Jesse Gerard made his first set of speakers for PhillyWorks, an exhibition of Philadelphia makers at DesignPhiladelphia 2010. At the time, the freshly minted University of the Arts grad was reconsidering his gig in design management at a local company. "My job wasn't leading to product design," he says, "at least not to human-centered design." PhillyWorks was the siren song.
Afterward, Gerard quit his job and started making custom and limited-edition speakers under the name Carrot Grant. He knew the speaker market was tricky. "Everything comes with [built-in] speakers now, so people aren't required to purchase them," he says. Still, Gerard saw a niche. High-end speakers target people who covet complex technology. Carrot Grant's speakers are plug-and-play - each has only one or two input jacks. Their flexibility and user-friendliness are selling points, but their styling is the real dangling carrot.
The colorful Buffalo Box, Carrot Grant's entry-point product at $500, is the best-selling and easiest to set up. Everything - speaker, receiver, and amp - is delivered in a glossy blue or yellow cube that looks like an end table. At the other end of the spectrum are the MT.Man speakers, which cost $900 a pair and are crafted from solid cherry. Designed for a museum show, MT is the odd-man-out among the seven designs in Gerard's product line. "They're an example of me not thinking about cost," he says, "and asking myself, What can I make that's a good flagship for the brand?" Their faceted face is a strategy to amplify sound that harkens back to the Victrola. The facets also play up the raw grain of the wood - a startling display in a piece of equipment consumers are used to seeing dressed in black, gray, or black-and-gray particle board.
Gerard's handcrafting is surprisingly high-tech. He belongs to NextFab, the membership-based co-working space in University City, and estimates that, to create one speaker, he uses about 15 of their tools - from the 3D printer to make prototypes to the digital embroidery machine to affix his bunny logo. The process is different for each design, since each varies in size, style, and materials. Consistency for ease of manufacturing is not an objective. "If you start with worrying about, 'How am I going to make this?,' " he says, "that kills it. That has nothing to do with how someone's going to enjoy it."
"Part of how I like to design products is to keep it local and work with other small businesses," explains Gerard. "These [speakers] are consumer electronics, and they're also pieces of Philadelphia." The wool felt he uses is manufactured locally, and he drives an hour north to pick up American ash and cherry woods.
The left and right units of Gerard's Flat-Frog speakers are designed to double as easels.
NoseGo, a local artist inspired by graffiti, adorned the wooden grill covering the Neko Paw speakers with renderings of the paws of the Maneki Neko, the Japanese lucky cat, for a show at Old City's Stupid Easy Gallery.
When Gerard sits down to create speakers, his first step is to identify the people who are going to buy them. What kind of objects do they already have in their homes, and what level of technology suits them? "I'm not trying to blend in with their other stuff," he says. "I'm trying to attract their attention."
Gerard calls the plaid bunny that is Carrot Grant's logo his alter ego. It originated when he and a friend were at a pet shop and saw a bunny that looked like it was wearing a tuxedo. "I said it looked like a little like Cary Grant," he says, "and my friend countered with 'Carrot Grant.' " From a dressed-up bunny to dressed-up speakers, a brand name was born.
Before launching Carrot Grant, Gerard studied speaker engineering. He learned that good sound starts with well-sealed cabinets. "There can't be any leaks or cracks," says Gerard, "because the medium that sound travels through is air."
Gerard purchases the drivers (the parts that actually transmit sound) premade because figuring out how to design and manufacture these himself would be too time-consuming.