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Turn a valueless business phrase into an experience that will define your business.

8-21-2016 -- No introduction, no names. When the phone picked up, I started right in.  

"What is this noise?" I yelled over the incessant beeping, holding my phone up to the radio. I don't really know why I did that, since I was using the car's Bluetooth and the sound wasn't actually coming from the radio, but rather from the installed radar detector speaker. At the same time the two blue LEDs took turns lighting up my car's interior. With the factory red dash lighting, it was like getting pulled over, just inside-out. 

I figure my dumb phone holding was either because of the frustration of not knowing what was going on, or the surprise that, at 11:36 p.m. California time on a Thursday, some guy named Brian in Chicago actually answered the phone.

"It's the speed alert," he said, with all the patience I wasn't feeling. "It looks like you may have accidentally set it."

Sure enough, I slowed to under 70 mph and the sound stopped. Yes, I was speeding. A little bit.

"How in the heck did I do that?" I said, now feeling even more out of my depth. It's not fun to have electronics in your car that intimidate you.

"Well, if you're willing to pull over and park somewhere safe, I'd like to stay on the phone with you and get you fully set up and calibrated."

“Right now? I asked,

“Sure, right now,” he answered.

Holy Cow.

Whenever I interview a retailer or vendor for a story, I ask them why customers do business with them. The inevitable answer is some form of "We have great customer service." The term itself is something you hear and see every day, from just about any company that wants your money. Add to this the fact that the selling world has expanded from the old days of neighborhood shopping to worldwide access. Because it's so overused, most customers see “customer service” as useless jargon; a statement that adds no value to the buying experience.

So when this guy is willing to stay on the phone with me, I oblige. For the next half-hour, he walks me through every feature of the system, recommending settings based on where I live and how I drive. It wasn’t just a “turn this on; press that button” conversation. Every step came with an explanation of what the feature controls and why I should set it a certain way. Then he left me with a number to text if I had any further questions.

After this service experience, businesses are going to have to meet a pretty high standard to get my loyalty. 

Reda hte rest HERE.

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In the midst of a pandemic, we must apply lessons learned to ensure the survival of our businesses for the future.
 
Experience is the best teacher—although the test is given first, and then the learning begins. Like many of you, I run a small business. The Mobile Electronic Association is considered a small business by any standard. We have just a few team members who do an incredible job serving you as a member of the association. Our mission is to educate, inform and empower you to succeed in your business. We do this not out of obligation, but out of love for the industry. That industry is you! Many of the calls, emails and messages we get from you relate to support you need to make the right decisions. For example, as a member, you may be using our point-of-sale software. As a result, you may need to know how to do something to improve your experience with that software. However, member inquiries for support go far beyond software. That’s what I would like to address now.
 
As your industry association, we are here to help. Over the past couple of months, we have answered your questions for a myriad of things. Lately the inquiries have focused in two important areas. How do I get the Paycheck Protection or Economic Injury loans? How do I create a safe environment for my team members as we seek to reopen or maintain our business in this new COVID-19 environment? While there are other inquiries, I wanted to take a moment and discuss these two.
 
Many of you had to make tough decisions recently regarding your business. You may have been forced to consider the possibility of going out of business. You had to consider the reality of furloughing some or all your team. You’ve had to institute new policies and procedures to create a safer environment for your team and your customers. As a business owner, these decisions were on top of all the normal pressures you deal with day-to-day just keeping the doors open. Adding to all these pressures, you have a personal life and family to consider.
 
Then comes the need. Regardless of your rainy-day fund, I have encouraged all of you to apply for small business assistance. That included having your team apply for unemployment insurance. My advice was not based solely on the financial strength of your business. It was based on an outside force (the government) making decisions that directly inhibited your ability and the ability of your team to earn a living. And for that reason alone, you and your business merit the compensation. I know that this can be a real confidence killer. Do not let your pride keep you from collecting what is rightfully yours.
 
Some of you have never had to file for unemployment benefits, and just the thought of it can be unsettling. Requesting a loan is also a tough decision. Again, some of you have never had to do this. Speaking directly to both of those issues, I will tell you this: You are not asking for help and you are not relying on the government for assistance. You are requesting compensation from the source of the downturn in your business. Think of it as your insurance. If you had damages, you would file a claim. The same rule applies. Do what you must to sustain your business.
 
As you do this, another issue arises. How do we go forward with the new normal, and what does this mean? I do not think any of us knows for sure. This is where our industry truly excels. We have gone through many changes and always find a way to continue. This challenge should be no different. There are a few things to consider, including the safety of you and your team, and the safety of your customers. Starting with what you can control, you should outline best practices for your business. Review the CDC and OSHA websites as well as your state guidelines and local ordinances. This will take a bit of time, but it’s necessary to know what you must do to remain in compliance. Once you are familiar, draft a plan of operation. Then communicate it to your managers to elicit feedback. With buy-in from everyone, share it with your team members. Support these efforts with visuals. For example, put specific guidelines in specific areas. The breakroom comes to mind. Limit access and have a process for cleaning. Another important area is the showroom. Locked and by appointment may be necessary. Make sure your team knows what to do, where to do it and executes the plan one hundred percent.
 
Then make sure your customers know you have put procedures in place for their safety. This is a marketing message and should in the short-term be over-emphasized. Make the message a positive one. Let them know you are ready to provide them with the best products and service to help them make the most of their summer drive-time. With your new normal in place, proceed with caution and make the most of every customer experience. As an industry, we provide great technology with professional installation. Deliver it with confidence, and do your best for everyone involved.
 
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Knowledge of your inventory can make or break your business.
 
This is one of the most feared questions when making the sale: “Do we have that in stock?” As retailers, I am reasonably sure you have had to walk or reschedule a much-needed sale at one time or another because we thought we had something only to find out it wasn’t there when we needed it most. Hopefully, you’ve found a system to mitigate this issue. If you’re still working through it, allow me to offer some ideas that might get you on your way to a healthy understanding of your inventory.
What’s in the barn?
 
Knowing what you have available to sell is paramount. Your customer expectation for product availability was made when you sold products and services. To find out post-sale that your product isn’t actually available leaves you in a compromised position. Now you must come up with a reasonable explanation. This situation happens all too frequently and, for the most part, it can be completely avoided.
 
Count it, then count it again
Counting your inventory is the first step to knowing what you have in stock. If you haven’t done so, now is the time to physically count your stock. Make sure you have a way to audit the results—especially for smaller items like kits, harnesses or adaptors.
 
How long will your stock last?
To calculate how long your stock will last, you must know your rate of sale for each item. There are a few ways to accomplish this task. The first is look at the past year of sales for each item and divide it by 52 weeks. This method is simple, but won’t account for seasonality. Should you desire to get a bit more accurate, do the same by quarter or by month. If you are using a point-of-sale software that tracks what you sell, this task should be fairly simple. Regardless of your method, once completed you will have a calculated rate of sale that can be used for deciding how much of each product you keep in the barn. Next, let’s review ways to set proper inventory levels to keep important stock on the shelf.
 
Setting levels
Knowing how many weeks of inventory to keep on hand can be a challenge. Knowing your rate of sale is an important step. You also need to have a good understanding of your supply-chain. You will have to account for lead-time, order quantity discounts as well as freight-cost reductions usually acquired from larger orders. Another important factor is availability. You should account for temporary product shortages. To deal with product shortage, you should assign an alternate product that could temporarily replace one that may be out of stock. This will help you manage your inventory levels going forward and put you in a better position to have what your customer needs when they need it. The number of weeks on hand is a calculation you will need to determine based on your business needs. Your purchasing power should also be considered.
 
Creating and managing your open to buy
The open to buy is a number set by you based on your ability to purchase inventory over a defined period. You can calculate it within your comfort zone by reviewing the rate of sales over a period and determining a dollar value of inventory required to achieve it. This doesn’t account for fluctuations and growth, but it provides an initial guideline. Next you should review your available cash and credit line to make sure you can afford to place the orders. Remember, just because you have favorable terms doesn’t mean you should order more. Each month a bill will be due and you need to ensure you have the revenue to pay it. You should also look at seasonality to account for higher and lower sales months, to keep you from having too much or little. Another consideration is separating it by category. Once the total is identified, you should review each category and set a number for each. Once completed, manage your inventory. Do regular counts. These are sometimes referred to as cycle counts. Assign someone to spot check troublesome categories to make sure you’re staying on top of your numbers.
 
Aging inventory
Looking for an easy way to increase your open to buy? Review your aging inventory. If it’s collecting dust, it’s probably costing you money. Have a sale, move it to eBay (brand permitting), or write it off. This will provide more spendable cash to support your inventory goals. And it cleans up the stockroom, as well.
 
Smooth sailing ahead
Regardless of how you complete the task, knowing your inventory and managing it better will lead to an improved experience for you, your business and your customer.

 

 
 
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As we all adjust to new safety guidelines and precautionary measures, this should be the message from every retail store.
 
After speaking at the Car Media Convention in Germany on February 16 of this year, I found myself wondering if this virus could affect our industry and our nation. If so, what kind of disruptions could it cause? Just a few weeks later on March 11, I spoke at the GoFast event in New England. I noticed great trepidation from exhibitors and attendees as to how they should interact with one another. Some greeted each other by nodding from a distance. Others offered a fist-bump, and some just embraced with a firm handshake or brotherly hug as if nothing had changed. This was my first real indication that something was seriously wrong. That night after the New England event, I had a long dinner with some well-respected members of the mobile electronics industry. Much of our conversation focused on what might happen next. For me, this marked the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each day, news reports sounded worse. The future began to look bleak with little information to allay our worst fears. Stock markets reeled, the medical industry panicked and the news media did little to provide perspective. It felt like a swift kick in the gut. I am sure we all have a story to tell of how this nightmare left us feeling a bit more than unnerved. Long days turned into even longer weeks. Months have gone by.
 
Then Came the Waiting
Day after day, I listened to the news looking for bright spots and pitfalls. The latter was more prevalent. The frustrating part for me was the lack of good information and the wealth of disinformation. Then can the closures of non-essential businesses. That was a watershed moment that required us at MEA to start gathering information on what was deemed essential. Once we understood it, we could share information with the industry to help businesses stay open if they wanted to.
Next came the potential of getting Small Business Association loans, both Economic Injury and Paycheck Protection. This seemed to hang in the U.S. Congress for an eternity. And once it was approved, MEA acted and provided several webinars to help understand a process none of us had ever experienced. I felt extremely disappointed at the first round and the mishandling by some financial institutions. The second round of funding seemed to be more focused on those in need. As of this writing, many of you have received funds to shore up your business. I am happy we were able to help.
 
Is Your Business Essential?
Finding out what defined an essential business led us to understand the Department of Homeland Security Identification of Essential Infrastructure. We reviewed each state and province to understand their interpretation. Here’s my personal take on “essential businesses.” Governments and thus politicians have a way of deeming businesses essential that has nothing to do with how I feel about the topic. Essential, to me, is any business that produces income for you and your team to provide for them and their families. What is non-essential to others has little to do with what you need to fulfill your obligations and live your life. I hope we never again see a day where any of us are deemed non-essential. For those of you who listed your business as vehicle repair, you had proof that met the criteria. For those of you listed as such, I recommend you take the time to update your listing with your state to make sure you never have to deal with this again. While I know business may have been down for many of you, I was happy to see a large majority were able to stay open and keep doing business.
 
The Next Phase: Reopening
The Federal Government set out an approach for reopening that provided guidelines which some states followed. Others made more cautious plans, while still others took the opportunity to oppress many struggling businesses with restrictions based more on fear than facts. I get that we are all learning through this. I do not suggest throwing caution to the wind, but I do think all voices should be represented and heard in a free society. I fear we have become complacent in allowing social and traditional news media define what is appropriate. I hope one day we can all feel free to speak our minds without hesitation and fear of retaliation.
Today, I am glad to hear many retailers are having an experience similar to Black Friday due in part to stimulus checks and pent-up demand, coupled with seasonal uptick—and, I believe, a desire to drive rather than fly this summer. Hopefully, we all experience this rush. It will go a long way to making up for losses suffered over the past couple of months. Stay safe and healthy. I look forward to seeing everyone in person at out next event!
 
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Finding hope for our industry in this most critical time

by Chris Cook

Ask me what is on my mind and you may get an earful of what I believe and how I think things will play out. The reality: None of us knows how things will turn out. Right now, I am more interested in our future as a country and more specifically, as the mobile electronics industry. I am humbled and honored to serve as the president of the Mobile Electronics Association (MEA), especially at this period in our history.

At MEA, we are doing everything in our power to help mobile electronics specialty retailers sustain their businesses. We created www.MEAhelp.com as an effort to aggregate important information critical to our industry’s survival during this time. Please take a moment right now to review and let us know if there is anything more we can provide to assist you.

Education and Training Resources

Since this crisis started, we have been busy with meetings, webinars and gathering important resources to help the industry. Every Friday we meet with a group of industry leaders which includes manufacturers, distributors and other industry associations. During our meetings, we discuss the week’s events, learn from one another and consider ways as a group to sustain our industry during this crisis. I can say firsthand that if you are a retailer in this industry, your suppliers have your best interests in mind and at heart.

Another group we meet with weekly are sales representatives. They are on the frontlines and your best resource for information on the goings-on of your suppliers. They, too, lend their wisdom to the discussion of supporting the specialty retailer.

One of the positive results of this crisis is the near endless amount of education and training being delivered via webinars. The entire schedule can be found at MEAhelp.com under Education and Training Resources. If you are a supplier, we have a quick and easy link to submit your event and gain more attendees. Look for this website to become the new place for all things education and training—your best resource from the association that brings you KnowledgeFest!


MEA Webinars to Help You Through the Crisis

Since we launched this resource, MEA has provided hours of education to help specialty retailers through this crisis. Most notably, we have hosted several webinars on the Small Business Association Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster (EID) Loan programs. These webinars and many more are viewable on-demand at MEAhelp.com.

Just as important are the weekly MEA Retail Owner & Manager webinars that have covered topics such as: How to establish and maintain your business as an essential business, how to stay connected to your customers and community, how to create consumer-facing videos to keep your customers feeling safe when doing business at your retail location, and understanding the new sales process as we reopen our society. These important webinars will continue for the near future to assist our industry as we all learn together how best to adapt in this ever-changing environment. If there is a topic you feel we as your industry association should be teaching, please take a moment and contact us at the email provided on MEAhelp.com.

Looking Toward the Future Together

MEA will continue to provide the latest and best information we can find to assist you in sustaining your business. We are committed to helping you strengthen your business as we move from stay-at-home orders to emerging with a new and focused purpose.

As you finish reading, I encourage you to look toward the future. A future that enables us to come together with a renewed purpose. Personally, I look forward to being together once again at a future KnowledgeFest event. I greatly miss seeing all of you and hearing the inspiring stories of how you learned and applied new knowledge gleaned from education workshops, manufacturer trainings, and some of my favorites, just hanging out with your peers at great networking events. Until that time comes, please stay safe and healthy. Also, let us know if there is anything we can do to help in any area of your business. Know that MEA is here for you as your Industry’s #1 Resource!

Read the latest issue of Mobile Electronics magazine [Click Here]

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Want to Win at the Awards? You Will Be the Judge of That!

Tell the industry your story and get ready to rise to the top.

When it comes to your Mobile Electronics Industry Awards, you can count on the process to be fair to everyone in our industry. We at the Mobile Electronics Association consider the integrity of the Industry Awards our highest priority. We know the industry counts on us to manage a fair process that accounts for all aspects of the program. To that end, each year we pick an esteemed panel of judges who review and cast their vote for each of the Top 12 categories. In addition, we have an audit team that oversees and reviews the voting process. These teams are made up of past winners, staff and an outside accounting firm which will audit the results.

The Mobile Electronics Industry Awards comprises a months-long process to recognize and honor those in the industry who best exemplify the professionalism, business ethics, service and expertise we want consumers to think of when they do business with us. Candidate companies and individuals submit video nominations and are narrowed to a list of finalists after a voting and selection process. In certain award categories, finalists submit materials which are then judged by a panel made up of past winners and other trusted industry experts. In other categories, final voting tallies determine the winners. All winners are announced at a special awards ceremony, held on the last day of the Dallas KnowledgeFest tradeshow and conference.

Here is a quick review of the voting rules: Votes for all industry awards are only open to industry participants. You may make one vote for each selection field. Voting takes place online through an approved submission platform. Emailed votes or votes placed in any other way will not be accepted. Each voter must provide contact information and employment information to determine eligibility. For contest accuracy, IP addresses for each vote are captured and compared to deter fraud. Voting by several members of a single location using a single computer/IP address is allowed.

The awards recognize Installer of the Year, Retailer of the Year, Sales Pro of the Year, Trusted Tech Award, Rookie of the Year, Retail Performance Awards and Customer’s Choice Award (this is the only award that allows your customers to vote). The top in each category are announced prior to Awards Night.

Other awards recognize industry professionals and companies: Distributor of the Year, Expeditor of the Year, Rep Firm of the Year, Representative of the Year and the Top Vendor Awards. These are voted upon by the entire industry and finalists are announced prior to Awards Night.

Let’s take a deeper look at the process for picking the Top 50 Installers, Retailers, Sales Professionals and other retailer awards. These are based on nominations from you and your peers. Your votes elevate the best of the best to the next level—the Top 12. Once the Top 12 votes are tallied, we announce the winners and move to the next part of the process. Many of the retailer awards have a phase two and phase three process. For the most part, both require the creation of video presentations which are judged using several criteria.

When it comes to the Retailer of the Year, several things need to be submitted. Remember, the video doesn’t need to be professionally produced, but it must provide the following information: The basics of how long you’ve been in business, number of locations, location type and number of employees. Also include the business philosophy or mission statement. What’s your sales performance over the past three years? What makes your business unique? What’s the greatest challenge you’ve overcome in the past year? Why should your location or chain be part of the Top 50 Retailers? Include a video walkthrough revealing the customer experience from parking lot to point-of-sale and employee areas. Add still shots of any required documents.

The Installer of the Year requires video as well and must answer the following: Name, years of experience and number of years at your current location. What’s your installation specialty, and how do you describe your philosophy as an installer? Name some installation professionals who’ve had influence on you and your career. How do your co-workers describe you? What’s the biggest challenge (personal or professional) you have overcome in the past year? What do you want customers to remember about the installation aspect of your service, and why should you be part of the Top 50 Installers? How does your performance influence team and store culture? Provide a video walkthrough of your work area and tools including still shots of work samples.

There’s a lot that goes into a successful awards process, and it’s worth it. I have spoken with many industry professionals who have submitted and been named Top 50, Top 12 and overall winners. The common theme of the conversation is how it made them better at what they do. I encourage you to take the time to review the awards website. Visit meindustryawards.com. Get started on the next level of your career. You will be glad you did! See you on Awards Night!

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