After a brief excursion to the UAE, Armando Galang returned to Manila to take a leading place among local hire companies with El Kapitan Pro Sound & Light.
WHEN ARMANDO GALANG dropped anchor in the Persian Gulf in 1977 to set up his home in Sharja, UAE, it’s safe to say that he didn’t envisage his pre-retirement plans taking him back to his native Manila to direct one of the most progressive PA rental companies in the Philippines. But for the self-styled El Kapitan, it has been a welcome turn of events. The seafarer now refers terra firma to the salt of the seven seas and,having returned to dry land, his company has ingenously transformed his fortunes by virtue of an eager crew of helpers and rich booty of audio equipment.
The PA rental business in the Philippines is composed of a large number of small-scale companies that often pool their comparatively limited resources in order to host the large touring productions that are increasingly appearing in Manila as part of worldwide tours. In a country where fragmented island geography creates poor business logistics, cost continues to outweigh quality and the notoriously congested roads of Manila hamper the efforts of rental companies trying to go about their daily business, El Kapitan has charted new waters and has made rich picking as a result.
As a building musician, Mr. Galang frequently jammed with similarly-minded friends when on shore leave. Upon relocating to Manila in 1998, he constructed a small showroom in a market area and – being unsure of what to fill this new facility with –displayed his musician instruments and backline. It proved to be a masterstroke as he had unwittingly sparked the imagination of passers-by wanting to hire the equipment for their own personal use. Retaining strong links in the United Arab Emirates, he consulted his friend Tony Sawyer –who was employed at then Harman Pro distributor W & Sons –for advice on what equipment he should purchase in order to cater for these demands. ‘Tony recommended a JBL HLA array at the time, and I subsequently ended up buying eight mid-high speakers and four subwoofers, powered by Crown amplifiers together with some dbx equalizers and Sennheiser microphones,’ Mr. Galang recalls. Taking full advantages of his merchant searing ties, the equipment was purchased in the UAE and shipped over to Manila.
The Philippine Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) required Mr Galang to submit around 20 different company names for registration purposes, in the event that some of these had already been previously registered, and El Kapitan Pro Sound & Light was eventually granted as the name of the new rental company. With an impressive stock of PA equipment behind him and no shortage of willing sound engineers and roadies volunteering their services for the events to be accommodated, El Kapitan’s couse was set. With increasing business, Mr. Galang wisely reinvested his returns and profits into the business and opted for scalable systems that could be use for small and large events alike.
In a similar vein to Dubai, the vast majority of El Kapitan’s clients are from the corporate world, requiring sound systems for regular events and promotions and, while assembling a healthy stock of good equipment, Mr. Galang and his team knew the importance of keeping such clients happy, which has allowed the repeat business to continue unchecked. ‘Getting the sound right is just one aspect with the likes of Smart Telecoms, Philip Morris, Pfizer, Unilab and Sun Life Assurance,’ he says. ‘You cannot turn up late with shabby equipment –image and reliability are vital ingredients as well. Accordingly, we always set-up the day before an event in order to overcome the traffic problem here in Manila, as it is very unpredictable. We also look after our equipment and store it carefully without exposure to humidity, heat or saline condition conditions which will rust speaker grilles and microphone stands, for examples.’
Having built the business successfully on a base of quality rather than price, El Kapitan headed into deeper water in 2006 when he took the decision to make a much larger investment -this time placing his faith in Nexo speaker systems. In his familiar role of consultant, Tony Sawyer advised him of the system’s merits and, with the arrival of 20 Geo-D line array speakers, complemented by eight Geo- D subwoofers, together with an arsenal of PS15 speakers, NX242 controllers and Camco Vortex 6 amplifiers, new doors opened quickly. ‘We now host larger events on a much more regular basis,’ Mr. Galang explains. ‘I think we’ve also put Nexo on the map here in the Philippines as a result. All of our clients are complementary upon hearing the Geo-D system or the PS15 speaker of the first time. Once again this is scalable system, but we’ve already reached a point were we need to invest in more stock.’
Good news for Nexo and Camco, but possibly not his local competitors who have traditionally won rental contracts by offering the cheapest services. Additionally, El Kapitan uses Yamaha PM5D, Soundcraft MH3 and Dynacord Powermate consoles for its many and varied needs.
With he demand of Nexo products firmly on the rise in the local rental market, a win-win relationship between the French manufacturer and his unique end-user looks set to flourish: ‘Nexo has invited me to some great training demonstrations and seminars and they also offer unrivalled products support,’ says Mr. Galang. The technicians in Paris know their products inside and out and can troubleshoot anything over the telephone. I was once having some problems with an NX242 controller and as we were about to set up for a client, there was no time to bring in a replacement unit. The technical engineer, however, fixed the problem in seconds over the phone, once I had given him the serial number details. Not many manufacturers can claim to offer that sort of quality support. Without that sort of assistance, the show couldn’t go on at times and our reputation may be harmed.’
The Philippine rental market is as tough as ever, but his policy of quality, reliability and consistency has made El Kapitan many friends: ‘We may be a relative new corner in the market, but we offer our clients a quality of service that I believed is unsurpassed here in Manila. If the client’s happy and satisfied, repeat business and referral of business brings increasing acceptance,’
With a staff of 60 experienced stagehands and technicians, together with a fleet of seven trucks for transportation needs, the Kapitan and his crew are upwardly mobile. The way things are going, I’d imagine that all events will be digital in five years’ time,’ he says. ‘With our inventory, we’ll be able to cater for that demand quite easily. The NX controllers and Yamaha consoles can both be updated with software that is easily downloaded from the manufacturer’s websites, whilst the Camco Vortex amps have slots in the rear for card insertions.’
The Kapitan’s ship is headed for the distant horizon were –no doubt –more booty and spoils await.