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View from the Top: Doug Carnell, Guitar Center

“The goal is to utilize the best in creative minds to solve our customers’ problems and utilize our strengths in engineering and design.”

Doug Carnell

Guitar Center is well-known for its more than 280 stores, and its GC Professional arm has long helped pros design and outfit the recording studios of their dreams, but now the retailer has another division that really means business—literally.

“Business Solutions is a brand new division of GC Pro that provides technology solutions for businesses through the many worlds of pro audio, visual and lighting,” explains Doug Carnell, Guitar Center vice president of Business Solutions. “My group has started to acquire and develop sales channels to meet the business customer’s needs and expand GC’s reach to the industry.”

That’s no understatement. The Business Solutions division first came to the attention of many in the industry late last year, when it acquired San Francisco Bay Area-based Audio Visual Design Group (AVDG)—a clear statement of intent signaling Guitar Center’s expansion into integrated solutions.

Related: Guitar Center Ramps Up B2B Biz, Acquires AVDG, Jan. 2, 2018

Anyone can acquire a business, however. Understanding what makes that business successful and how its industry works is something else entirely—and that’s where Carnell comes in. He’s intimately familiar with the integrated solutions world, having worked in it for more than 30 years at both small and extremely large AV companies.

After working for a hotel AV department during school, Carnell moved on to work in the operations side of a small AV company—a job that became a formative experience.

“I did everything you could there—worked services, rentals, marketing and eventually sales,” he recalls. “During that time in the early ’90s, we started to add system integration. Selling solutions to customers led to me understanding not only how to sell a system, but also how to make sure it all worked together.”

As time went on, Carnell worked his way up the industry, gaining experience and new roles along the way. “As head of operations for one of the largest AV firms in the world, I was responsible for making sure our company could operate on a larger scale and do so consistently,” he says. “Our operational goal was making sure that the right talent was in the right place, in order to grow our revenue and increase our customers’ appreciation that they could build a system from the same integrator in multiple cities with exactly the same results.”

During his tenure, he learned crucial insights (“Our belief was to tie great operations with great sales.”), but eventually he found it was time to move on. He recalls, “It was bittersweet, as I loved being a part of a growing successful team, but honestly, I disagreed with what was needed next in the company’s transition. When I left, I wanted to stay tied to the industry, so I became a COO for a small AV e-commerce company. Our goal was to highlight what made us great while building for the future; we wanted to take a founder-based organization and build it into a corporation that had a common goal, yet with the ability to make decisions without its founders. I found the experience wonderful. Over these two roles, I learned so much—and grew as a person to better understand how to navigate obstacles and focus on what’s best for the customer.”


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Those experiences and insights have provided both fuel and focus as Carnell has taken on the challenge of creating the new Business Solutions Group at Guitar Center. The process of building a team draws on his background (“I have years of experience in management of creative and unbelievably intelligent people.”), but fostering a common goal for all those individuals and resources requires a focal point, and in Carnell’s eyes, it all comes down to one thing: the customer.

He elaborates, “The customer—business or consumer—has changed dramatically, from how they want to find a solution and how they purchase to how technology can help them. These shifts have required all industries to change, and in the commercial sound business, it is as much about how the technology is handled—how sound travels, great installation, the technology used—as it is about the people who help put it together. In order for the business side to succeed, we have to have the ability to tie great design with being an expert in technology.”

Being an expert, he notes, also means being able to create custom solutions that truly answer each customer’s problems, rather than leaning on a selection of one-size-fits-all solutions in order to increase profit margins. “In the end, the customers don’t get the best results and are left with cookie-cutter solutions,” he notes.

His answer, then—which will also provide further focus for that emerging Business Solutions team—is to hone in on the business division’s ability to develop a customized result that fully answers each customer’s needs.

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“We are very focused on how we can bring the creative process back into the operational model of AV integration,” says Carnell. “Over the last several years, many companies have been putting too much emphasis on building a massive operation, while ignoring the custom market. We want to put together a great design/build firm, offering a client the best experience, both during the process and after it is complete. We will accomplish this by considering growth through acquisition, as well as adding resources to our portfolio. We want to build a team that is focused on going at the market a little differently than just looking for that next bid to answer, and to become a force within the industry that not only hits the sales numbers, but brings that creative process back to its important role of solving customer problems.”

Becoming a force in the industry is a tall order, and Carnell is readily aware of the challenges ahead, noting that there will “always be a competitive marketplace.” Nonetheless, he sees Business Solutions as primed to make inroads. “The acquisition of AVDG this last year is just the beginning for us in the AV channel,” he shares. “Our goal is to acquire and grow organically in the major markets over the next few years. We are focusing on finding unique companies that can grow our design build business as well as offer ways we can partner with our customers for their continued success.”

Carnell has no shortage of aspirations for the division. “The goal is to utilize the best in creative minds to solve our customers’ problems and utilize our strengths in engineering and design.” That high-flying vision, however, keeps its feet on the ground thanks to Carnell’s ultimate objective: “We are very focused on becoming the best AV integration company out there—so that we can benefit our customers.”

GC Professional – Business Solutions •