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Inside NLFX Professional: Turning A Passion For Tech Excellence Into A Thriving Enterprise

Ben Stowe and his team build a diverse, multifaceted production operation based in Minnesota with a global reach.

By Keith Clark December 14, 2017

Ben Stowe of NLFX Pro working an event; above, an Electro-Voice X-Line Advance rig deployed by NLFX Pro at a recent concert by country star Craig Morgan.

NLFX Professional began as a small sound and lighting store based in Bemidji, MN in 1994, going on to grow into a thriving live and installed system production operation serving a global customer base, joined by an extensive division offering more than 100 brands of sound and lighting products to both retail and wholesale markets around the world.

“We’re most proud of our hardworking staff, a group of people that is second-to-none in terms of their dedication to providing our customers with the best service possible,” states NLFX Pro founder Ben Stowe, CTS, explaining a key factor of his company’s growth. “We undergo frequent product training to be well versed in the products and technology on the market today, and many on our team work, or have worked, in the industry as sound technicians, musicians, DJs, lighting designers, and stage hands.”

Stowe, a self-described “geek” who launched his enterprise in the town of about 14,000 on the shore of Lake Bemidji – known worldwide as the home of the legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe — adds, “We believe strongly in ‘Minnesota Nice’ and like to show our customers on a daily basis just what that term means.”

Invaluable Resource

Living up to his moniker, a few years ago Stowe launched the “Geek Boot Camp,” which provides basic training for anyone who works with AV technologies, available on DVD via the company website. Essential topics covered include electrical units of measure, Ohm’s law, voltage drop and amplifier loss, signal types and cables, and many more, as well as key best practices such as system troubleshooting and maintenance. It’s drawn rave reviews in spades.

“Geek Boot Camp is unique, very well done and extremely informative! As a church, it’s an invaluable resource we can refer to over and over again, as the need arises,” states Steve Feeley, senior pastor at Calvary Fellowship in Emmaus, PA.

“It offers a great introduction into electricity, and gives students great examples of how this knowledge applies to an industry,” adds Rick Frentress, a technology education instructor. “Geek Boot Camp combines animations and real-life demonstrations, giving excellent illustrations of electricity and safety. It’s a tremendous resource in my classroom.”

Making It Seamless

Stowe’s passion for geekdom also shines through in his continuing hands-on role with the NLFX Pro production division, which serves hundreds of dates annually, including national concert tours, theatrical performances, corporate events in the region, along with providing system design and installation. As with the Geek Boot Camp, it’s not difficult to find fans of the company’s efforts.

“I count on NLFX Pro to do lights and sound support for our small theatre production events up to our large arena shows,” says David Leckie, co-founder and president of Rising Entertainment Live, based in Park Rapids, MN. “It’s nice to be able to turn over the worries of our production knowing it will be done properly, and without any glitches, to be able to concentrate on my day-to-day business. They have extensive experience and their relationship with the industry’s tour professionals helps in making the concert details very seamless.”

The “go-to” rigs serving these events have long been headed by Electro-Voice loudspeakers, amplification and DSP. A prime example is a recent show by country music star Craig Morgan at Fort Randall Casino in Pickstown, SD, where NLFX Pro deployed a main system with EV X-Line Advance X2-212/90 line arrays over ground-stacked EV subwoofers, all driven with EV TG-7 amplifiers outfitted with RCM-28 DSP modules to enable IRIS-Net networking.

Another view of the X-Line Advance arrays deployed for Craig Morgan in South Dakota.

“For a very compact yet larger-format line array, which of course is kind of a contradiction in terms, the X2 is an amazing box,” Stowe notes. “We’re really happy with it and have regularly deployed it to serve a range of top touring acts.”

Rob Harmon, Morgan’s front of house engineer, concurs: “When you mix on a lot of different rigs like I do, the word ‘musical’ really means something. I’ve now done three shows with Electro-Voice X-Line systems in completely different environments, and it sounds more musical, with more depth and dimension, than anything else I’ve run into.”

A Real Synergy

As EV celebrates its 90th anniversary of serving the professional audio, Stowe notes that his relationship with the company dates back more than a dozen years, when he began evaluating the product line and met some of the people behind those products. Intrigued, he set up a visit to EV’s facilities in Burnsville, MN – including the engineering/R&D department – and came away convinced. Fast-forward to now, and NLFX Pro is the largest dealer of EV gear in the entire region.

“The people of EV have a true passion for pro audio and the industry that really shines through,” Stowe states. “There’s a genuine synergy with what we’re trying to provide for our customers. These folks really love what they do, and what they put into developing the products is far more than most would even imagine.”

The proximity of NLFX Pro to EV has provided him with further insights. “I’m able to visit regularly, and in fact, there are a few people at the company that may think I actually work there,” he notes with a laugh. “But I’ve literally ‘lived’ in that engineering facility and have watched the team push products so hard that they nearly catch on fire. That’s the commitment to reliability that gives me a great deal of confidence, and that transfers to being confident with what we can deliver to our customers.”

Stowe adjusting a front fill loudspeaker.

Plenty Of Options

Stowe says that his company has utilized EV gear in so many facilities and applications that it’s a tough task to keep track of them in terms of numbers. The depth of the product line has also proven a primary asset.

“You don’t have to take any one product and shoe-horn it in to make it fit,” he offers. “EV has such a deep line that’s capable of filling a diverse range of pro audio needs – whether it’s a concert, a house of worship, a restaurant or even under water, they’ve got a very wide palette of options to fit the specific project.”

The role of parent company Bosch continues to be advantageous, he adds, both to EV and for production companies: “It’s been one of the great developments, where we can truly integrate projects, such as conference centers and boardrooms, with an entire ecosystem of integrated products.”

Still, for Stowe, it comes back to people and relationships, which is the “cherry on top” of other positives that include product quality, reliability and support. “At the top of our list for working with EV are the strong ties with the people,” he concludes. “Sure, some of that may be a bit unique due to our location, but it goes way beyond that. I love the fact that they listen, they seek our input and then follow through on making it happen. That’s quite rare these days, but it’s the key in delivering products that truly serve the market and deliver true value to our customers.”

Find out more about NLFX Pro here.

About Keith

Keith Clark
Keith Clark

Editor In Chief, ProSoundWeb & Live Sound International
Keith has covered professional audio and systems contracting for more than 25 years, authoring hundreds of articles in addition to hands-on work in every facet of publishing. He fostered the content of ProSoundWeb (PSW) from its inception, helping build pro audio’s largest portal website, and has also served for several years as editor in chief of Live Sound International (LSI).
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