Back in April, Daniel Jacques of Audio Plus, Focal's North American distributor, invited me to visit Focal's factory in St. Etienne. Since I'd never reviewed any Focal loudspeakers, I didn't know a lot about the company, but I have spent many happy hours in Jonathan Scull's ribbon chair, listening to his Grand Utopias, so I was eager to go—and to learn more.
Focal, formerly JMlabs, was founded by Jacques Mahul in 1980. Mahul had been an engineer at Audax and an audio journalist at L'Audiophile. Mahul had chafed at Audax's concentration on low-end drivers, so he founded Focal and JMlabs to concentrate exclusively on high-end drivers and loudspeakers.
One advantage he had was his father's company, France Filiére, a tool and die company that would provide Mahul with the special tools and forms he would utilize in manufacturing his drivers. In fact, Mahul eventually bought France Filiére, incorporating it into Focal as Opus 42—where it still produces custom tools and castings for the company.
That sort of vertical integration is an essential part of Focal's business ethos. By owning its suppliers (other than raw materials), it assures quality. When it became apparent that Focal represented 95% of its cabinet maker's production, the company bought 49% of the company, not only assuring itself of a vital resource, but also removing it from the company's competitors.