to produce low fog without the safety concerns associated with CO2 (dry ice).

Martin Professional Smoke division manufacturing, U.K.Along with Martin Smoke’s commitment to ensure that its products are “100 percent reliable,” all of the professional products now offered by the company are digitally controlled, Sørensen says.

Martin collaborates with Aalborg and Aarhus Universities in Denmark to advance the state of the art in smoke technology. Students work at the company headquarters for a semester and assist with various projects.

At Martin’s manufacturing facility in the U.K., meanwhile, students from nearby universities typically participate in half-year apprenticeships.

“It’s exciting to bring these young people in, because they tell us their thoughts and ideas, but it’s also a fantastic learning experience for them,” Sørensen says.

“These students bring all kinds of ideas and help lift our company to new levels,” he explains, noting how some students join the firm upon graduation.

Martin Professional Smoke division manufacturing, U.K.A Bright Future

The Smoke division plans to continue its growth in the future through the “Smoke Sensation” campaign. Currently in the planning stages, the goal is to raise awareness of the company’s smoke products via magazines and social media.

The ultimate goal is to not just give customers what they have asked for in the past, but to anticipate their needs for the future — or, as Sørensen puts it, “finding solutions for our customers’ needs, and adding new technologies they didn’t even realize they needed.”