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11-16-2016, Mobile Electronics -- The Pacific Northwest, well known as a music and tech haven, and also the birthplace of grunge, is where you will find the home of AudioControl. The distinctive geographical setting is appropriate for a company with its own unique heritage. Started by musician and former Boeing worker Greg Mackie in his basement in 1977, AudioControl has grown up from its humble roots to become a major name in the consumer technology world.

In business for almost 40 years, the company designs and builds top-notch audio equipment (for both home and car) from scratch. With two facilities, an 8,000 square-foot building in Spokane, and a 24,000 square-foot operation in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., AudioControl takes tremendous pride in its “made in America” background.

Today, the company has about 50 employees—including obsessive audio experts and accomplished engineers—who are completely passionate about what they do.

“One of the most interesting things for me coming on board a year and a half ago is that AudioControl is poised with all of their history to do some outstanding things,” said Chris Bennett, national sales manager-mobile, who has 23 years invested in the mobile electronics industry.

“It is probably one of the most consistent 12-volt companies that has ever existed,” he said. “Sales have never dramatically increased, but they’ve never dramatically decreased either. We still sell the same amount of EQs, processors, epicenters and line drivers as we did in the last 20 years.” And not only does it sell to the entire country, but the company also ships its products all over the globe to every continent except Antarctica. 

Not to mention the company’s mission and tagline is refreshingly simple: “Making good sound great.”

According to Brandon Cook, director of technical services, who has been with AudioControl for 10 years, everyone is passionate about what they do from a quality standpoint. “What we’re doing is providing the means for folks to experience their favorite thing—music in their car,” he said. “That is what our stereo products do. They let folks build up their audio systems into what allows them a true experience instead of just sticking a couple of speakers in their doors.”

That passion, Cook added, translates all the way through to customer service, technical support, engineering, the components that are chosen and placed by hand, and then tested by hand. “I have a passion for an elegant interface,” Cook said. “Something that the installer can actually put in there that makes sense and is not too cumbersome.” 

Read the rest HERE.

If you’ve achieved all the success you can handle, I challenge you to take one more step.

11-27-2017 -- It is easy to become complacent with your success. Doing the same thing year after year that produces the results you expect is a glorious thing, and we should all be as blessed. The question I ask of you today is what determines that you are as successful as you can become? How do you measure it? If your measurement is solely on your own merit and you feel confident that you are doing your best, then your perception may be that you have nothing left to learn. Or do you?

Learning all of life’s lessons takes more than a lifetime. Working every day to become better than you were the day before requires a discovery mindset. If you approach your day and thus your life without this, you are doing yourself and your business a disservice. Why do people stop learning? Too busy, maybe a bit lazy or just apathetic towards learning new things. There is also another, and frankly more dangerous reason. You think you know all you need to know and no one else’s experience can provide you a benefit. This last one is usually tied to a couple of issues: people who are very prideful and those who are insecure. If either of the last two reasons fit you, then I would humbly ask you to reevaluate your motives, let down the walls and find someone you trust to help you grow and learn. You will be glad you did.

If you are thinking about your next step to learning, think no more. When it comes to the Mobile Electronics industry, there are many great opportunities. You could join Facebook groups dedicated to a topic that peaks your interest. You could invite your vendors to visit your store for a training event. Maybe attend a local distributor event that offers some training prospects. Take a few minutes out of your day to read some great business articles, like those you will find in Mobile Electronics magazine. You could also take a few days away from your store to attend a KnowledgeFest event. If you have not been to KnowledgeFest or not attended in the past seven years, there is a lot that can be learned to benefit your store and you personally. You may be thinking, “KnowledgeFest? How am I going learn anything from others in our industry?”

I hear this at every KnowledgeFest event. The same story from many who were eventually proved to be wrong. Retailers that said they had nothing left to learn. Their stores run perfectly and regardless of the topic, they were the expert. This is one of the top reasons retailers choose not to attend an event that teaches them to be better. When I speak to retailers sharing their experience after participating in a KnowledgeFest event, the testimonies are much different.

For example, I spoke to a retailer from Southern California after our most recent event in Dallas. He said that a retailer friend of his guilted him into attending in 2016. He left the event with a renewed passion for our industry and his business. In 2017 he made a greater investment by bringing his staff with him and even closing his store to do it. He now encourages others to do the same. One dealer in the Texas market left the event and completely redesigned his store. He said he had been doing it all wrong for years. His business is experiencing growth that he never thought was attainable. I could go on telling you testimonials of retailers who are doing well and attribute much of it to what they have learned at a KnowledgeFest event.

MEA recently announced that KnowledgeFest will be coming to the West Coast, more specifically, Long Beach, in February of 2018. The challenge in this market will be getting local retailers to realize the value and to attend the event. Vendors have shared with me that the Southern California market is not one to turn out for education and training.

Southern California is a very mature market. Our best estimate puts nearly 750 retail locations within 300 miles of Long Beach. With those numbers, one would expect that any event in the area could draw a crowd.

So here is my challenge to the Southern California retailers. Take the time out of your store on February 23-25, 2018 to discover what other great retailers across North America have found; that what they learn at KnowledgeFest is invaluable to their future success in our industry. Not just for the education and vendor training, but also for the great networking and idea sharing that is part of every event.

If I am wrong about this, I challenge you to prove me wrong. With that said, feel free to contact me, or any retailer you know that has taken valuable time away from their store to grow their business to the next level. Take five minutes now and go to to review some of the great education topics for the Long Beach event, then register. I hope to see you there!

To register for KnowledgeFest Long Beach, go to

11-29-2017, Mobile Electronics -- In response to its popularity earlier this year, Mobile Solutions and Orca Design and Manufacturing teamed up again September 9 through 11 to host a live build workshop for 25 installation techs from around the country. The training was sold out and featured 2017 Installer of the Year Chris Pate, past IOTYs Tom Miller and JT Torres, Top 12 Installer Sage Weir and Bryan Schmitt, owner of Mobile Solutions. The vehicle used was a 2017 Volvo V90 XC Cross Country, owned by Mobile Electronics Editor-in-Chief, Solomon Daniels.

"We basically had three different components to the class, which was blended in with our Master Tech class. We talk about OEM integration, signal and how to add audio to modern vehicles," Schmitt said. "We did a classroom theory, how to use test tools like the oscilloscope and RTA, then talked about it in a real world fashion. I thought it was great for guys to see live demonstrations on a real build while they were there. Trying to stick with the three-day time period was a challenge. We did a great job managing it."

The participants were thrown into the mix with no preparation after an initial sketch of the design was created by Tom Miller. Each person found something of interest to them and began working on that element. "The most difficult part was building something that someone else drew," Weir added. "It was my first time out there at Mobile Solutions. I didn't have any assigned tasks per se. I just started running wires into the doors, then showed interest in the sub enclosure."

When I fabricate and build stuff I basically freestyle. I've never really built anything from paper to reality. It was a rewarding challenge in the end."

All products used were provided by Focal and included Focal Kevlar K2 tweeter speakers, 6-inch mid bass and 3-inch mid range speakers in the doors, two amplifiers and a controller for the console. "The whole project was a real world install. It's something that we would actually do for one of our customers in any of our shops," Miller said. "The process that we used is called 'Design, Engineer, Fabricate.' It's a three step process. The idea there is that by breaking down the project to three separate steps it allows us to get a better result."

Miller, who served as design director for the project, likes to use the design language of the vehicle he's working on to give him ideas. In the case of Volvo, he is already familiar with the designer and previous work, which is Scandinavian in style and includes straight lines, with a clean, uncluttered look. "In this project, the areas where we had an influence were with the tweeters and subwoofer enclosure. With those, I'm trying to reflect the existing design language without doing anything too contrived where I'm just pulling a shape off of the car that's already there and just trying to emulate that," Miller added.

While it was a team effort, each portion of the build was managed by a different person. While Weir handled the sub enclosure, Miller worked on the A-pillars, Pate handled the wiring and amp mounting and Torres handled the controller. 

Read the rest of the story HERE.

11-16-2017, Mobile Electronics -- It was the middle of winter. The temperature was 10 degrees below zero. Two men were outside in a dirt parking lot, working on a remote start install with a blanket draped across the door to keep out the snow. An electric heater was pumping warmth into their makeshift cave to offer the only sliver of comfort they'd get on this cold, cold day. The two men had no experience with remote starters, their only guide being a printed installation manual. Nineteen years later, those two men—owner Ben Larson and his brother John—would see their store, Sound Connection, Inc., become Mobile Electronics Retailer of the Year, Store Chain.

"The moral of the story is that every day I come to work, I'm kind of amazed that we've made it this far. It really did start from absolutely nothing. We had no prior experience in car audio or business and we just fumbled our way through it," Larson said. "If anybody ever wanted to start a business and was worried they didn't have enough money or knowledge, I can tell them otherwise. All you really need is grit."

Since 1995, Ben Larson has been in business as a retailer, but his journey really began when he moved to Minnesota with his parents at age five, witnessing their journey as small business owners. "My parents were in retail for as long as I can remember. They had a little tchotchke store called Soup and Save. They sold tools and trinkets," Larson said. "One day I saw an ad for amps and speakers in a catalog they used to order. I tried to put amps and speakers into my car. I had no idea what I was doing. I jig-sawed a doghouse for a speaker box and it looked like a beaver chewed through it. It was awful. Then I started reading articles in a car audio magazine and a friend asked me to do one for him. With each install, I got a little bit better. So I thought there might be a market for this and opened my first store."

With only 300 square feet, no cash register, no accounting system and no install bay, Larson knew he had a long way to go, but pressed on regardless. "I bought $1,000 worth of product from M&M. I kept growing the business, read every car audio magazine and did as much research as I possibly could. In 1998, I brought my little brother on. He had just graduated high school," he said. "That was my life. I ate, slept and breathed car audio forever and just kept getting better and better. I invested every penny I had and it grew from there."

Today, the two-store chain, which has locations in Waite Park and Brainerd, Minn., is doing better than ever, having just moved to Waite Park earlier this year from a location in St. Joe. The move was caused by a leasing issue, but the company is all the better for it.

"Business is great right now. We ended up buying a building, completely remodeled it, and moved in less than 60 days. Now we own a building in a very busy part of town. Our other store is in another fantastic part of town in Brainerd. We're working on building our second building," Larson said. "Business has been consistently up since 2010 when we joined M.E.S.A. and started doing Black Friday events. We're looking to expand to a third store and are getting into different revenue streams like window tinting, PDF and truck accessories."

All in the Process

With trial and error comes a world of experience that Larson and his team have taken to heart by crafting detailed written procedures, which include how customers are to be treated. On the company's website, visitors are given a detailed explanation of what to expect from the customer experience at Sound Connection.

"We hold ourselves to a higher standard than most. The Sound Connection standard.

The policies and procedures we have painstakingly implemented and follow every day on every install ensure you are getting the highest standard of work completed anywhere," the policy states. Thanks to this and other detailed information provided on the company website, customers are well-educated prior to entering the store, according to Larson who knows his customer base well. 

Read the rest of the story HERE. 

11-21-2016, Mobile Electronics -- In the last issue, Joey Knapp provided a detailed look at the composition portion of the photography presentation that he, (2016 Installer of the Year) Matt Schaffer and I presented at KnowledgeFest 2016 in Dallas, Texas. In this article, we are going to take a look at how a camera works and provide some insight into balancing shutter speed and aperture to create amazing images and different image effects.

The Digital SLR Camera

We are going to focus on an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera for this article. While you can certainly use a point-and-shoot or phone/tablet camera to take great photographs, there are occasions when you want more control over the image you are taking. A quick note on ‘what to buy’ if you are camera shopping. Once you take a picture, in most cases, you can never go back and capture that exact moment in time again. So capture the most resolution and detail you can. Shoot your photos in Raw format (if available) to capture more dynamic range (dark and light portions of the image). You can always throw away unnecessary information and resolution in Lightroom, but you can’t create it from nothing if you didn’t capture it. So, go big. You won’t be disappointed.

Taking a Photograph

A DSLR camera has an image sensor at the back of the body. The (interchangeable) lens focuses light coming from the object you want to photograph onto this sensor. When you look through the viewfinder to compose the image, light from the object is reflected upwards by a mirror into a five-sided glass prism that outputs the image to your eye.

When you press the shutter release, the mirror flips up and allows the light from the object to be passed to the image sensor. The pixels on the image sensor record the amount of red, green and blue light. That information is processed by the camera’s computer and stored on the memory card. If you are thinking to yourself “wow, that’s really simple,” then you are right. Taking a picture is simple.

Controlling Light

To capture an image, we need to ensure the image sensor on our camera stores the right amount of light information to accurately reproduce the image. Think of this like setting the gains on your amplifiers—you want to get loud, but not distort. We control the amount of light the sensor captures in two ways—by adjusting how long the mirror is held up, and by adjusting an opening in the lens.

How long the mirror is held up is called the exposure. This is measured in seconds. New cameras have exposure times that are adjustable from as fast as 1/8000 of a second up to ‘as long as you hold the shutter release’. Each step is a doubling or halving of the previous—so 1/4000, 1/2000, 1/1000, 1/500 and so on.

Controlling how much light passes through the lens is called adjusting the aperture. The aperture is controlled by a multi-element iris in the lens. The adjustment is called the f-stop. Each stop is a doubling or halving of area from one step to another. The stop number itself does not directly describe the amount of light coming through the lens. A large opening is a low number—some high quality lenses can open up as wide as f1.4 and close down as small as f22 or more. How wide the lens will open is often directly correlated to the cost of the lens.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

11-22-2017 -- From its modest beginnings in Cleveland, Ohio as a vehicle security company to its leadership position today in the connected car world, Directed has grown tremendously while keeping a sharp focus on consumer service, tech support, and dealer relations.

According to James Turner, senior vice president of product and technical services, who will mark his 16th anniversary with the company this month, it was about a

year ago when Directed made a critical change to fuse back together several departments—namely tech support and product development—that had been operating independently of one another.

“It made sense because product design depends so much on the voice of our customer and the techs have the closest relationship to the installers,” Turner said. “I view installers as our first customer and the end-consumer as the second one.”

Today, there are three legs of support to address dealers, consumers, and installers.

Directed’s dealer customer service department handles dealers and sales reps. “This group addresses warranties, processes orders, sets up new dealers with our reps, gives reporting information on different customers, and follows up on satisfaction issues,” Turner said.

Consumer service handles calls from end users. “We get contacted about SmartStart—maybe a consumer has a remote they want to reprogram to their system or they might have an inquiry about one of our systems in general.”

The technical support team, (not surprisingly) the largest group in the company (operating with a staff of more than 20 people), is split between Montreal and Vista, Calif., where Directed is headquartered. “Our office in Canada focuses on sales and mostly engineering product development while the office here in California is some engineering but mostly sales.”

Tech support is a busy department and has weekly meetings to stay on top of it all, Turner said. “Every Tuesday we go through the escalations to talk about the top issues our team is hearing about on the phone,” said Turner. “Yes, we have lots of written reports, but it’s better for people to be face to face to talk through these things. We also have PSRs in the field—Product Specialist Representatives. There are seven—two here in California; three are based in their own regions of the eastern, western, and central U.S.; and there is one for each side of Canada. We get these groups together two times a year to go over what our plan will be in the field, but we are getting feedback from them on an every-other-week basis.

"They are doing trainings in the field (we train about 5,000 installers per year), visiting install shops and going back into the bays and spending quality time with the installers. Then they provide us with feedback of whatever they are learning.”

It All Clicks

While phone lines used to be the dominant way to field questions, that's no longer the case. What has become a big deal is click-and-chat. “We have two different applications of support look-up solutions: flashing and changing configurations with Directechs Mobile, then we have another app called DirectLink that is used on our new DS4 product,” Turner said. “These two apps put an immediate solution in someone’s hands. The benefit is that an installer doesn’t have to go back to a computer and search for something. It’s right there so they can look it up immediately. Once they go back to the installation in the car, they can stay in the car. We found that even though the solutions are much more complicated—because they are all so vehicle-specific—we are using apps to make the user or the installation experience much easier.

Turner believes that it's much more intuitive to walk through the process step by step with screens. Within the apps, there is click-to-chat so an installer can instantly contact one of Directed's agents right when they have a problem while still sitting in their car. "A chat option will pop up and they can have a conversation with them about the issues that they are encountering and go through the trouble-shooting to rectify it.”

The company plans to continue working on app development, according to Turner. “Within an app, if an installer goes through a specific vehicle and configures all of the settings, and they have a specific matter, they can save it to their favorites, and the next time they see that vehicle it will remind them that they already did a vehicle like this,” Turner said. “Ultimately, it will save the installer time and having to remember what they set up on a car they worked on 45 days ago.”

11-8-2017, Mobile Electronics -- Back in 2010, there was a collective mindset bubbling in the minds of 12-volt retailers across the country. Margins weren't sustainable at their previous levels due to challenges with educating the general public about all products and services available. The buzz soon built into a roar, resulting in the formation of the Mobile Electronics Specialists of America, known best as M.E.S.A. 

"It was formed by a handful of retailers that were looking to be part of a buying and marketing group. They all had the same marketing needs in trying to get customers in the door and all ran similar sales," said Ryan Gunter, executive director of M.E.S.A. "As long as you don't have overlapping territories, why can't we all just share? The goal was to maximize their efforts and spread across the country to match the high tide, raising all boats."

The group began with a core group of 10 members and has grown to include 135 members today. With only one retailer allowed per territory, growth is limited, but continues with over $269 million in sales to date and 261 store locations covering 43 states. Membership is broken into different levels, with the Platinum level requiring sales of $1.8 million a year and above, while the Gold level requires a minimum sales of $700,000 per year.

2017 marks the sixth year of the M.E.S.A. Summit, which took place in Denver, Co. The event began in the organization's second year with two primary goals, according to Gunter. "For all of us to get together to share best business practices. 'What are you doing different from what I'm doing?' The second was for our member partners to have face to face meetings with our members and bring opportunities for Q4 buys for the year," he said. "A lot of our retailers in the past were not very promotional because they assumed they couldn't compete with big box and online retailers. But with the marketing materials we provide members, they are now more involved in Black Friday sales. It gets people really engaged just before you go into Q4, gets them loaded up with product for the holidays, then leads into tax season. It's become the place that our members go. The majority of them don't go to CES anymore; they get more out of the summit than they get from CES."

This year's event featured its first ever show floor to allow vendors to feature new products in the hopes of both educating retailer partners and selling the latest product to them in time for the holiday season. Having been in the business since the 1980s, when he started his career as a product specialist for Kenwood reps, Gunter has a deep understanding of what both retailers and vendors need from each other.

"I noticed the retailers were looking to put together a buying group and I knew all the guys because I called on most of them, except the east coast as I was mainly a west coast guy. Manufacturers needed someone who's been on the vendor side of things and understood their point of view in working with a retailer," Gunter said. "The thought was, 'If we want this to be a success long-term, it has to be a win-win for both vendor and retail partners. Otherwise, someone will not feel they are getting their fair share. It's been a great blend to make it a win for both sides."

Meeting of Minds

Unlike other trade shows, the M.E.S.A. Summit is unique in how attendees interact. Rather than use classroom settings, the majority of the educational opportunities are one-on-one, vendor-to-retailer or retailer-to-retailer. Attendees would gather in a meeting hall that housed around 150 people, which was filled with round tables, where they could interact freely with each other. The structure, while loose, offered topics to discuss based on a universal theme, which changes each year.

"The main thing we focused on in general this year was reminding our members to work on their business because we get caught up working in our businesses and not on them," Gunter said. "Make the time to work on your business and not get caught up so much on the day-to-day."

Among the attendees this year was Dean Magnesen, owner of Sound Warehouse of Utah, former Mobile Electronics Retailer of the Year. Being one of the first members of the buying group, Magnesen has a deep connection to the organization and belief in its core values and benefits to 12-volt business owners.

"The original enticement was it being a buying group that was independent. We were built by the factory—whatever discounts we earned, we took. The entity didn't take the profit, the dealer did," Magnesen said. "Then it got to the buying group with best practices, with only one member per market. I thought that was a great idea. We're all willing to share with each other. As a group it grew into a very powerful marketing arm too. We're not just a buying group. We're a buying, best business practices and marketing group."

Read the rest of the article HERE.

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