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10-3-2017, Mobile Electronics -- Among the biggest truisms of human beings is their tendency to let history repeat itself. While some things—like war and genocide—are best left in the past, others might be worth repeating. In 2010, Matt Schaeffer had hit a professional wall. Eager for a change, he set out on a path of improvement. Six years later, he was Installer of the Year. It turns out, in 2017, history would repeat itself again.

Six years ago, Chris Pate was in a similar situation. After what would seem like a lifetime full of achievement that included fronting a touring band, 36 car audio championships and buying/creating a two-store retail chain, Pate hit his own wall, finding himself stagnant as an installer. To solve the problem would take a combination of long hours, family approval and industry support, not to mention an openness to new ideas.

The Early Days

Growing up in Houston, Texas, Pate began his life as a builder. "I built everything," he proclaimed. His parents bought him every building toy they could, including Erector sets and Legos, to satisfy his creative urges. As he grew older, he started building half-pipes. Then, at age 13, he built his first speaker box. Having access to a woodshop and the encouragement of his father, brother and grandfather helped as well.

"My dad and brother were into car audio. They would do stuff at local stereo shops, come home and want to build it. My brother would build speaker boxes and once I said 'Let me try,' Pate said. "We were building speaker boxes in my dad's driveway in Houston. When I was 13, my dad threw me into an S-10 pickup to install a radio. He gave me a test light and crimper and said, 'Go to town.' It worked. It took me about three hours, but I knew enough about positive and negative to figure it out."

Eventually, his family moved from Houston to a town called Harden, located in East Texas, where Pate went to high school. "In high school, I was in marching band. I did a lot of music. That's where most of my drive comes from—music," he said. "A lot of guys know me for fabrication and building cool cars. But a lot of what I do, what I consider that higher level, is building good sounding cars. I've built sound quality cars for as long as I can remember."

Pate started off playing the trombone, a practice that began in the sixth grade. The same year, his dad bought him his first guitar. Within three to four months of each other, he played both instruments. "Those are the two main instruments that I play. I've learned to play drums and bass guitar since then," he added. His musical prowess led him to become head drum major in the high school band. 

After graduating high school, Pate attended Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, which he would eventually call his permanent home. Unlike his predecessor, Matt Schaeffer, Pate didn't start his career with a laser-pointed focus on car audio. It was more general than that, centered on design creativity. That urge, first nurtured by his box-building days during childhood, turned into music, then returned to building in college.

"They didn't have a music department at Texas A&M. I started off majoring in aerospace engineering. I wanted to have an engineering degree but didn't want to take as much math as I was taking the first year. I decided I would transfer to the architecture department. It was really a design degree, which is what I wanted," Pate said. "It ended up being computer animation. I ended up taking most of the math classes anyway. It was an interesting process. As a kid, you think you're going to get out of something, but I ended up taking all the things I wanted to avoid. Environmental design was the only design degree they had."

To pay for the degree, Pate worked at Circuit City, quickly moving up to the role of sales and installation manager. After finishing school, he left Circuit City and began working for Audio/Video, where he remained for five years. "I talked them into opening a car audio-only store that was separate from the rest of their business," he said.

A Short Segue

This might be the part of the story that transitions to how Pate got into being the owner and lead installer of his own car audio business. But that would leave out an important part of what makes him who he is. "In 1999 I went to my first world championship. Some buddies of mine ran a different shop. They competed. They were going to the Kansas City USAC competition. For me, it was about going to a car audio show and seeing some cars. I was totally blown away. The extent these people would go to make a car sound better to me was extremely interesting," Pate said. "Also being in a rock 'n' roll band [lead singer and guitarist for the band, Linus], I thought, 'This is what you're trying to do. Create those types of live music environments in a car."

Hoping to make an impact in that scene, Pate started building his first competition vehicle in 2001, a 1993 Mazda RX7. He took the car to his first finals where hundreds of other cars were competing. "I got fourth place, which felt pretty neat for a guy who didn't know what he was doing," he said. "You get clients that are into it; it ended up being a great selling tool. We would invite customers to hang out and build cars for them, then take them to events."

The small group of car audio buffs, which included friends and clients, would travel together to championships over the years, piling into cheap hotel rooms during their stay. "From 2001 to now we won a bunch of championships for cars I built and tuned, cars I helped build and tune and my own personal vehicles," Pate said. "I was never able to use my personal vehicles because I was always doing work for customers. In 2007 I was finally able to win expert class with my own vehicle." 

Read the rest of the story HERE.

10-25-2017, Mobile Electronics -- Growth is interpreted differently by business owners the world over, and that’s because it’s different for everyone. While one business may wish to expand, another might want to stay small. Over the years, each business picks up various strategies that work well for them.

Mobile Toys, Inc. in College Station, Texas expanded in unanticipated ways, increasing space, diversifying product and adding staff. “Three years ago, we opened up our own upholstery shop,” said Chris Pate of Mobile Toys. “We brought in our own stitcher and sewing machines. We expanded our offerings to dealerships for aftermarket leather kits and are able to do more custom interiors and repairs,” he added, noting that this was an entire segment of their business that they were unable to do before. At their second location in Bryan, Texas, the company has a 600 square foot space dedicated to special upholstery.

“From there we got into doing hot rod interiors, which went hand-in-hand with our work,” Pate added. “Since then, we started to do truck accessories. We can do everything you want on a vehicle. We just don’t do paint and body.”

While Mobile Toys expanded, Tunes-N-Tint of Lakeland, Fla. has consolidated its business to increase effectiveness in certain areas. Meanwhile, Sound Wave Customs in Virginia Beach, Va. has expanded in terms of staff, going from a skeleton crew of three or four team members to a staff of eight, including owner Ethan Blau.

Each business has come across its own set of challenges, but each continues to grow thanks to the implementation of strong business strategies.

Tight Rope

Finding good employees is one challenge stores in the 12-volt industry are continually struggling with. Pate stated that the most challenging part of expanding Mobile Toys, Inc. was finding qualified people who could do the work.

“Getting into lifts, rims and tires and truck accessories, you’re not just putting a radio on a truck,” Pate said. “You’re doing lifts, rims and tires. You could hurt someone or kill someone. You have to be thorough and find people who can do it right. That’s one of the biggest tasks we have. We have more insurance because of it. It’s not easy finding qualified employees who do the job right.”

Mobile Toys provides a wide range of services including truck accessories, wheels and rims, tires and lift kits on trucks, LED lighting, custom headlights as well as installations of light bars and more. To do all this, the team needs to be diverse and well-trained. Mobile Toys now has 10 employees.

Discovering a need for additional team members is something that happens over time, according to Blau of Sound Wave Customs. “I’ll use my kids as an example,” Blau said. “One minute they are born, they’re an infant, and the next thing you know they are five or six years old. You can relate to that in business. The more your name gets out there, the busier you get. We have to handle that workload. We have a big building, 6,300 feet. It takes that many employees to do stuff.”

At one point, Tunes-N-Tint had two locations, but owner Joe Cassity chose to focus on only one store to keep from being stretched too thin. “We've consolidated our Lakeland stores down to one, but expanded our offerings,” he said. “This has allowed us to increase revenue while decreasing overhead. By keeping our staff members cross-trained it allows us to control costs, mitigate time off issues and deal with what can sometimes be a roller coaster business.” Cassity also noted that managing all the social media and digital platforms can also be challenging.

Another challenge can be encouraging customers to return to the store. Blau stated the number one goal at Sound Wave Customs is ensuring a positive customer experience. “I get great reviews, from Google to Yelp, to Better Business Bureau, Facebook—it just grows. The store grows, we bring in a new line or change the showroom,” Blau said. “I’ve revamped the layout of the store twice in four years. Even returning customers are like, ‘Wow, you’re always doing something new!’” Keeping things fresh is also strategic in that it helps encourage growth and expansion in the long run.

Scheduling is also a challenge, according to Pate, who stated that it can be difficult to schedule jobs and to ensure that staff members aren’t already scheduled for something else. “The margins on rims and tires and lifts and truck accessories are far less than car audio,” Pate added. “That can be a challenge, too, especially because of the Internet.”

Read the rest of the story HERE.

10-18-2017, Mobile Electronics -- By now everyone has heard about the winners for the Mobile Electronics Magazine Industry Awards. If you haven’t by chance, they are in this edition! This year’s candidates were all great and all well deserving. I was excited to hear that Chris Pate had won the Installer of the Year award. I recently wrote about my trip to France last summer and the tour of the Focal factory. On that trip were many other dealers. One that I had the pleasure of spending time with was Chris Pate.

Since I was 14 I have had a strong love for car audio. Through the years that passion has remained and grown. There are times in my life when I cross paths with others that share that same passion, and meeting Chris was one of them. I enjoyed spending time with Chris and learning more about his facility and the advanced tools he used. I personally wear many hats, but the one I probably most enjoy is that of fabricator. Over the period of a few days I learned from Chris how my life would not be complete without a laser cutter and sheet-sized CNC. Chris shared with me how he incorporates both of these into every day life at his facility.   
A short period of time before the France trip I attended KnowledgeFest in Dallas. It was at that event that I first met Chris.  I had the pleasure of listening to his incredible single seat car.  We then talked a bit about sonics and tuning. I thought it would be fitting to have Chris, the 2017-2018 Installer of the Year walk us through basic tuning in a real-world setting. Follow along as Chris shares his procedures on a car recently completed at his facility, Mobile Toys, Inc.

Chris' Part

So you just finished up that amazing install in your customer’s car.  You have spent hours drawing, designing, fabricating and installing the bevy of audio equipment your salesman sold. All the hours building and constructing this automotive masterpiece will be for naught if you cannot make it sound amazing. Point blank, any installer can build an audio system and dress it up. But for you to take the next step as an installer you need to be able to tune that ride. That doesn’t mean you must have a pair of golden ears or a pile of IASCA sound quality championships to make your customer’s ride sound great.  All you need is a tape measure, an oscilloscope, an RTA (real time analyzer) and a test disc with a pink noise, test tracks, and sine waves. 

Let’s start off by describing the car and system that has been installed and is in need of tuning. The car we will be tuning is a 2014 Subaru Forrester with a front three-way speaker system as well as a rear sub.  All speakers are run to independent amplifier channels allowing for an active crossover design. The midrange and high frequencies are handled by a pair of Illusion Audio C3CX coincidence drivers that have been installed in the left and right sail panel windows. The mid bass frequencies are being reproduced by a pair of Illusion Audio C8 eight inch drivers installed in the factory door locations on a pair of custom built PVC, mounted into the factory mounting holes. The sub frequencies are being reproduced by a single Illusion Audio Carbon 12-inch sub in a sealed enclosure with 1.25 cubic feet of air space. Amplification is being produced by a pair of Mosconi Zero4 four-channel amplifiers. For our source unit we have a Sony RSX-G9 high resolution media player. Last but certainly not least is our processor, a Mosconi 8-12 Aerospace DSP. 

As installers, we don’t have days to tune a car. We generally only have a few hours to test, make adjustments and then deliver the sound system to our customer. So let’s begin by pulling out our oscilloscope and setting the gains on our source unit, processor, and amplifiers. The key to laying a solid foundation for any tune is correct gain adjustments. We will be using sine wave test tones from the Focal Tools disc. The sine waves we will be using are 60hz for subs, 200hz for mid bass, 2khz for our midrange, and 8Khz for the tweeters. Each of these tones creates a reference level sine wave that can easily be seen on your oscilloscope.

When the signal is clean, you get a nice smooth curve from valley to peak, and when your amplifier clips it sends out distortion which can be seen as flat plateau at the top of each wave. The first step is to connect the positive and negative probes of your scope to your receiver's RCA connections on the back of the receiver. Once connected, make sure all equalizer settings are set to flat, the bass boost and loudness functions are off.  We start off by playing the 60hz tone on our source unit. We turn the volume up until we see the wave peak and plateau. Make note of the level the source unit is at.

Now we repeat the process on each of the next three frequencies making note of the volume level at which the source unit clips. In our case, the 200hz tone clipped at the lowest volume setting. This was level 40 on our Sony RSX-G9. We now know the highest level we can play our source unit cleanly is 39.  This process can now be repeated on our processor inputs, and our amplifier channels.

The process is very similar when setting the DSP input gains, but a little different on the amplifier side.  In the case of the amplifiers you will want to use the corresponding sine wave frequency that is directly related to what that set of channels will be driving. The sine waves we will be using are 60hz for subs, 200hz for mid bass, 2khz for our midrange and 8khz for the tweeters. We start by connecting the leads to the sub amp output channels. Make sure again that the gain is set to zero. While playing the 60hz tone at level 39 on the Sony source unit, begin turning the amp gain up until you see the scope’s wave form plateau, indicating the output of distortion.

Once the peak level has been reached, back the gain down until the wave form becomes smooth again.  This process will need to be repeated on each of the other three pairs of channels using the correct frequencies. By taking the time to correctly set the system’s gain you will maximize its output and limit its distortions. This process is actually very quick and easy to do once you get it down.

Read the rest of the article HERE

Mobile Electronics October Issue, 10-26-2016 -- KnowledgeFest 2016 Dallas has come and gone. This year’s event was great! KnowledgeFest has always been a time for me to learn some things, reconnect with old friends and network with new friends. In all of these areas, this year did not disappoint. The classes I attended were all very informative. It seems that each year the classes get better and better. I went to classes on the owner, management and installer tracks. As usual for me, one of the biggest challenges is deciding what classes to attend. There are only so many training hours available, and it always seems like there is an overlapping of interesting classes. I am thankful we have an event with so many training options that picking which to attend is a challenge! 

This year held a little more excitement for me. With the exception of sitting in on a training with Ken Ward once, I have never presented at KnowledgeFest. Earlier this year, I was approached by David MacKinnon about presenting a session on photography. In addition to my job at Simplicity In Sound, I also work for 1sixty8 media. At 1sixty8 media, one of our premium products is the build post. One of my duties is to select the photos that the clients supply for use in their build posts. As a result, I see hundreds of build photos per month. The majority of the photos I see could look much better, with just a little bit of work. I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some tips on making car-related photographs better. As David and I worked on how to split up the session, Matt Schaeffer and I were also having a discussion about some photography-related topics. In the discussion, KnowledgeFest came up. I told Matt that David and I had submitted to teach a session this year on photography. Surprisingly, Matt was planning a photography session, too. We decided to combine our sessions.

As we talked more about our presentation, it seemed that each person had their own strengths. I wanted to discuss composition, David wanted to outline the basic fundamentals of photography, and Matt wanted provide an introduction to Lightroom for post-production work. The three parts together would make a very useful class, so we proceeded forward with this plan. Due to travel issues, our class was moved to the last day, at the end of the day. In addition to the scheduling changes, Matt left early so he wouldn’t miss the birth of his child. Our session was taught in a different order than we planned. I thought covering some of the key points would be beneficial as a reference for those who attended. For those who were at other trainings, this will give you the opportunity to see what you missed. To add to the realism and immerse yourself in the experience, please note that I speak in a slight southern accent, so I encourage your inner dialogue to use the same when reading this!

This article will be broken into two parts.  The first part, which I am writing, will cover composition and some of the theories on good picture-taking. The second part will be split between David and Matt, and they will cover photography fundamentals as well as using Lightroom. Hopefully, these articles will serve as a great tool to help you take better pictures and make more money with them!

Read the rest of the story HERE.

10-19-2016, Mobile Electronics -- You're an independent retailer. Your staff of three operates a small but profitable shop in your middle-class community. The work is good but so far there've been no jobs that have overwhelmed you or taken your attention away from your regular duties of installing speakers, decks, amps and the like. That is, until now.

Does this scenario sound familiar? If so, know that you aren't the only one to deal with it. Rob Paterson, co-owner of 2016 Top 50 Retailer, Sound Auto, in Hamilton, N.J. experienced it first-hand when a client brought in his RV in the hopes of adding a few extra bells and whistles to spice up his weekend joy ride. Several visits and thousands of dollars later, the job was done and the small, three-man operation had won over the client, created a memorable build and managed to balance the massive, two-year job with the rest of their workload. That begs the question: How did they do it? The answer: Very carefully.

Randy Lumia had the idea of getting a few upgrades done on his 28-foot RV. The client arrived on a Saturday and asked about technology, amenities and items that could give him bragging rights during fishing and camping trips with friends, effectively creating a "Man Cave On Wheels."

"We have 14-foot-high bay doors as part of a 3,000 square foot facility. 90 percent of it is bay space; we had 12 cars in here at one point," Paterson said. "Without the ability to have this thing inside, I never would have taken this job."

The sales staff discussed a variety of upgrade options while Lumia stressed the importance of leaving room for future upgrades as the budget would allow. After about an hour or so, he drove off and the salesman was left to contemplate possibilities for the camper. A couple weeks went by before the customer's return. During that time, he had the A/C unit replaced, a new generator installed, found an interior person and ordered all of the materials, installed new wheels, tires and brakes. From that point on, it was clear to Paterson and his two-man crew that this would be a serious project.

"You've got to step back and get the larger idea. With a large job like this, if it's not done in 20 baby steps, you've got a hot mess," Paterson said. "You've got 20 lines going to the battery. But if you plan it at the offset, you can plan a power distribution set up. Plan four steps ahead. Get an accurate idea of what the scope is."

Although the practice of properly planning for a big job is something Paterson is accustomed to, the same can't be said of all retailers, who face different issues as large projects come in.

The Start of Something Big

With over 33 years of experience working for companies like Alpine Electronics, VOXX Electronics and now, president and chief technology evangelist of American Road Products, Steve Witt brings a plethora of information with him on all aspects of mobile electronics. But since his current company sells safety products like backup sensors and collision avoidance products, which are installed by a partner company he works with called Premiere Services, Witt is well-versed on what it takes for retailers to handle large-scale projects like fleet builds and large vehicle installs.

"To find and prepare for a big job, whether it be a single vehicle or fleet of vehicles, there are multiple steps a retailer should follow. First, plan the scope of work with your team. That includes getting the complete custom requirements on paper, assigning tasks to the most appropriate employee based on knowhow and creating a task management timeline. That can be something as simple as a whiteboard in the install bay. It doesn't have to be a big document with charts," Witt said. "Then, brief the customer with that plan because what will happen is once you regurgitate to the customer additional needs, requirements or wants could come out that could increase the sale."

As it turns out, that's just what happened to Paterson, albeit in a more scattered timeline. The build took place in several stages, which were planned one step at a time, considering neither the shop nor the customer knew there would be more than one stage. The first stage of the build consisted of upgrading the windows and door locks from manual to electric. The team also added a radar detector, alarm, remote start, a Morel GPS, a JL Audio XD three-channel amplifier and Pinnacle Baby Boomer subwoofer (which pulled double duty for both the front end and lounge areas). The bunk area was equipped with two 32-inch TVs on swing-out arms, an Onkyo eight-channel receiver, Blu-ray player, sound bar and surround speakers. A 19-inch TV and speakers were installed in the rear bedroom to round out the entertainment center aspect of the build.

Getting the customer to sign off on the plan was easy for Paterson given his extensive experience, customer rapport, and the customer having done his research online prior to seeking Paterson out. Once the first phase was complete, the customer was billed on that work and the job was seemingly done—or so they thought.

Read the rest of the feature HERE.

10-11-2017, Mobile Electronics -- Think back to what the car buying experience was like two decades ago. Whether a consumer bought used or new, purchasing an aftermarket car stereo was no big hassle.

Today the landscape has completely changed with aftermarket companies forced to keep pace with all of the advanced technologies automakers are packing into their vehicles. But that is how Montreal, Canada -based Automotive Data Solutions, Inc. (ADS) helps its technology partners keep doing business as usual.

ADS specializes in the development and marketing of remote start and audio integration solutions destined for the aftermarket. Its list of technology partners, which reads like a who’s who of the 12-volt world, includes: Alpine, Arc Audio, AudioControl, Audison, Autopage, Belron (Canada), Compustar, Firstech, K40 Electronics, Kenwood, Omega, Pioneer, Rockford Fosgate, and Voxx.

Marketed under the iDatalink, iDatalink Maestro, and iDataStart brands, ADS products are sold and installed through a network of authorized dealers across North America, South America, Europe, and Russia. ADS also develops several private label solutions for various strategic partners and markets those worldwide.

“Right now the biggest challenge is that it’s a very vehicle specific game,” said ADS marketing director Dan Facciolo. “Go back 15 years ago and you were able to advertise and sell a car radio without having to worry that it wasn’t going to work in certain cars. Now when it comes time to market that radio you don’t want to worry about which cars it won’t work in.  Not every product works in every car, but that’s where we come in. We specialize in the vehicle interface part. Our job is to make the car radio or remote car starter from a manufacturer work in a lot of cars.”

A recent example involves BMW. “A few years ago we released the first remote car starter solution for BMWs that didn’t require the installers to physically install a key in the vehicle,” Facciolo said. “Over one year of R&D was invested in deciphering the technology, but years later, we still are the only company to have offered a solution.”

Even the most mainstream, popular vehicles have fallen victim to the same challenge, according to Facciolo. “A few years ago the Toyota Corolla became somewhat of a complicated vehicle if you wanted to install a remote car starter,” he said. “There are literally hundreds of thousands of Corollas sold every year. If you can’t install a remote car starter on them, it becomes a huge problem for the retail channel because they’re missing out on a bread-and-butter car, or the installation becomes a lot more expensive than it should be. Every year new cars are coming out with more technology and what we need to do is reverse engineer those technologies in order to install aftermarket products in those cars.”

Full-On Support

What makes ADS unique is that its comprehensive support efforts are not just limited to products. It is a powerful one-stop shop for its technology partners’ needs.

“We can manufacture their products from A to Z, but we also offer marketing and sales support,” said Facciolo. “We offer engineering support, IT support and on-the-road sales support. When you’re dealing with ADS, we can help you manufacture your product, assist with the marketing of it, or we can simply manufacture a component that is compatible with an OEM product.”

ADS has close to 100 employees with a large engineering team on both the remote start and car audio fronts. “Engineering and IT are our biggest departments,” said Facciolo. “We also have a large technical support department because we need to support all of our private label partners as well as our own brands across North America.” There is central marketing (which Facciolo heads up) where marketing collateral for private label customers is generated.

“When a manufacturer comes to us we don’t just create the product itself,” Facciolo said. “We help them develop the packaging. We make websites for them. Sometimes we create sales material. Often times we have a sales team that will go on the road and support a private label vendor at distributor shows or trade shows. ADS might be there giving presentations on behalf of the private label manufacturer. What we offer is end-to-end service—not just creating or manufacturing a product for them, but also offering the services that go along with the product.”

Just recently, ADS attended KnowledgeFest where the company had its own booth, but its presence went beyond that. “Our staff was also assisting other vendors at their booths and also in their trainings,” Facciolo said. “If you go to any road show, any big distributor show, any industry trade show, there is a good chance you’ll find an ADS representative at the Voxx booth, at the Compustar booth, or at the Kenwood booth.”

If there is a situation where a retailer is installing an ADS product and having an issue, the company has a technical support department open six days a week with social media available 24-7. “We have support groups and they’re available phone, social media, or forums which is pretty industry standard for our retailers,” Facciolo said.

With its technology partners, said Facciolo, if there is an engineering issue, then it is typically addressed engineering team to engineering team. “Their engineers will contact ours and we will work through the problem,” he said. “If it is vehicle specific, then we will get access to that vehicle and do the troubleshooting for them. Since we work with software, our product is designed to be programmed online. You plug our product into the USB cable to our website and there is software that gets flashed in and allows it to work on a certain vehicle. If it is a vehicle-specific bug, we get access to that car and make the necessary tweaks to the software that will make it work. It’s a quick process. As soon as a bug is reported we are able to address it pretty quickly and issue software updates through the Internet.”

Read the rest of the story HERE.

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