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Words by Rosa Sophia

4-2-2018 Mobile Electronics -- After applying lessons learned, George Smith of Mobileworks / Tintworks / Central Coast Rhino Linings of Santa Maria, Calif. created strategic plans to safeguard his business and future. Now, he and his wife, Kim, continue to foster strong relationships in the industry that benefit the wellbeing of all.

Every day, changes in the industry seem to come faster and faster. Perspectives and approaches change, too, but a few basic foundations remain the same as shop owners work hard to stand apart from the rest. George Smith has been in the industry since 1984 when he first began learning car stereo installation. In 1991, he moved to Sacramento and started working for Paradyme Car Audio, where he learned a lot from a Top 12 installer—Paul Sonoda—and store owner and IASCA Board member Terry Soohoo, both of whom inspired him with their experience and knowledge.

“It was a privilege […] to be working along with these guys,” he said. “Working for them was like getting my college degree in car stereo.” Off to a great start, Smith’s talent and dedication was clear, while his future choices were informed by lessons learned and mistakes made. Currently, the business has nine employees including Smith and his wife, Kim, and the average staff tenure is around four to five years.

The Steady Climb: A Career Built on Hard Work and Determination

During the summer between eighth and ninth grade, Smith worked at a stereo shop, but his parents told him that once school started, he had to be home by seven. “We lived in downtown Santa Barbara. I had to be on the bus at 5:45 to get home by seven,” he said. “I would get out of school, ride the bus down to the stereo shop and I would work.” At first, he was organizing parts and putting away dash kits. “Little by little, I was learning it all. By the time I was a senior graduating high school, I had a career and was making good money.”

At a mere 23 years old, Smith earned a place in the industry as a Top 100 Installer. He’d already taken part in IASCA events and won with the help of Paul and Terry. The work was a constant hustle, Smith said. While doing installs in the back, the front doorbell would ring so many times he often had to stop his installation and go out to the front to assist or make a sale to a customer.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

4-19-2017, Mobile Electronics -- Looks can be deceiving. As Western culture took over as the popular culture in the world, people's looks became indistinguishable from the personality of their cultures. If you dressed like a cowboy, that must have meant you were from Texas and liked to ride horses. If you were a guy with long dreadlocks, wore flip flops, tie-dyed shirts and shorts you must have been a hippie. But after meeting Jason Kranitz, owner of Kingpin Car and Marine Audio, you'd quickly learn that there's more to a person than their sense of fashion.

With spiked hair, a no-nonsense attitude and a sleeve of flame tattoos, one might relegate Kranitz to that of a punk-rocker. While he shares many traits with that sub-culture, including his refusal to play by the rules of hiring only established installation technicians, Kranitz's views on industry topics, his shop's appointment-only business model and high standards of excellence prove that he's much more than a rebel with a cause.

"We do things so differently, we expect perfection. A lot of experienced guys come over to our shop, get going and realize it isn't for them," Kranitz said regarding his decision to train workers from scratch. "People inside the industry tend to view training as punishment; but new hires view training as a way to learn and grow and welcome it."

Due to the large growth period the company is experiencing as of late, Kranitz had to make an executive decision on his company's employment strategy—either hire experienced staff, pulling from other parts of the country and potentially spending large sums of money to bring in a hired gun quickly, or start fresh with enthusiastic newcomers. Choosing the latter has been a game changer, according to Kranitz. The only concern now, is how to not grow too fast.

"We're looking to expand and to own our own building in two years. The problem is everything is on the upswing of the real estate market. I'd rather purchase on the down side to get a better deal," Kranitz said. "When it comes to employees, I'm done trying to find only seasoned people in the industry. There are too many shops that will take people with experience and pay too much for them. My most recent hires have all been rookies. It's more work to train from scratch but it's working out better already."

Taking Up The Cause

Although the company has had its fair share of struggles in recent years, including the loss of seasoned employees, Kranitz knows that sometimes the way forward is by reviewing the past. After spending time at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon with law enforcement as his career path, Kranitz realized it wasn't for him after seeing the same criminals being caught repeatedly. Soon enough, he found himself in another career that had been in front of him the whole time.

"I got started way back in the day as a consumer. A local shop I bought all my stuff from asked me if I wanted to hang around and sweep floors and do some work. So I continued to sweep floors and stuff. I was hanging out in the back with installers and started running wires. That's where I started," Kranitz said. "Kevin Cornutt, who's currently with Stereo King, was the installer at Focus Electronics where I swept floors. They decided to get out of car audio. Kevin went to work for Car Tunes. He called me up one day, said they had an opening. That was my first paid install job. I did nothing but come-backs—all the repair work. It sucked but it was the best thing for me because it taught me how to troubleshoot."

He would go on to work for Phoenix Gold for a year before returning to retail Car Toys for seven years. "At the time I liked it. Their business model didn't change. I thought I was going to work there forever. They went from 21 stores to 56 stores. Eventually, the focus changed to being about numbers and not necessarily on sound quality stuff," Kranitz said. "I would talk to my mom on the way home every day and talk to her about how they're doing things wrong and how there are better ways to serve clients. My mom told me one day to just do it. I said 'What if I fail?' She said 'What's the worst that could happen? Just get a job someplace else. Show them how you think it should be done.' I had a plan to start my business three weeks later."

With $30,000 in savings behind him, Kranitz opened Kingpin Car Audio and Marine in August of 2006. The facility was chosen by finding a balance between price and location, eventually landing in the small town of Wilsonville, a suburb of Portland, Ore., where there were no other car stereo shops. "Hindsight 20/20, I wouldn't have done it. I would have chosen an area that has a stereo shop. If you have another shop nearby, you let their advertising dollars bring clients to the area, then when they don't live up to the clients' expectations, the client would come to me. It would get them into my facility."

The shop operates out of an 8,000 square foot facility, with 2,000 square feet dedicated to the sales floor and the rest used for installation bay, wood, metal, fabrication and upholstery. As a boutique specialist in an area filled with big box retailers, the challenge was creating a market in the area and beyond. Thankfully, Kranitz doesn't operate his business or life by the book.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

Music City Monarchs

Titan Motoring started in the back of a van, and has since become a thriving business that continues to grow year after year. Keys to its evolution include open communication, team-building, cross-training and shared goals that aid in cultivating positive store culture.

Words by Rosa Sophia

In Nashville, Tenn.—Music City—Titan Motoring continues to grow because of the combined talents of the shop’s team, according to business owner Philip Lindsley. “The installers we have, the talent under one roof, is amazing,” Lindsley said. “We’re not just audio, not just vinyl wrap. We do so many things here in one location, and we have so many talented individuals here. There’s no one [else] like that in our area.”

The shop came from humble beginnings in 2011, when Lindsley started doing mobile installations from a minivan. The focus at the time was car dealerships. After building the business, he... Read the rest of the story HERE.

 

8-31-2016 -- Legendary martial artist and philosopher Bruce Lee once said, "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless—like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."

The power of water is undeniable in the natural world. But in the retail space, it can be even more powerful. Especially if one put Lee's concept into practice. Luckily for Mark Fung, owner of Stereo Solutions in Redding, Calif., both the philosophical and physical elements of water have helped land his shop in the Top 50 two years in a row.

Located on the Sacramento River, and close to multiple lakes, including the vast Lake Shasta, Redding is home to a strong boating community that acts as the foundation for Stereo Solutions' business. Due to the recent drought in California, Fung had been concerned about the possibility of a slow season, but luckily, thanks to a surprise rainy season, business is booming.

"It's been our second busiest month ever. California has been in a drought. Our lakes are full now. Mt. Shasta has a bunch of snow. People are investing in new boats," Fung said. "There was a point where people thought we were a boat dealer because we had a lot of boats here. The bay has 2,500 square feet with four bay doors, two on each side to pull vehicles through. We squeezed eight or nine boats in there at one time. Marine is a big portion of our company but it's not all of it."

The shop also works with the local fire department and highway patrol, installing navigation, Bluetooth, backup cameras and specialty remote starts.

"Some of the highway patrol cars would come from probably 300 miles away," Fung said. "What started it was we work with a lot of dealerships here in town and they were handling a lot of fleet programs. They got on board with highway patrol and we jumped on board with that."

Liquid Thoughts

Becoming a community's go-to place for vehicle upgrades isn't a guarantee, even in a place like Redding where there is a need. It's a good thing that Fung is immersed in all things 12-volt and always has been throughout his career.

"It's the only job I've ever had. I worked sweeping car audio shops when I was 15 and a half, right when I could drive," Fung said. "The first shop I worked at was called Speed of Sound in Redding. I was sweeping floors and getting to learn installs by shadowing." After spending two to three years at Speele Audio, Fung moved around to around six shops in town. The experience helped Fung identify the do's and don'ts of the business, preparing and inspiring him to open his own shop.

"All the shops I worked at in town are no longer in business. I think one of the biggest reasons was the owners of the shops were not car audio guys. They all had financial backers. None of them could install. They all had to rely on someone to get a job done," Fung said. "When it comes down to it, I can sell a job and I can turn around and install it. It's hard for me to hire a salesman without an installation background because if he doesn't know what he's selling and the car it's going in, it won't turn out right. That's a unique thing here. I have six employees and every single one of them has an installation background."

The shop does not have a dedicated salesperson anymore. Instead, Fung uses a unique approach, allowing as many installers to populate the sales floor as is needed at any given time to handle customers.

"People can buy this stuff anywhere but can't get it installed anywhere. There's a guy in town now that just sells product," Fung said. "That's how we focus the shop, around the install."

Part of Fung's unique approach comes from his background in self-sufficiency. The shop has no traditional financial backers. It started thanks to a generous loan from Fung's grandmother in 2007. 

Read the rest of the story HERE.

Certified Autosound in Vancouver, British Columbia is a fast-growing chain with goals to open multiple locations over the next several years and reach the top of the market in their local coastal area. The challenge? Expanding the business’s reach to make Certified a highly recognized brand.

Words by Rosa Sophia

On the west coast of Canada, Certified Autosound and Security is probably the largest independent mobile electronics retailer in the area, according to Chris Cope, one of the owners of the business. But few people knew it, he said, and so the challenge was to raise awareness of the brand. “We sat at the dinner last year in Dallas [at KnowledgeFest] and no one knew who we were,” Cope said, adding that there are nowhere near as many car audio stores in Canada as there are in the U.S. “I wanted people to know who we were and know us for quality.”

Because everything is so spread out in Canada, and the population is lower, Cope has a specific challenge on his hands: How can the business make more people aware of its existence?

[Click Here] to read the rest of the story.

 

Real World Retail for December 2019
High Volume
When it comes to turning up the tunes, Lawson’s Car Audio stocks up to meet customers’ needs in any situation.
Words by Rosa Sophia

When the business first opened in 1994 in Augusta, Georgia, Lawson’s didn’t sell car audio—instead, the store focused on anything else electronic. Current owner Morgan Lawson said his parents opened the business, but car audio came into the picture by accident. Morgan’s mother, Su Lawson, went to an auction and purchased a pallet of car audio without knowing what it was. “We sold it all within a week,” said Morgan Lawson. “Ever since the early 2000s, we’ve been nothing but an audio shop.”

The store went from being called Lawson’s to Lawson’s Car Audio, and today Morgan runs the shop. The business had three locations in 2008, he added, but when his father passed away, they downsized. If everything goes according to plan, a second location in Evans, Ga. will open in mid-April with hopes of continuing to expand into the future.

Despite going away to earn degrees in criminal justice and psychology, and later becoming a real estate agent—which he still does on the side today—Lawson said he was always drawn back to the family business. “Music brings people together,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy. I did a whole bunch of other stuff, even got my pilot’s license, but I always came back here.”

Since the beginning, the focus of the business has been...Read the rest of the story HERE.

Retaining Identity Within the Brand

The team at Al & Ed’s Autosound in Ontario, Calif. sets themselves apart by connecting in unique ways with clients. The shop has increased their focus on driver safety and powersports, while owner Dallas Setyadi envisions a future in which marine audio plays a larger part in his business.

Words by Rosa Sophia

In the mid-nineties, Dallas Setyadi came to the United States from Indonesia and discovered his love for car audio in California. After attending Riverside Community College and earning a degree in business, Setyadi entered the mobile electronics industry.

“I was totally new to car audio and I taught myself how to do installations,” he said, adding that car audio magazines inspired him to take things to the next level. “I would go to competitions, look at their work, buy magazines, and I would learn from all the pictures. That’s when I started teaching myself, and I began doing installs in my garage.” After working independently for two years, he set his sights on Al & Ed’s Autosound.

He worked at five other locations, then arrived at the Ontario, Calif. location, which he eventually bought in 2016 and currently owns.

Setyadi’s shop does a lot of custom fabrication, as well as lights, bumpers, lift kits and vehicle security. As an Al & Ed’s franchise location, name recognition and brand, products and advertising are all part of what the store receives as a member of the franchise.

Switching From Commission to Hourly Improves Staff Morale

The staff consists of Darren Sprayberry, who is the service manager and has been voted both in the Top 12 and the Top 100 Installers in the past; Adrian Preston, technician; Ludwing Monterroso, product specialist; and Franklin Pineda, product specialist. Setyadi himself is both a salesman and an installer.

Recently, the staff went from being commission-based to hourly pay. “Employees wanted it that way,” Setyadi said. “Some of them have been with us a long time and they are getting a little older, so they may not be as fast. Commission is great because you get more money, but it’s high paced, rapid and tough. With hourly, they can take more time with working on the... Read the rest of the story HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Mobile Electronics, 12-1-2016 -- Having natural talent is seen by many to be a blessing. Some people have athletic prowess and capabilities that far surpass their peers. Some with high IQs exceed expectations in fields like math and science. Others, like Jag Rattu, naturally excel at sales. But if you ask him, it takes much more to make his business—Audio House in Napa, Calif.—a profitable enterprise.

"When we started, it was just me and two other installers. They worked their butts off," Rattu said. "The store was open six days a week. I worked every day, all the time to get the store running. Getting inventory in the computer took forever. There was a lot of stuff I had to deal with."

Since opening his store in July of 2006, Rattu has found ways to increase revenue and grow his customer base. By using his gift for gab and years of 12-volt industry knowledge as a base, Rattu won over customers with his welcoming, non-pressured approach to each sale, and by reaching out to local businesses to build a community eager for new technology.

"We had to advertise and get our name out there,” Rattu said. “Now we're doing 10 to 15 cars a day. Every year we add something else."

Today, 30 percent of the shop's business is window tinting with the other 70 percent spread amongst all mobile electronics categories, primarily car audio.

"All those Carplay stereos from Alpine and Kenwood are the hottest things right now. Selling like hotcakes. JL Audio stealth boxes were previously really hot," Rattu said. "When I was younger we used to build a lot of boxes. We still do custom work, but there are so many applications for enclosures nowadays."

When custom enclosures were the norm back in the 1990s, Rattu was still in school, graduating high school in 1997. While he wasn't an installer, Rattu always had a passion for quality sound systems and good music. He would carry those two elements with him after high school once he got his first job at a local car audio shop.

"I didn't know any brands. I knew cars, loved music, but didn't know too much about car audio," Rattu said. "The first thing I did was introduce myself to installers and started asking questions. The OG salesman took me under their wing. I was so blessed."

After working at Monet Car Audio for a year, Rattu was promoted to store manager when the manager got sick. After running the store for a week, Rattu brought up the sales numbers significantly and caught the attention of the general manager who offered him a full-time position at another of the company's chain stores. He dropped out of college and continued his path as a manager.

After a few years of managing a store and reading management books, Rattu realized he wanted to become a business owner, so he went back to school and earned a business degree. During that time, he changed shops and moved across the bay to work full time for Auto Haus, a four-store chain. Eventually, he bought one of the company's stores and renamed it Audio House.

The building is comprised of 4,800 total square feet. The installation facility consists of a six-car garage in back, a two-car garage on the side of the building for window tinting and a fabrication room with a variety of tools and templates for custom work. The showroom is traditional, with product and displays filling all space, which is deliberate given Rattu's philosophy for a customer's first impression.

"My goal is, when a customer walks in the store, they want to buy something here. There are no empty holes," Rattu said. "I want to make sure my customers can hear this stuff. At the same time, they can see it. If you can't see it, how are you going to buy it."

Read the rest of the feature HERE. 

2-8-2017, Mobile Electronics Magazine -- It's a known idea in life that the young typically leap before they look. Typically, the older you get, the more cautious you are when making big decisions. Sometimes, that's a bad idea.

Striking while the iron is hot seemed to be the motto of this year's Atlanta Falcons, which became the highest scoring team in the NFL with 540 points in the regular season. While scoring in such an aggressive manner doesn't guarantee that a team will win a Superbowl, it doesn't hurt either.

Ethan Blau uses a similar strategy with his shop, Sound Wave Customs (SWC), out of Virginia Beach, Va. By utilizing a combination of service-centric sales tactics, an aesthetically-pleasing shop layout and accepting any job that comes through the doors with a can-do attitude, SWC has earned several awards in its over three years of operation. Among the awards are a Best Of, Gold award from the Virginia Pilot three years in a row, making the Mobile Electronics Top 50 Retailers and Installers for 2015 and 2016, and winning the Best Customer Experience award at the 2016 Mobile Electronics Industry Awards.

Being such a new company, one might expect SWC to need some time to build a customer base and reputation to earn such prestigious awards and to be as profitable as it has become. But any expectation would prove wrong after getting to know what makes Blau and his team tick.

Lighting The Match

Learning what one's career will be in life is a struggle for most people—except Blau. From as far back as he can remember, he's wanted to be in business for himself.

"I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was a kid, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I've always said I want to be my own boss," Blau said. "This is even before I knew I wanted to be in the 12-volt industry."

As a teenager, Blau took his passion for music and audio into business, performing basic installs for neighborhood kids in high school. Using car audio magazines as an educational tool, Blau found his career path right away. After high school, fueled by his new passion, Blau pursued car audio with persistence, offering his skills to any local shop that would have him. Soon enough, Blau was hired as an installer, despite not having much technical knowledge.

"I was very green. I installed for a couple of years but then they saw I had good people skills and product knowledge. They moved me up front to sales," Blau said. "I tried that for a while, became assistant manager, store manager and ran a store chain that was 30 years old. It was called Discount Auto Sound."

Blau worked at the chain from 2004 to 2008 before moving on to two more shops, Mobile Environment and Go-Ho Auto Audio before making the decision that would change his life. Inspired equally in the positive, by people like Dave "Fishman" Rivera, and in the negative by some former colleagues who had mistreated customers, Blau had a blueprint for the kind of shop he wanted to run. Despite his eagerness to get started, he received some words to the contrary.

"A Memphis rep gave me advice. If you were starting off boxing, would you want to step in the ring with Joe Schmo or Mike Tyson? I chose Mike Tyson," Blau said. "If you see a vision, you have to fully go after it. That's what makes our industry so special. Think about how much talent is out there and what they come up with. They still blow my mind. It's just amazing."

Piecing together capital from family and other sources, Blau found a location in the heart of Virginia Beach, part of a six-store shopping center right across the street from the Linhaven Mall. The shop is a mile from Interstate 264 and eight minutes from the ocean front.

The store and parking lot have a total space of 6,500 square feet, including a 2,800 square foot installation bay and fabrication shop, 1,200 square feet of stock room, office and conference room, and 2,200 square feet for the waiting room, restrooms, front counter area and main showroom.

After opening in September of 2013, the shop has grown approximately 30 percent annually in sales, according to Blau. After starting with two employees and growing to now have eight working for him, Blau attributes the growth to his willingness to educate himself and his employees, who he feels are hard to find due largely to pay and a lack of opportunity.

"We lost a lot of good guys in this industry because the pay was horrible. For a while at a store, I was the only guy with keys to the store. I was getting paid $9.25 an hour and we were doing good numbers back then. Some of the top techs were getting $7, $8, $9 bucks an hour. Even back then it was still a struggle," Blau said. "Some of the really good techs we had in that area were getting more career type jobs. Not only did I want to single-handedly change the industry in my area, I created my own niche." 

Read the rest of the story HERE.

1-10-2017, Mobile Electronics, January 2017 -- Choosing a career path isn't always a choice you make alone. Sometimes the world, other people, or possibly fate, intervene to shine the light on a new path.

Bill Goldberg began his career tackling professional football players on the field for the Atlanta Falcons, but due to a serious knee injury, he turned to the world of professional wrestling and began tackling, or "spearing," his opponents on the way to becoming one of the most popular stars to ever grace the squared circle. Ronald Reagan began his career as an actor but got bitten by the political bug and began speaking on behalf of General Electric, which started him on his path to becoming President of the United States. Each path illustrates something many people have in common: While you don't always land in your first choice of careers, sometimes a similar, yet better option is right around the corner.

Ric Moore is such a person, having started his career working in music production in 1985. "My background was live sound. I've always been interested in music. I'm one of the baby boomers that grew up on classic rock. I bought all the albums and knew all the songs by heart," Moore said. "I got involved with a guy that was in a band. He had a board that I learned on the fly."

To enhance his knowledge of live sound, Moore moved to Atlanta, attending a trade school called Music Business Institute. There, he learned about artist management, video production and audio production. "I made some pretty good friends, went on tour with a band called The Producers. I was stage manager and did guitar tuning, set up and tear down, keyboard setup and tear down," Moore said. "After the tour, I moved back to Evansville. The music scene was okay. I ran into a couple guys I knew locally, ran sound for some local bands. That's when the transition happened in 1988. I was 27."

Realizing your dream job isn't panning out might send some people running into a safe office job somewhere, but not Moore. Thanks to a tip from his wife's cousin about a local 12-volt shop being in need of a salesman, Moore soon found opportunity in an unlikely place.

"The opportunity presented itself to work at this local car stereo shop. I knew what car stereo was from doing it with a buddy in Atlanta. It wasn't something I wanted to do at first," Moore said. "This store was looking for a sales person. My wife's cousin worked here and he got me on as a salesman. I got hooked on the business and was fairly successful at it. I found out that was my niche."

Soon enough, Moore's niche became a passion and he had found his new path. And as fate would have it, there was one particular sale that sealed the deal for his new chosen career path.

"The one memory I've always had was the first big sale. We were a little shotgun retail center in a four-shop strip mall. I had been working there a month or so," Moore said. "A guy came in, I helped him out, went through the whole process. He spent a thousand dollars. Right then I knew I could do this. The owner called me and said it was the biggest sale we had in a while. Recently, that same customer came back to the store and we recognized each other immediately. It was pretty great."

Early Battles

After working for Dr. Dashboard for around seven years, Moore decided it was time to make his passion permanent and found opportunity when the company began selling off locations to other employees.

"[The owner] sold one store to the store manager in Terre Haute [Indiana]. My wife's cousin bought the store in Owensboro [Kentucky]. I didn't think he would sell me the Evansville store because it was kind of a cash cow," Moore said. "I asked him if he would have a problem with me moving to Paducah, Kentucky and opening a shop there. Or he could sell me the store. The process took about a year, but he sold me the store."

Thanks to help from his parents and generous loans from a local bank (a product of decent credit and the times), Moore began the process of remodeling the shop to his liking, adding new carpet, tools and a new counter, among other things. The shop remained open during the remodel, which may have been a mistake, according to Moore. "We did less than a $100 on our first day. After we got the remodeling done, business continued to grow."

Today, after moving twice to accommodate its growing business, the company now operates within a 6,900 square foot facility. As of June 2016, the facility has grown by 1,400 square feet due to an added install bay space used mainly for larger vehicles like boats, RVs and semi-trucks. The showroom features curved counters and WinTech displays, which Moore purchased prior to that company's demise. 

Read the rest of the story HERE.

1-2-2018 Mobile Electronics -- Jim Carrey once starred in a movie called "Yes Man." The film followed a bank clerk who found that he was missing out on life by saying no to everything. After being dragged by a friend to attend a seminar, Carrey started saying yes to every opportunity. While hilarity ensued for the sake of comedy, his character's life changed for the better, resulting in his meeting a new love, learning new skills and getting a big raise at work.

For Main Street Stereo, success came in a similar way thanks to the company's slogan, "Yes We Can!" which tells customers that any and all service requests are welcome. The store, located in Sayville, N.Y., is comprised of five full-time employees and one part-timer. Service offerings include car audio, truck accessories, window tinting, marine and power sports offerings, rims and tires, remote starters, alarms and selling LED lights wholesale to other companies.

On its way to becoming one of the hottest aftermarket retailers on the East Coast, Main Street Stereo began its journey to dominance in 1974. Having originally opened on Main Street, the shop moved to Sunrise Highway and eventually became a household name in that area. By 2010, a former employee of tech giant LG, who had an engineering background, was looking to get into 12-volt. He’d always loved car audio and electronics. Soon enough, Soo Choi bought the company and began a renovation at the same location. That same year, General Manager Steve Salvia was hired to run the daily operations. His journey to the company began with a love of both music and cars. "I started building cars with my friends in high school. Through that, I was in bands as a musician. I've got a love for car audio with customization and the audio with my musical background," Salvia said. "I bounced around in a couple jobs in college. I worked for American Racing for six years then repp'd for a couple of wheel companies for the next four to five years, worked for another stereo shop for a couple years and ended up here. It's all for my love of custom vehicles."

To round out the management team, sales manager James Geddes was hired in 2011. While Steve handles rims and tire sales, James handles general sales of everything else in the store.

"I've been in mobile electronics since 1996," he said. "I found out about vehicle possibilities when I bought my first car. I decided it was what I wanted to do."

Thanks to this dream team of auto lovers, the store developed a reputation for selling everything under the sun and knowing how to sell different categories as well as properly install every category they have.

Natural Progress

Selling a diverse product offering requires great knowledge, skill and proper tooling and facilities, which the company has in spades. The two-story building boasts a 4,000 square foot installation bay, which is split into three sections: a wood shop, a show room with product displays for each category sold, two stock rooms upstairs with an office and second showroom that features even more product displays.

Among the myriad displays are the LED lights that the company sells wholesale. The lighting business was established thanks to Choi's previous relationships with various Chinese factories. "As I go to the SEMA show every year, that's how it developed naturally. The LED wholesale business started with everyone knowing we had them so they started to contact us," Choi said. "Three years ago, everyone was struggling with HID headlights, which were notorious for returns. We're educating a lot of stores on how to sell LEDs. It happened gradually. We sell to local shops, some dealerships, and have a plan for more serious business on the wholesale side of LED."

Maintaining that organic approach to business is a big part of the company identity that has allowed it to grow over the years. That same approach is used during customer interactions to ease them into transactions without seeming pushy. "The most important thing is to immediately break that barrier between salesman and customer and be as inviting as possible. We use quick greetings with no closed-ended questions," Geddes explained. "Customers are invited to look around the store. We don't want it to look like a warehouse where we're looking to move boxes. We want it to have a homey atmosphere, very warm."

Tours of the facility are done upon request. Vehicles that relate to the job in question are shown to customers to highlight that style of work, when possible. "We'll show systems that we've done, showing photos all the time. During our installation, they can't hang out in the bay. We show them the clean shop and they're impressed by the size," Geddes added. "We encourage dropping off to manage the shop correctly. If the customer is not able to make that work, we have waiting areas in both parts of the store. We offer rides as well."

One of the company's biggest beliefs is that the shop is a reflection of the work performed. For this reason, the installation bay is cleaned before and after every installation. "There's a tray for every screw and a place for panels to go. Attention to detail before and after installation is very important and a big strength in our shop," Geddes said. "Our installers are very aware of issues with the vehicle when it comes in. We like the factory look. Instead of electrical tape, we use TESA tape. It costs a little more but the look helps with wire layout."

All vehicles are inspected before and after installation to take note of any vehicle damage, possible upgrades and to check the battery. Once the job is complete, every customer receives a call or email the following week."Our focus is not only making sure the customer is happy when they're here, but keeping them happy after they leave," Geddes added.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

July Issue Feature, 7/27/2016 -- It takes a lot of leg work to craft the perfect team. Some teams are assembled from a group of professionals who are also strangers. Other times, groups materialize naturally, from former colleagues searching for a place where they fit in.

The film "Ocean's Eleven" tells the story of Danny Ocean, a natural leader who is planning the perfect casino heist. To achieve his goal he needs a top-notch team. First, he finds his number one, Rusty. Then he pursues role players for each part of the heist. Finding these players for someone new to the game might be tricky. Luckily, Ocean had something strong on his side: past connections.

Jon Lackey  began his interest in 12-volt in middle school. After bouncing around to different companies over the years, Lackey became the Danny Ocean of 12-volt, acquiring allies without realizing he would one day call upon them as the A-team of his shop.

"In eighth grade, my friend's brother had a stereo system inside the house. We were listening to it, he gave it to his brother, my best friend and we started  listening to it in his closet. That's when I first got interested in audio," Lackey said. "At age 15-and-a-half I got my permit and installed a stereo and amp into the car. Soon enough I got a job as a boy in the bay at a shop called Audio Art where I used to buy equipment. I got the job by showing them the stuff I installed. They were impressed and offered me a part-time job while I was still in high school."

After two years as a part-time employee, he was promoted to full-time in 1992. After a year, the shop closed and Lackey moved with his family from Winter Haven, Fla. to Charlotte, N.C., the state of his birth.

He soon landed a job with Rick Wright at Car Audio Masters where he stayed for a year. He impressed Wright by seeking the job out, which Wright had never seen before. The position would teach Lackey many aspects of the business he had not yet learned. Then his father got a job back in Florida, so they moved again. Then a position opened in N.C., so they moved again. Luckily, the constant moving gave Lackey a chance to gain experience, landing at Streets Car Stereo/Dealer Services where he worked his way up to manager until the company went bankrupt.

"The shop was part of a chain and was the last to close up. The owner of Steak and Shake owned the chain. I worked there for a year and a half, then they closed. They had a store in Lakeland, Fla. and another in Winter Haven," he said. "I would spend three days a week in one shop and three days in the other. Our store was the most profitable, which is why it was last to close. I had a guy we had to report to every week. He was a sales guy, kind of like Eddie Kay. He went from store to store daily. It was great, it really helped."

Soon enough, Lackey saw an opportunity to open a shop with capital from another business owner who was the father of a regular customer he had. The man, Ron Bradley, a local restaurant owner, knew Lackey from his son's dealings and gave him the money to open a second store of a chain called Blvd Customs. The store became hugely profitable, more so than the other store with the same name which just sold wheels and tires.

"At that time, a manager of another closed shop and install manager needed a job. So we got together and said we got a ready-made team, let’s work together, we can make it," Lackey said. "We took over Blvd Customs in 1998. Ron Bradley said people were tired of driving all the way to them to do car audio, so he decided to add it to Blvd Customs and expand the shop. He told me he trusted me and asked where I wanted to go. I said I wanted to go to Lakeland with 110,000 people versus 33,000 people in Winter Haven, which was 25 minutes away. We opened the day after Valentines as Blvd Customs of Lakeland. I bought the name from Bradley for a dollar."

After being given some start-up money, Lackey found a former gas station located in a busy location of the city, used the money to redesign the shop and purchased some inventory. Today, the shop has been in the same location for 17 years. 

Read the rest of the feature HERE.

It’s All Part of the Process

Mobile Toys, Inc. continues to experience rapid growth year over year, attributed to its application of manufacturing processes and procedures on every aspect of the business.

Words by Rosa Sophia

Mobile Toys in College Station, Texas currently has two locations—a traditional brick-and-mortar store and a full-fledged production facility that houses the manufacturing side, MTI Acoustics. The company approaches everything they do with a manufacturing mindset, according to owner Christerfer Pate.

“The people who work here helped grow the business,” Pate said. “At any one point, there are 10 different big custom jobs in line, waiting to be worked on, and our retail side is constantly booked out two to three weeks. From the production standpoint, there are always...Read the rest of the story HERE.

Mobile Electronics, 7-12-2017 -- Colonel Hannibal Smith, leader of the fictional commando squad, The A-team, once said, "I love it when a plan comes together!" But plans don't come together by accident—neither does a crack unit of the best in any field. Whether it's with television shows, military operations or business, the top minds in any field know that being the best relies on two main things: remaining competitive while staying cooperative to execute a plan. 

Since the start of his 12-volt journey, Sean Davis, owner of Tip Top Customs in Morris, Ill., has kept those two traits at the forefront of his business mindset. As the son of a business owner, Davis learned a great deal about best practices as a youth, especially when it comes to working on vehicles.

"I've been into cars my whole life. My dad owned a body shop when I was younger. He did a lot of racing, mostly drag racing," Davis said. "Once I was old enough to drive, I went to a couple sound-off shows. I remember clearly the Rockford Fosgate van being there. I sat in the back with  the four 18's. It triggered something in my brain. Then I started hanging out in a couple car audio shops pestering guys. Once I got a little bit older I started out detailing and doing accessories in cars."

The business, which Davis started at age 21, began as mobile detailing for car dealerships and individual clients. It changed course when a client asked Davis to install a deck and speakers for him. Not one to turn down work, Davis took the job and with it, his true calling. "I made more money doing that than in two days of detailing. That's when I started getting into car audio and began looking for distributors and parts."

Today, the Top 50 company sits atop a mountain of offerings that span the 12-volt spectrum, including radios, speakers, remote starts, marine, off-road, LED lighting and wiring. Much of the store's business has been generated out of necessity, thanks to a local river, a lack of competitors and the frigid cold of winter.

"Remote start business grew the fastest because it's cold around here and no other guys were doing them," Davis said. "In the last 18 years I think there's been three other people who have tried to open a shop in Morris. I haven't seen anybody last more than two to three months."

Finding the A-Team

With the store located an hour and a half away from the major metropolitan area of Chicago, it's been a challenge for Davis to maintain a regular staff over the years. It was also out of necessity in some ways, due to a lack of experience as a store owner.

"For the first eight to 10 years I had part-time guys who helped me out. I kept things kind of small on purpose. I didn't know any better—never worked in a shop. I was teaching myself everything," Davis said. "I opened my business because I didn't work for anybody else. When my daughter was a couple years old, I ran the business however I wanted. If she had something going on, I locked the doors and I went. That's not the way I run things now."

After learning proper business methods, Davis now makes sure the store is fully covered by other staff before leaving for any reason. With three store moves under his belt and plenty of turnover, Davis has finally locked in a strong staff of four, including two installation technicians, one part-time window tint specialist and a part-time bookkeeper. Lead technician Rob Colesby was found through a method that Davis considers his bread and butter considering the difficulty in finding experienced technicians these days.

"I got my current staff with the 12-volt careers Facebook group. I was by myself. Rob posted on there and wasn't expecting anything. I messaged him off of there," Davis said. "Finding experienced staff is the struggle. You can run 'Help Wanted' ads on Facebook. I got 30 inquiries off that, but no one with actual experience. There were a bunch of different guys with mechanical experience, working in the automotive field. That's how we got the guy we did.  A lot of it is talking with friends in the industry, using the 12-volt insider page. Craigslist doesn't work."

Training employees from scratch is one of the biggest ways Davis was able to move his business forward, but that comes with its own set of challenges. "You need to train on your own or you'll never get to the next level. A lot of people who come through have no idea what we do. It's a lot harder than I would have thought," Davis said. "A lot of people assume all we do is plug something in and it works. Finding the easy way to run a wire, that's not how we do things. We do things a certain way here. It's a little bit of a shock to people. They assume they put a radio in a car once for their buddy, so that's how things are done. It doesn't take them long to figure out that it's not going to work for the customer."

Employees at Tip Top Customs stay for an average tenure of about two years due to the remote location of the shop, according to Davis. "I had a guy not too long ago, drove for an hour and 20 minutes, was in next town over and said it was too far to drive. There's no one who lives here that's experienced with car audio." 

Read the rest of the story in this months issue HERE.

Words by Rosa Sophia

6-7-2018 Mobile Electronics -- For a while, Christopher McNulty was on his own. “It was [just] me for half of the last three years,” he said, adding that Mark Johnson was hired as installation coordinator about six months ago. They already knew each other and had worked together 15 years prior.

When Driven first opened in September of 2012, it was McNulty and one other person. “Within three months, we were too busy for it to be a two-man operation. I reached out to another former co-worker of mine who was a salesman, Christian Dold.”

After Dold joined him, within about nine months they had outgrown their space, and it took McNulty three to four months to find a new location that was almost twice as big.

Two months prior to the move, the installer who had been working with McNulty quit. It was the middle of remote start season when McNulty and Dold decided to continue together without any other help. “We’ve known each other over 20 years. January and February, in the old space, we did great just the two of us. In March, in the new space, I was the general contractor building out the new space,” McNulty said. “I was the owner, electrician, carpenter, installer—everything. Life got really chaotic.”

Dold eventually burned out. “He took a job as a teacher, his dream job, which is what his degree was in, and moved closer to his parents.”

It took time to adjust, and now McNulty feels that Driven is moving in the right direction. At their current location, roughly 15,000 vehicles drive by daily. Because the business is located in a complex, there isn’t much walking traffic.

Currently, Driven has two part-time technicians: Eddy Merino and Oscar Perla. McNulty said he also gets help from a client: Neil Orta. “Nothing changes hands [with Neil]. We help him out when he’s building his own stuff. He helps out pro bono, and we give him access to the facilities.” Orta is an IASCA and MECA competitor, electrician and hobbyist.

Soon, they hope to bring in a part-time assistant—someone young who’s looking to learn. “We 100 percent want to bring people up from the bottom and teach them the right way. Getting rid of bad habits is harder.”

Read the rest of the story HERE.

6-7-2017, Mobile Electronics Magazine -- Everyone lives by their own philosophy. Some believe that their own moral compass or religious beliefs should guide every decision. Others feel all that matters is ambition and getting ahead. Still others find a mixture between those two opposites to create their own belief system.

In the field of Philosophy, there are many concepts used to shape people's personal truths. One is the concept of Absolute Truth, which requires fixed, invariable, unalterable facts in order to be true. An example of this is that there are no square circles or round squares. It's either one or the other. Of course, some people might argue the opposite simply because for them, it might be true. Therefore, in a way, any given truth is left to the determination of the individual.

One thing that you can take to the bank as a certainty, however, is that Ata Ehdaivand, owner of Absolute Electronix in Rockville, Md. is unrelenting in how he does business—which is the main reason his store is so profitable. While there's no denying that the sound strategy of having a visible location just 200 feet from the town's main road is part of the shop's winning streak, Ehdaivand believes that individuality and an intolerance for foolishness from his staff may be a larger piece of the puzzle.

"I'm very direct. I just do things the way I want to. There's no rhyme or reason. My employees don't always understand it. I don't always think the way the status quo operates. That's just me in a nutshell," Ehdaivand said. "Everybody is part of the team. The only time I really need to get involved is when things get super bad. They know the marching orders."

With over 20 years of experience under his belt, Ehdaivand has had plenty of time to perfect his method of management, especially given how it took most of those years for him to scratch his itch and open his own store. Like many in the industry, the itch began for Ehdaivand as a teenager. 

"My parents bought me an old Camry with an AM/FM radio, but no tape player. The guy behind the counter didn't understand what a deck was. He was really rude. They put the radio in my car, did a bad job, I fixed the radio," he said. Finding he had a niche, Ehdaivand began working in the industry, working his way up to manager at medium-sized chain, Meyr-Emco. "When I do something I jump in head first. I'm kind of over the edge. If I'm gonna do something, I'm addicted to it," he said.

Despite making six figures in different positions throughout his career, Ehdaivand realized he needed something more to believe in and started Absolute Electronix out of his garage in 2011. The initial work focused solely on custom builds and installation work. But the work tumbled in enough for him to hire help and eventually find the need to open his own store.

"It just got to the point where on a Saturday, I would work from nine a.m. to eight p.m. and make more in one day than I made all week. It started the wheels in my head and made me go to the next step," he said. "A friend of mine worked at a tire place. Next to it, there was a bay that no one used. He said I had to take it."

After four years in that location, the building was sold, which forced the company to move to a location with twice the size. "That's when it started to go crazy. We did 40K a month at the old location. Then 60K a month in revenue at the new location. Eventually we just ran out of space," Ehdaivand said. "A management company approached me about a new facility that was right around the corner. We moved there and went from 60 to 80K a month when we hired Del Ellis. That was really when things started to go crazy. Where we were, there were mechanic shops. There were cars everywhere."

The new location had a dedicated wood working room already in place. The store was built at the break-neck pace of one week, thanks largely to the help of the shop's staff, according to Ehdaivand. Today, the store is more profitable than ever, set to hit its highest monthly revenue ever at around 90K. Ehdaivand attributes the profitability to his staff's work ethic, customer service and the discipline to effort for continuous improvement. 

"Our shop is traditional retail with a boutique edge. It's one of those deals where we have a lot of displays. We have speakers for $100 and $5,000 on display. We have something for everyone," he said. "The goal here is to make friends. The more friends you make, the more you'll be successful. It sounds cliché, but you really just want to take care of people. They pay the bills for my daughter's gym class. Whoever it is, they work hard for their money, we just have to be there for them." 

Read the rest of the story HERE.

June Issue Feature, June 1, 2016 -- Machines work in different ways. Most are designed to maximize productivity while working toward a higher efficiency. Goals are met either through computer-assisted adjustments or outside calibrations. The internal combustion engine is one such machine. Its early designs relied solely on moving parts that needed periodic replacement. Now, the engines include computers that monitor its status and notify the driver when maintenance is required.

The same could be said of a 12-volt retail business. If all is running smoothly, employees are generating revenue through a combination of sales and installation work. Occasionally, the store needs calibration due to the loss of an employee, a new employee, new product or other event that temporarily disrupts workflow. But the question is, how do you maintain a balance between the automated parts and the organic ones at a shop, since every employee is, after all, an individual? One retailer may have found the answer.

Carlos Ramirez, owner of NVS Audio in Linden, N.J. has created a shop culture that encapsulates the best of both worlds by creating strong processes for his staff to follow, no matter who's available to work them. Of his three employees, Ramirez admits that each has their specialty, but that doesn't mean they are limited to just that one thing.

"Some guys are better than others at things. Alain is the wiring and remote start guy. He's not good at wrapping upholstery. He struggles when trimming and wrapping. When we're not busy, I will have Damian on wiring and Alain will be wrapping upholstery the whole day," Ramirez said. "I like my guys cross-trained and efficient. Damian and Jairo are amazing at wrapping vinyl and upholstery. But with wiring, they get stuck on things Alain and I don't. I need to be able to sell three custom jobs and know that all three are being worked on whether my guys are sick or on vacation. I make sure they are all cross-trained."

The training concept begins in-house but extends to encourage all staff to be MECP-certified, which they are. Ramirez pays for any MECP test an employee wants to take, including paying them to take the day off for the test and providing a $50 cash bonus if they pass.

Employee training doesn't stop there, however. Two to three times a year Ramirez takes his staff to industry trainings with Sonus, Mobile Solutions and Del Ellis International. Employees are also trained on new products with the company's vendors conducting trainings on occasion. Ramirez attends KnowledgeFest alone in Dallas to enhance his own knowledge base as well.

Acknowledging that his staff are people and not just machines in a factory, Ramirez emphasizes the importance of treating his team like family to encourage better work and loyalty. This includes giving out bonuses for large jobs. "It's a percentage of what the total build was. As long as it was done on time, I give out a percentage based on how long they've worked for me," Ramirez added.

All employees are salaried with Ramirez doing the bulk of sales himself. In another effort to give back to his staff, he regularly treats them to meals, requesting they bring family members when available.  

"If we had a rough work week, we go out. I make sure they take family. If your wife and kids hate what you do, you're not going to be working here very long," Ramirez said. "We go out to dinner all the time. The last employee who quit only quit because they moved. Because of the kinds of work the other shops in the area do, if an employee left for more pay, they'd be doing more work and more boring jobs."

New employees are given a three-month internship period where they are not allowed to touch any machinery. The goal is to acclimate the new hire to the shop's practices to ensure everything is standardized. The same goes for tools.

"If an employee doesn't have good credit it doesn't matter. All my guys have immediate credit with Snap-on Tools. I have a list of tools you have to buy to work here. Some tools I provide. I buy the same socket set, one for each employee. Little things like that make us more efficient."

The longest tenured employee, Alain Sainvil, has been with NVS for 10 years, followed by Damian Kaminski with five years and Jairo Zuniga with just over one year employed. Each employee was discovered in different ways, with a grass-roots, natural method used for each.

"Alain has 16 years of experience and used to work at a big box store, 6th Avenue Electronics. He was hired part-time originally and used to wire big builds for me. Then he quit 6th Ave and came to work for me full-time. They didn't do a lot of custom work. That's what he's passionate about," Ramirez said. "Damian walked in with a customer and asked if we were hiring. He asked on a perfect day when we were busy. He had zero experience but just graduated electronics school and was certified. I hired Jairo fresh out of school. I don't like hiring experienced installers because I feel I have to erase everything they think they know and start fresh. Damian never worked at a shop before and I've built him into one of the best fabricators I've ever known in my career. We do things a certain way. Every single part gets wired the same way. Every speaker adapter gets done the same way. We developed a system."

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Brick by Brick
 
By continuing to build upon a solid foundation, Empress Audio & Marine demonstrates that a business with a reliable structure can persevere and thrive in the face of difficult times.
 
Words by Rosa Sophia
 
For almost 46 years, Empress Audio & Marine in Pascagoula, Miss. has been offering 12-volt products and services. Prior to that, owner Floyd Seal installed vinyl roofs in vehicles—but the mobile electronics industry soon became his focus when he was offered work installing car radios. “As things progressed, my business went into retail and we basically became an audio store. Now we’re 90 percent retail and about 10 percent expeditor work,” he said, adding, “We’ve been in car audio since 1975.”
 
Today, the 21-employee business has three locations including the main Pascagoula store—one in Gulfport, and one in Mobile, Ala. which opened in September 2018. The main location has about 7,000 square feet, and the smallest store offers 5,000, with all locations having plenty of space for sizable bays and a showroom.

Each store covers a wide variety of categories, including car audio, marine audio and powersports, window tint, motorcycles and lighting. The marine side has...Read the rest of the story HERE.

Despite a global crisis, KarTele Mobile Electronics has entered its most profitable quarter of the year, and looks forward to expanding into additional categories to better serve the community.
 
Words by Rosa Sophia
 
While Mike Hungerford has been a co-owner of KarTele Mobile Electronics in Waterbury, Conn. for three years as of April first, he’s been in the industry for close to 20 years. Of store ownership, he said, “It’s been a learning curve.”
 
KarTele originally opened in 1994 as a cell phone store, and later switched to 12-volt. For the past year, Hungerford ran a different sale each month to celebrate the shop’s 25 years in business and included a free USB cable with any Android Auto or Apple CarPlay compatible unit. Anniversary sales focused on...Read the rest of the story HERE.
Limitless Pursuit

Having built a solid foundation, LIS Audio is working toward eventually expanding into a second facility and adding additional categories to an already growing list of services.
 
Words by Rosa Sophia
 
In Spring Hill, Kan., LIS Audio—Limitless Innovative Solutions—continues to do business during the spread of COVID-19. The store is owned by business partners Justice Berry and Cameron Powell, who stated the shop is able to remain open because they provide essential services in the form of GPS trackers and ignition interlocks. Open since December 2016, the shop works on everything from custom audio builds to safety, and has extensive plans in place for expansion.
“We’ve had about a 30 percent increase in both clientele and profits, each year,” Powell said. “We’ve both been consistently growing our...Read the rest of the story HERE.
 

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