SML - Entertaining Albertans for 60 years

Published Tuesday, May 24, 2016

David Parker: SML celebrates 60 years of entertainment

The Fisher clan, from left, sons Dean and Brett and father Tony, are celebrating the 60th anniversary of Calgary-based SML Entertainment. Supplied / Calgary Herald     

Arriving in Calgary in the mid-1960s, I was intrigued by the small jukeboxes at the tables in coffee shops like the Grand and The Wave where you could enjoy a cup of coffee accompanied by your own music selections. 

Dick Johnson brought jukeboxes to this part of Canada in 1956, and they were so successful he founded Southern Music, which quickly grew into a roaring business.

Leap forward 60 years and the company — now known as SML Entertainment — continues to prosper as one of the largest entertainment suppliers in Western Canada.

The business now features a huge variety of products selected for their quality and durability. An experienced service department keeps them in tip-top shape.

SML soon got into the larger jukebox market and the popular vinyl-playing machines spread throughout southern Alberta. In the early 1970s, Tony Fisher joined the company as a service technician and worked on a growing range of jukeboxes and pinball machines.

Fisher continued rising up the company ranks and took over the running of SML. When Johnson retired in the early 1990s, Fisher turned it into a family-owned company serving as president and CEO.

His three sons, who enjoyed the games growing up, are all now involved in the business. Dean is vice-president, Brett is director of retail operations and Chad, although not a full-time employee, has part ownership and looks after SML’s marketing and online media.

An uncle, Otto, is vice-president operations, while another, John, is director of technical services.

In 2000, the company turned its focus to retail home entertainment. When it launched 60 years ago, the business was a small operation on 11th Avenue and 1st Street S.W. It relocated to 11th Avenue S.W. in 1968, before moving to its current head office and showroom on 32nd Street N.E. in 1981.

Today it has stores in Calgary’s Heritage Hill, the Cross Iron Mills shopping centre north of the city, and single locations in Red Deer and Edmonton.

Arcade games and shuffleboard were early additions to the inventory of offerings but the stores all carry a wide variety of product lines and have expanded to include hot tubs, patio furniture, deep seating firepits and island barbecues.

Dean Fisher says he made the move into hot tubs after owning a Beachcomber and enjoying the pleasure of relaxing with his family.

“My daughters can’t have a iPad in the tub so it’s a great place to chat,” he says.

SML is the exclusive dealer for Beachcomber tubs in Calgary and Red Deer markets.

Billiards has always been a big part of the business, and SML has sold and installed the 8- and 9-foot models as the exclusive dealer for Brunswick in southern Alberta and the B.C. Interior since 2000. Ping-Pong is also a hot seller today.

Things have changed a lot in the past 60 years, especially in jukeboxes that went from vinyl to CD to digital streaming. Today you can order up your favourites to be played in the bar through an iPad or cellphone.

Next up for SML is an online store that will be operational within a couple of weeks, displaying all of its products and serving as a good database for its vintage pinball machines sought after by collectors.

David Parker appears Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Read his columns online at calgaryherald.com/business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at info@davidparker.ca