Hageman: The movies are back

Sonic Equipment/Kneisley Manufacturing CEO Ron Hageman talks about recovering from the pandemic that devastated the movie industry, and how his company is moving forward.

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October 28, 2021 - 9:53 AM

Ron Hageman is CEO of Sonic Equipment/Kneisley Manufacturing. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

There’s nothing quite like a “big screen experience.”

Ron Hageman recently felt the joy of returning to the movie theater after an absence of about two years. 

Hageman said when he and his wife recently attended a show, he was surprised at the emotions he felt as he entered the theater and stood in front of the screen. 

“I didn’t realize how much I missed it,” he said. “The movie experience is special. It’s an immersive experience.”

Memories are built at a movie theater. 

“You see a young couple on their first date. You see people laughing and experiencing various emotions together,” he said. “I think we all need to be reminded of that.”

Hageman is CEO of Sonic Equipment/Kneisley Manufacturing, which produces cinema-related equipment and constructs theaters. 

He began with Sonic 15 years ago. In January, he was named chief operating officer after the death of former CEO Stan Hays on Dec. 29, 2020 from COVID-19.

Hays and Mike Clement were partners who purchased the company from B&B Theatres in 2018.

(Read about the sale of Sonic here.)

“I’m grateful it was sold to people who acknowledged we were doing great. Unfortunately for them, they bought a company that would be greatly affected by a pandemic,” Hageman said.

When COVID came to the United States in March 2020, it devastated the movie industry. 

Movie theaters across the country were shuttered for months. Movie production ground to a halt and has been slow to recover.

“Never in 100 years had movie theaters shut down.I never thought they would be forced to close and stop producing movies,” Hageman said. “But I’ve always been an optimist. When this hit, I thought, give it a little bit. This industry is always ebb and flow.” 

He believes his hopeful outlook will be proven correct in 2022 and especially in 2023.

“There are a lot of new storylines coming up in a lot of genres, and I think next year is going to be really good. The movie industry is starting to wake up.”

Hageman grew up in Iola and joined Sonic Equipment in 2006. That was around the time Sonic acquired Kneisley Manufacturing, 

He worked in construction, helping to build new theaters for B&B Theaters. Sonic was responsible for about 200 movie theatres at that time, Hageman estimated.

It wasn’t long before his job duties changed. In 2008, Sonic and B&B were among the first companies to transport movies into the digital age. Sonic evolved, helping theaters convert from 35 millimeter film to digital projection and sound. 

By 2009, digital had become the norm. Hageman estimated Sonic serviced about 400 screens at that time.

Today, they service about 1,300.

Hageman worked his way up through the ranks, and became a director in 2010. He started leading the company in 2015, under a couple of different titles including Chief Operating Officer.

DURING the pandemic, Sonic dropped from 70 employees to about 20.

It was difficult to let people go, Hageman said.

“These were the people we’d grown with, people we had cookouts with and the special things we did outside of work,” he said. “I take pride in my community, and these are people in my community.”

The pandemic has been the most stressful time in his life, Hageman said. His whole demeanor changed and his voice took on a somber tone as he talked about it.

“It’s been horrible.”

As the industry began to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, Sonic brought back some of its workforce. It’s now up to 40 employees.

Even through the pandemic, Sonic has promoted itself to the movie industry as a “one-stop shop” that sells, manufactures and services its products.

With that goal in mind, Sonic recently added a new production line. Sonic took over Shult, a company that makes signs and cases for things like movie posters and candy. 

In July, Hageman led the move from Shult’s Blue Springs, Mo., location to the Kneisley plant in Iola. Production officially began Sept. 27.

Hageman expects Shult to be a nice addition to Sonic’s portfolio.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” he said. “We’re going to keep striving.”

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