Jim Fosgate likes doing it the hard way.
The 50-year-old, self-taught electronics wizard doesn't use computers or calculus in designing his specialized stereo components."I spend long hours just listening," he says.
He doesn't want to base his operation in a major electronics center or metropolitan area. Instead, Fosgate and his 16 employees design, manufacture and market his audio products from a 2,200-square-foot facility in this small rural town.
"We like living in Heber, and Salt Lake is close enough for our materials," Fosgate says, noting marriage brought him to Utah, and his wife Norma runs the financial side of the business.
Fosgate also prefers that his small team of assembly workers painstakingly bend and solder every component lead by hand rather than use a machine.
But taking the more difficult route hasn't hurt Fosgate, a recognized leader and innovator in the audio equipment and electronics industry.
His line of "surround sound" audio decoders and processors, which have won design awards at the popular Consumer Electronics Show, are considered by audiophiles as among the best in "matrixing" two-channel stereo into multi-channels for the effect of wrapping sound around the listener.
A Fosgate matrix decoder and processor will take a two-channel stereo recording usually heard through a two-speaker stereo system and in a fraction of a second separate the recorded sound into as many as seven channels, allowing the listener to use from four to seven speakers.
As founder of Fosgate Inc., this marks his third time around as a sole proprietor, and running his own business "seems harder than before," he says.
But, despite the risks and pressures of running his own small business, Fosgate would rather put in 60-hour weeks for himself than account for 40 hours work to someone else.
A determined entrepreneur, Fosgate embarked on his small business career in the late 1960s in Arizona, where he manufactured radio control transmitters. He sold that company to make way for a venture into the car stereo business.
After almost 10 years, however, financial problems surfaced, and after he sold the firm he filed personal bankruptcy. Fosgate car stereos are still on the market, and he receives a royalty for the unit's design.
As he made ends meet by repairing and reselling broken down televisions and radios, Fosgate got restless and began tinkering with quadrophonic sound - a craze that swept the industry in the early 1970s but failed for lack of compatible components.
With meager savings and a lot of ingenuity, Fosgate built a multi-channel processor that he introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1981. But the presentation bombed, he said, because his improved product couldn't shake the tainted reputation of obsolete quadraphonic systems.
But Fosgate returned the following year, this time using a video to complement the multichannel sound produced by his innovative equipment. He said the people may not have appreciated his work with multichannel sound the first time, but when they saw cars on the screen in front of them, while hearing tires squealing all around them, they loved it.
"We were the hit of the show," Fosgate said, noting his first model won the annual event's Hi-Fi Grand Prix award.
Surround sound by Dolby is standard at most modern movie theaters, but Fosgate's idea was to let the consumer enjoy similar quality at home just listening to music or watching a video.
Although Fosgate could be credited with resurrecting surround sound for the home entertainment market, he doesn't discount the help of Peter Scheiber, the father of early surround sound and holder of several patents on the technology. Together, the pair have developed a line of surround sound decoders and processors for home and car stereos retailing from $550 to $1,450.
Fosgate said his products, which produced sales last year of just under $1 million, primarily target high income consumers and seasoned audiophiles. Since his first demonstration in 1981, some 30 other brands of home stereo decoders have appeared on the market and demand for the component is expected to grow with the trend toward consumers acquiring complete home entertainment audio and video centers.
Perfecting surround sound technology has taken a lot of work and time, Fosgate said, recalling the countless hours spent listening and exploring the ways to extract all the sounds of a recording and separate them into a circle of strategically placed speakers, giving the listener as close to a live performance experience as possible.
"I've never worked on anything that's been so hard to make it work right," he said of his efforts to design and manufacture surround sound processors that can separate and distribute sounds in 29 milliseconds - a time lag too quick for the human ear to detect the processing of two-channel sound into multichannels.
Fosgate said perfecting surround sound for the home market is just the beginning of what he hopes his small enterprise can accomplish. Plans for the future include production of Fosgate speakers and amplifiers that complement the surround sound processors. Fosgate also hopes to expand his product line for the car stereo market, which will help stabilize the seasonal buying patterns of the home stereo market.
To accommodate growth, Fosgate said he is looking at expanding production facilities in the future and producing the company's sheet metal, now supplied by in Salt Lake City manufacturers.
His advice to would-be entrepreneurs: Successful entrepreneurs must take the time to target markets with the least competition in order to get started before large competitors move in, he said. They must also feel strongly about their ideas in order to control growth and proceed carefully toward the market place without becoming sidetracked by less important projects.