Meet "Team Leon": A Q&A with James Banfield, Co-Founder of Terra Speakers
Meet the people behind our products. Last week we announced that we joined forces with Terra Speakers, Maine-based manufacturer of rugged, all-weather audio. To get to know the company a little better, we talked with Terra's Co-Founder James Banfield about the history of the company, why he's excited about the merger with Leon, and the story behind his audio-inspired tattoo.
Q: First of all, welcome to Team Leon!—although Terra has always sort of felt like part of the Leon family because of how much we've collaborated over the years. How did you and Noah first meet and decide to work together?
A: Noah and I met at a trade show nearly a decade ago when Leon was looking to expand its outdoor portfolio. We got along really well and saw eye to eye on so many things and we've been friends ever since. In that time, I have been lucky to get to know and work with the company and almost everybody involved. We have watched it grow, which has been exciting, and as Leon has grown, we have worked together on a number of projects. Terra began manufacturing drivers for custom Leon projects and eventually for use in the Boundary Series. We collaborated with Noah for the design of our AC FIVE Series.
"Eventually at Terra we found ourselves trying to figure out how to grow in a way that aligned with our values, our enthusiasm for sound and design, and our commitment to making products here in the country. In that way, the fit with Leon just made sense. Noah and I started talking about merging a few years ago, and over time it became more and more clear that this was the way to go."
Q: For those who aren't familiar, tell us a little bit about Terra and your history of making speakers in Maine.
A: We started Terra almost 20 years ago out of my business partner's garage and we have been manufacturing speakers in Maine ever since. We talk about Maine a lot because it's a big part of who we are and because it's synonymous with the long-lasting quality that defines our products. There are some pretty amazing legacy manufacturers and craftspeople in Maine, from Thos. Moser to L.L.Bean that are known for building quality, heirloom products that are built to last. Honestly, if you can build an all-weather speaker that can survive a Maine winter, you have a winning product.
Q: From Terra's perspective, what about becoming a Leon Company is most exciting to you guys?
A: We are excited to come together with Leon because Michigan is also a state that has a strong manufacturing legacy. For a number of reasons, our coming together just makes sense. Beyond this, Leon is a bigger company—while not being a big company—that can provide a lot of the support we need to help Terra find more customers, which means we can continue to grow our product line while expanding our business. Leon is a company that is devoted to finding success by committing itself to all the right ideas and approaches. That is exciting to be a part of.
Q: As the President of a small company, you've probably worn a lot of hats over the years. What are you hoping to work more on now that Terra is a part of Leon?
A: When you are running a super small company, you do absolutely everything. As you said, you wear all sorts of hats and you tend to spend less and less time on the things that excited you about getting into the business in the first place. I look forward to having the time to re-focus on product design and innovation, and the opportunity to do this with Leon's talented team of designers and engineers is very exciting.
Q: And we should probably end this by having you tell us about your tattoo (because it's impossible not to notice). What's the inspiration behind it?
A: There is a wonderfully talented tattoo artist in Portland, Maine named Chris Dingwell. I was really taken with Diego Rivera's industry murals, which focus on labor and the production of automobiles. Chris took that as inspiration and swapped out the car imagery with speaker components. It has been a long process—I think we're 35 hours in and we still have about ten more to go? At this point, I can't think of a more fitting tattoo considering the original mural is located in Detroit, about half an hour away from Leon. It speaks to my love for so many of the things that are represented by what I do, what Leon does, and the values to which we are collectively committed.