"If you build it, they will come" makes for a memorable line in a movie, but it doesn't really work as a business plan. Perhaps a more accurate version is: "If you come up with an idea, put it through extensive R&D, construct a prototype, get a reaction from the public, make any necessary adjustments, actually build the thing, and then conduct an extensive marketing campaign to make the end user aware of the product and its benefits, they will come." Most companies have no problem getting through the first five parts of that admittedly complex chain of events. But it's that last part--marketing the product--that seems to elude the grasp of many a CEO. As a result, a lot of innovative products never get the proper recognition from the public. This sad turn of events seems especially true in the field of entertainment technology, where the concept of product marketing is often no more than a crudely xeroxed spec sheet handed out at trade shows.
Rosco Laboratories is a major exception. The Stamford, CT-based manufacturer of everything from color filters to paints to fog machines has long considered the marketing of its various products to be a major focus of its efforts. "I've always felt that it's important for us to create awareness among the users of our products," explains president Stan Miller. "Nobody is going to do that for us. I think the best description of the company is that we are a marketing company that manufactures. I think the key to our growth and success is the contact and interaction with the users."
Stan Schwartz, Rosco's vice president and resident raconteur, handles much of Rosco's marketing efforts, from catalogs and other literature to extensive print advertising to seminars and other one-on-one endeavors. "My view of marketing is that it all begins with the product," he says. "Advertising them, getting them into seminars, writing literature about them--all those things are important, but nothing happens around here without the products. That's why I spend so much time in product development, working with the product managers. I guess you could say that my main contribution to Rosco--aside from charm, intelligence, and genuine brilliance--is the product development: aiding, abetting, and encouraging that development through the product managers, who have either developed or found them, and then helping to market them through a very sophisticated and helpful dealer network."
Both Stans point to Rosco's extensive, worldwide dealer network as a key to the company's success. "We've had relationships with some of our dealers for 40 to 50 years," notes Miller. "Such relationships have made it possible to truly communicate with the dealer; they are not at all shy about telling us when they think we have not gotten it right, and they're a wonderful source of ideas for new products. As much as we work to maintain direct contact with the users, the dealer's counter is where it happens, and they're in constant contact with the user."
Of course, all this talk of marketing and dealer network and the end user wasn't much on the mind of Sidney Rosenstein when he founded Rosco Laboratories in Brooklyn back in 1910. The name Rosco comes from the founder's last name, and the word Laboratories was added, Miller believes, because Rosenstein wanted as broad a title as possible. "He was the sort of person who felt he could service any inquiry that came along," Miller says. "He wouldn't turn down any business."
Rosco began its life making lamp dip for bulbs. Back then, all bulbs were clear; there was no such thing as a colored or frosted one. A significant portion of Rosco's business was vaudeville houses, which would use colored or frosted bulbs on their marquees. The use of gelatin on lights first came into vogue around this time, but much of the gelatin used in New York was imported from Germany, and once World War I began, theatres needed another source. "Producers and other theatre people came to Rosenstein," Miller explains, "and said, 'Look, you're already making color, why can't you just put it into a sheet?' It wasn't quite that simple a transition, but he did eventually begin making gelatin, in about 14 to 15 colors, and it grew from there."
Miller tells of a classic story regarding the advent of one of Rosco's colors, Bastard Amber. "Back around 1920, when Rosenstein was making gelatin, he had a run of amber that ran pink and was rejected. [Producer David] Belasco's electrician came in, saw the rejected sheet, and said 'Hey, that's an interesting color.' Rosenstein said, 'We're throwing that out; it's not the amber we're running.' The electrician said, 'Let me take a few sheets anyway; it's got a nice quality to it.' He took it and used it, and found that it really enhanced the skin tones. And then he came back to Rosenstein and said, 'You have anymore of that Bastard Amber?' Of course Rosenstein didn't, and it was a real challenge for him to run that color again intentionally. Now it's one of the standards of the industry. In those kinds of incidents, it takes a lot of experience to recognize when it's a fortunate accident and you've got something that would be of interest."
As the motion picture business began to take root, Rosco found another market for its products; many theatres, such as the Roxy and the Loews in New York, would offer both a moving picture and a stage show, and the company also began manufacturing such items as film cement for splicing motion picture film. "When I mention today that we once made both film cement and gels, people can't understand the connection," says Miller. "It was because the distribution was linked."
Miller first met Rosenstein while he was working for Allied Chemical. Rosco was one of Allied's clients, and when Miller had called on the company in 1958, Rosenstein, who was 72 by then, told him that he wanted to get out of the business. Miller felt the company had potential, so he and his cousin, Len Kraft, bought the company; Kraft handled the financial side, while Miller handled everything else. Before retiring, Rosenstein had been working on a plastic medium to compete with Strand's Cinemoid line of filters; the fruit of his efforts, the Roscolene line, was ready to be sold by the time Miller came on board.
"I would go and call on the stage electricians, particularly on matinee days, when they'd stand outside," Miller recalls of those early days. "They were always around between the matinee and evening performance, so you could talk to them. And I would haunt people like Jean Rosenthal and Abe Feder and a young Tharon Musser. I remember when Feder was doing Camelot, he called me and said, 'If you'd like to see your colors on Camelot, get your tail down here. I need some help.' I brought samples of all the colors and ran up and down the ladder for him. He had [set designer] Oliver Smith's sketches and samples of paint and fabric. I'd drip in colors in the lights, and he'd say no or yes. So I was absolutely responsible for lighting Camelot! But seriously, typical of Feder, we came out of that night with eight new colors, most of which are still in the range."
As the company grew, so did Rosco's product range. The Roscolux line, the followup to Roscolene, debuted in the 1960s, as did Stan Schwartz--at least as a member of the Rosco team. Schwartz had been running an ad agency/marketing consultancy, and Rosco was one of his clients. After the death of Kraft, Miller approached Schwartz about joining the company, and he said yes. In the ensuing years, three more core product groups were developed: paint (there are now three lines of scenic paint and numerous finishing products); fog and smoke (both machines and fluid); and gobos. Then, in 1995, Rosco acquired Entertainment Technology, the Portland, OR-based manufacturer of dimming and control equipment. Under Rosco's supervision, ET unveiled Horizon, the well-received PC-based console.
At the same time, the company continued to grow. From the late 60s through the early 70s, Miller added distributors in Europe, and in 1973 he decided to form Rosco Labs in the UK, and tapped Michael Hall to run the operation. More European entities soon followed. "They were shooting Out of Africa in Africa with Kodak film and Sylvania lamps and Rosco gels, so there was clearly a market around the world in both film production and the entertainment industry," Miller says.
Today, Rosco employs approximately 175 people worldwide, with offices in Canada, Australia, Brazil, Spain, and Portugal in addition to its US and UK operations. The company headquarters recently relocated from two separate buildings in Port Chester, NY, to a single 40,000-sq.-ft. facility in Stamford. In addition to Miller and Schwartz, Mark Engel serves as the company's COO. And its longevity has enabled Rosco to maintain one of the higher profiles in the industry.
But as Schwartz notes, longevity and 50 cents will buy you a cup of coffee. "It's kind of like a celebrity running for political office," he explains. "If you're a successful actor or singer and you decide to run for office, your name will get you to first base, and it will get people to listen to you. But it ain't gonna get you elected. The fact that people grew up with Rosco swatch books in the 50s, 60s, and 70s gets us a hearing in fog machines and paint and dance floors, but I don't know that it gets us a purchase in and of itself."
Miller adds that the longevity of the company has not kept them from retaining a youthful presence on the staff. "I'll bet the average age for us worldwide is in the mid to high 30s, and that's not my age, or Schwartz's," he says. "I think it's necessary to have people who communicate with their peers, the up-and-coming working designers. I see it as investing in the company."
As Rosco approaches the millennium and creeps toward its century mark (2010 is just over a decade away), the company has numerous goals, one of which is to continue to hone its marketing efforts. "You wouldn't think people would need so much information about color filters," Schwartz says. "You put a red filter in front of a light, it makes the light red. You wouldn't think people would need to know about tri-extruded polycarbonate, or wavelengths, or color on color, but they do need to know. And that's our challenge: to create, collect, and disseminate information about our products in such a way that people can get it, use it, and hopefully, buy it.
"That's how I see it," Schwartz continues. "Miller may have a different view, one that's more business-oriented. If I've disagreed with him--and I have for the past 30 years--you may presume that I'm right, but you better publish his view."
Okay, then, here's Miller's view: "I think there will be more uses of computer technology, which you will certainly see with Entertainment Technology. And the Internet has to have an impact as well. But maybe because I'm old-fashioned, I think the basics will still apply. People who put on theatrical productions are going to need tools that will help them to do so. People are going to paint scenery and project images; the projectors will change, and the means of delivering the image may change, but the basic needs will remain."
In other words, in one form or another, people will always need Bastard Amber.