From the website of ‘The Record’, June 2, 2008


The Record
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End of an era

Photography Brent Davis

Photography Brent Davis

Photography Peter Lee

Photography Peter Lee

Photography Peter Lee

Photography Peter Lee

Photography Peter Lee

Photography Peter Lee

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Electrohome winds down, leaving behind a rich legacy

June 02, 2008

Raymond Stanton

If you're like thousands of Waterloo Region area residents of a certain age, the name Electrohome likely triggers a rush of nostalgia. Chances are you either worked at one of the company's operations or one of your relatives did. And you almost certainly owned an Electrohome TV set, stereo, fan, air conditioner or piece of furniture.

This year -- one year after it celebrated its 100th anniversary -- the company likely will cease to exist, leaving nothing but memories of an age when thriving family businesses, such as Kaufman Rubber, J.M. Schneider, Marsland Engineering, Breithaupt Leather and Lang Tanning, were the backbone of the local economy.

John A. Pollock, who has led Electrohome for the last 37 years in the roles of president, chief executive officer and chairperson, is currently presiding over the windup of an enterprise that once employed 4,400 people and now has a payroll of four. Pollock, grandson of company founder Arthur B. Pollock, watched the family firm transition from its golden years in the '50s and '60s, when the postwar baby boom fuelled record levels of consumer spending and Electrohome was in seven businesses, into a manufacturer of niche high-tech products far removed from consumer showrooms. In the past few years, he's wrestled with the challenges of a fast-changing world economy that he sadly says has left Electrohome "a pale comparison of its historic self."

All he has left to do is settle some outstanding issues related to the pension and benefit plans for former employees and finalize the cleanup of a contaminated site on Victoria Street North in Kitchener where the company's metal products operation used to be located. Once the 0.8-hectare property is cleaned up, it will be sold. On the first day of 2008, the company handed over control of its last major asset -- the Electrohome brand and trademarks. Redmond Group, a subsidiary of Guelph-based Synnex Canada Ltd. that markets electronic consumer products, bought the rights to the name for $1.5 million.

Electrohome shaped the area in many ways, says Sandy Lovell, a member of the Waterloo Regional Heritage Foundation. "When you think of the number of people the company employed and the dollar value of sales, there was a significant economic impact," she says. "But that wasn't all. Electrohome influenced many of today's successful high-tech firms, played a major role in developing our major educational institutions and has left a lasting cultural legacy."

Lovell, one of the organizers of last year's Electrohome 100th anniversary exhibit at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, has personal reasons to mourn the demise of Electrohome. Her father, Robert Lovell, worked at Electrohome for more than 30 years, mainly as public relations manager.

Electrohome's departure from the business scene isn't quite the rags-to-riches-to-rags saga of many family enterprises -- Pollock recently gave $5 million to the K-W Community Foundation -- but it is a sad reminder of an era when Kitchener's predecessor, known by the moniker Busy Berlin, was a hotbed of industrial enterprise.

In 1907, Arthur B. Pollock came back to Berlin from New York with the rights to a hornless phonograph, acquired from Herman Schroeder, who was competing with the likes of Thomas Edison in the rapidly developing home entertainment market. Pollock joined forces with Alex Welker, a young engineer, to build the new-fangled phonograph and sell it across Canada. Their company was called Pollock Manufacturing Co. Ltd. The name changed to Dominion Electrohome Industries Ltd. in 1933 and was later shortened to Electrohome Ltd.

The phonograph, a success despite fierce competition, became the basis for all future operations. The need for cabinets to house the phonograph prompted Pollock to start a cabinet-making operation that grew into a large furniture manufacturing business. Making the various metal components for phonographs, including spring-wound motors, led to the company's first exports to China in the 1920s. And when phonographs became powered by electricity, the small motors that were needed were produced by yet another division.

When radio broadcasting came along, Pollock started making radios under licence from a New York company. The first model, housed in a wooden cabinet made in Pollock's furniture factory in È

ÈElmira, had a separate tinhorn speaker and sold for $175. When electrically powered record players replaced the windup version, Pollock was there to take advantage of this new technology.

By 1929, Pollock's three companies employed 150 people and had combined sales of $500,000. But that also was the year the stock market crashed, a development that took its toll on manufacturers of consumer products. Canadians stopped buying luxury goods and Pollock's businesses almost went under. In the midst of this depressing time, Arthur Pollock suffered a heart attack. His only son, Carl A. Pollock, left a teaching post at the University of Toronto to take the helm. By 1938, with the Depression over, the company was humming again and sales passed $1 million (the equivalent of almost $15 million in today's dollars).

The company changed course somewhat during the Second World War. Its furniture making capabilities were converted to produce airplane wings, tail sections and other components. The metal products and radio divisions were busy helping the war effort, too. By the late 1940s, Electrohome ranked as a nationally known and important company with 1,400 employees geared to meet the demands of the post-war economy. "The war enabled the company to acquire new equipment, more production capacity and a wider range of skills," says Pollock. "There was also a new attitude that said we could be a major player on the national scene."

If there's a constant thread to the Electrohome story, it has to be the family's ability to spot a business opportunity and fearlessly pursue it. Arthur Pollock demonstrated this trait time and again in building the company from scratch. By the time of his death in 1951, his son, Carl, had clearly demonstrated that he'd inherited his father's entrepreneurial spirit. Two years earlier, Carl Pollock had launched CFCA, Canada's first exclusively FM (frequency modulation) radio station. In 1954, he led a group of local investors who launched CKCO-TV in Kitchener. The FM station wasn't a success and folded after 28 months, but it re-emerged in 1967 as part of an expanding broadcasting operation.

Naturally, Electrohome took advantage of its radio and TV broadcasting connections to make FM radio receivers and TV sets, first in black and white and then in colour. But it was the broadcasting side of the Pollock family interests that provided the greatest appreciation of investment and the funds to fight off the effects of a series of worldwide recessions and an ever-growing threat from low-cost consumer product imports from the Far East.

John Pollock took over from his father in 1974 -- Carl Pollock died four years later -- and spent two turbulent decades presiding over some of the best and worst times in the company's history. By the time the turmoil subsided, the company was no longer making the consumer products that had long been the core of its business. Numerous new ventures were tried in an attempt to re-position the company, including its pioneering high-tech projection and display business, and a lucrative if short-lived venture into the video game business.

The company's TV interests were a bright spot. In 1988, it expanded its broadcast holdings through its purchase of Sunwapta Broadcasting, owner of a TV station and FM and AM radio stations in Edmonton. Profits from the broadcasting operations were a lifeline for the company as it struggled for survival in what Pollock calls "a period of immense challenge . . . changing governmental trade policies, currency instability, international competition and the rapid growth of many new technological advances."

In 1997, the company's Kitchener and Edmonton TV stations were folded into Baton Broadcasting in return for cash and a 22.8-per-cent stake in Baton. That proved to be a fortuitous move as Baton built the CTV network and acquired several specialty channels. The payoff came in 2000 when Bell Canada Enterprises bought CTV, paying $270 million for Electrohome's share.

That left the company with investments in three high-tech companies -- Fakespace Systems in Kitchener, Robotel Electronique in Laval, Que. and Immersion Studios in Toronto. The fallout from the 9-11 attacks in the United States and the dot-com crash hurt all three businesses. Robotel, a developer of digitized audio systems for language labs and training centres, was petitioned into bankruptcy in 2003; Electrohome wrote off its investment in Immersion, a developer of software for interactive digital cinema in 2006; Fakespace, a leader in the development of 3-D visualization systems, merged with its major competitor, Mechdyne Corp. of Marshalltown, Iowa, in 2003. Electrohome retains a 26-per-cent interest in Mechdyne, a stake it plans to sell.

Despite Electrohome's demise, its last manufacturing plant in Kitchener remains a beehive of activity because Christie Digital makes digital projection systems in the Wellington Street building. Christie bought the building in 2004, five years after the Japanese-owned company bought Electrohome's projection systems business. It has about 400 employees in Kitchener, double the number who worked there for Electrohome.

While Electrohome was a name that was known in many parts of the world for its wide range of products, the family behind the brand, the Pollocks, also contributed mightily to the community they call home -- and not just by creating jobs. Arthur Pollock could fairly claim to have helped numerous smaller companies expand by providing work that contributed to the design and manufacture of many products. His son, Carl, however, probably left the greatest legacy. He, too, could point to numerous local companies that benefitted from Electrohome contracts including Raytheon Canada, which opened a plant in Waterloo in 1956 to design and build radar systems for Canadian airspace. It settled on Waterloo as the location for the facility largely due to the urging of Carl Pollock. He served as Raytheon Canada's first president.

But his proudest achievement was the role he played in getting the University of Waterloo off the ground in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The original thinking was to expand what is now Wilfrid Laurier University on a downtown Waterloo site, but Carl Pollock had bigger dreams. As a result, two farms were bought on the outskirts of Waterloo; they became the sprawling campus of today. Carl helped establish UW's now famous co-operative education programs, was an active fundraiser for the university, and served as chair of the board of governors and later as chancellor.

John Pollock, with engineering and business degrees from the University of Toronto and Harvard, followed in his father's footsteps, albeit in a more modest way. Now 72, he goes to the Electrohome office in the Wellington Street building three days a week. He serves on the boards of numerous corporations and charitable organizations, and is a director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, a role he prepared for by serving as president of the K-W Art Gallery and as a director of the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo. The family's support of higher education was recognized recently when he was named chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University. He succeeded former Ontario Premier Bob Rae.

Maintaining the family tradition of looking for business opportunities, Pollock has invested in three local high-tech companies -- Advance Composting Corp., PackagingOne Corp. and Everus Communications. "I'm still having fun," he says with a smile.

Despite the roller-coaster ride at the helm of Electrohome, Pollock is fiercely proud of the company's accomplishments. Could another Electrohome with seven different businesses happen today? "Not likely," he says. "Companies today have to focus on one product, one market niche, and strive for leadership on a world-wide scale."

The Electrohome story

1907: A.B. Pollock founds the Pollock Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in Kitchener (then Berlin) to make phonographs.

1920s: Pollock's firm begins to market electric and portable phonographs.

1933: The company name is changed to Dominion Electrohome Industries Ltd. and the Electrohome brand is introduced for products ranging from fans to food mixers.

1939: The outbreak of war brings contracts for everything from radio sets to wooden aircraft components.

1949: C.A. Pollock launches radio station CFCA-FM, followed in 1954 by the more successful television station CKCO.

1980s: Electrohome sells several divisions, including home-comfort products, furniture and motor manufacturing, and focuses on broadcasting and commercial video products.

1997: CKCO and the company's interest in the CTV television network are sold to Baton Broadcasting.

1999: Electrohome sells its digital projection systems business to Christie Digital.

2004: Christie Digital buys Electrohome's last manufacturing plant on Wellington Street in Kitchener.

2007: The Redmond Group of Companies signs a deal to buy the Electrohome trademarks.


Electrohome celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, but there's another significant milestone this year -- the 75th anniversary of the Electrohome name.

The name didn't emerge until 1933, 26 years after company founder Arthur Pollock established Pollock Manufacturing Co. Ltd. to make phonographs. By that time he was running three businesses, including the manufacturing of radios. Pollock's son, Carl, was having a growing say in the operations and persuaded his father to merge the businesses into one company.

The new organization was called Dominion Electrohome Industries Ltd., a name coined by Carl. A number of possibilities had been written on scraps of paper and put in a hat. The first name that was drawn was the one suggested by Carl. A few years later, the first letters of the name were used to create the name, Deilcraft, for the company's new line of furniture.

In 1967, the company's 60th anniversary, the formal name was shortened to Electrohome Ltd.

From the website of ‘The Record’, August 6, 2008


The Record
160 King St. East
, Ontario
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Electrohome could soon be history

August 06, 2008

Matt Walcoff


Electrohome Ltd., the 101-year-old company that once put Kitchener on the map nationwide, will cease to exist this fall, its chief executive officer said yesterday.

Having sold almost all of its once-numerous assets, the company, now down to a four-person office and a bank account, has nothing left to do but settle its remaining debts and turn off the lights, said John Pollack, heir to the company founded by his grandfather in 1907.

"The company just has so many assets left and we don't have any revenues," Pollack said. "We've now worked away at firming up our liabilities and selling our assets, so now we're in a position to go ahead and stop the expenditures of funds to keep the company going, because there's no future without sales."

In 1972, Electrohome employed about 4,400 people, mostly in seven local plants. But overseas competition in electronics sent the company into a slow decline.

Electrohome has filed a wind-up plan with the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto. Shareholders will vote on it on Sept. 11; the vote is a formality, since Pollack controls most of the voting shares.

The plan calls for the sale of the corporation's last non-cash asset, its stake in Mechdyne Corp. of Marshalltown, Iowa, the settling of the company's last liabilities, the distribution to shareholders of any residual proceeds, and the delisting of the company from the NEX board of the TSX Venture Exchange.

Mechdyne will buy back Electrohome's 31 per cent interest in the company for $614,444 US upfront and a 10-year promissory note of $3.1 million. Pollack, in turn, will buy the promissory note from Electrohome for $2.4 million.

The company will then be able to satisfy its remaining pension and health benefits. Pollack has agreed to forgo a $450,000 Cdn retirement payment to which he was entitled.

The company was founded by A.B. Pollack as Pollack Manufacturing Co. to sell record players, marketed at the time as "hornless phonographs."

Over the next 70 years, it expanded its business to include televisions, radios, furniture, air conditioners, heaters, fans and electronic organs.

It also owned TV and radio stations, including CKCO in Kitchener, and made the monitors for Pac-Man arcade games in the early 1980s.

To meet the growing competition, Electrohome tried to remake itself several times but could never regain its past stature.

Production of the company's consumer products ended in 1987.

The company divested its broadcast assets in 1997 and sold its projectors business to Japanese-owned Christie Inc. two years later.

Synnex Canada Ltd. of Guelph completed its purchase of the rights to the Electrohome trademark on Jan. 1. Electrohome recently reached an agreement to sell two acres it owns on Victoria Street North, leaving the company with no assets save cash and the stake in Mechdyne.

Pollack said he does feel some sadness in shutting down the company for which he has worked since 1962.

But "there's a time for everything," he said.

"All the businesses that we're in have changed drastically over the last 15 years, and on that basis, this is the best solution in the interest of everyone involved in the company."

John Pollock by Peter Lee