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February Issue Feature: Real World Retail - Sound Wave Customs

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.

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