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August Issue Feature: What's Happening - Top 12 Installers

8-2-2017, Mobile Electronics - This year's class of Top 12 Installers includes veterans like Chris Pate of Mobile Toys and relative newcomers like Miguel Vega, with the top prize of Installer of the Year up for grabs to all. 

Chris McNulty

Driven Mobile Electronics

Chantilly, Va.

Years installing: 25

Other duties: All of them. I am essentially a one-man show with some bookkeeping help and some install help at the shop, as needed. I do all sales, ordering, marketing and more.

Proudest moment, besides this award: Being asked, then asked again, to present at KnowledgeFest.

Biggest mistake ever made as an installer: Leaving a car in neutral, whose emergency brake was inoperable, in the parking lot. It eventually started to creep and rolled into a fire hydrant in the parking lot.

Three favorite activities besides work: That's obvious. I like to embarrass myself [by] making rap videos.

Biggest influence with regard to expertise, professionalism and work ethic: John Brettle.

Vision of life five years from now: I'd love to bring in a few employees to unload some of my burden at the shop, on the sales floor especially, allowing for more family time. My daughter will be in college or performing as a dancer somewhere else at that point, and I'd hate to have to miss those moments in her life.


Chris Pate

Mobile Toys, Inc.

College Station, Texas

Years installing: 24

Other duties: I am also the head project designer, engineer, fabricator, chief product specialist, teacher/training specialist and one of the owners. As a project designer, I am tasked with working with clients to design installation concepts and interiors that excite our clients. As an engineer, I am required to design and machine most of the parts we use in our installations.  This requires the use of engineering software packages like AutoCAD 2017, Solidworks, CorelDraw and Mach3 Mill. I machine all my custom parts on our Shopbot PRT96 3-axis CNC and our Universal VLS 60 Watt laser. I build custom interiors and panels that encompass audio, video and vehicle design cues that make the driving environment enjoyable and fun for our clients. As our chief product specialist, I have to stay on the forefront of technology in our industry and relay that to my fellow employees. I do this by attending KnowledgeFest, CES, SEMA, traveling to France and Asia to visit vendors, as well as countless hours of research and testing on new products. My favorite duty is being a teacher and trainer at our stores. We have a priority as elders to the younger generations to train the next generation of installers. I do this by holding monthly trainings after hours and going over new fabrication and installation practices. [I am also] owner and chief bottle washer at Mobile Toys, Inc. This requires me to talk to reps and coordinate our employees. I run the install bay at our College Station location as well as coordinate projects with our Bryan store.

Proudest moment, besides this award: My proudest moment to date in my work career was being named the Runner-Up for Installer of the Year in 2016 by Mobile Electronics magazine. Although I did not win, it lit the fire in me that has driven me this year to push the envelope. I have worked harder, smarter, faster and better than I ever have. This award is what ignited that flame to pursue excellence.

Biggest mistake ever made as an installer: The biggest mistake I have made as an installer is waiting too long to make changes and expand my skill set. I could have done what I am doing eight years ago when I moved back from Tulsa (where I managed the install bays at Car Toys of Tulsa). I chose to stay safe in the practices I was comfortable with at the time instead of learning more advanced techniques like what those I've acquired in the past three years. Those years feel wasted and I'm now trying to make up for lost time. Fellow installers should never get comfortable, never stop learning, and listen to the people around them. There is always valuable information to be ingested into your mental toolbox.

Three favorite activities besides work: I enjoy collecting gems and minerals from all over the world. We have a vast collection that includes crystals, minerals, fossils, a two-million-year-old Russian black bear claw, and even a prehistoric crocodile jaw. I have also sung lead vocals in a touring rock band for the past 20 years. Although I don't tour as much as I did 10 years ago, I still enjoy writing and recording music. My favorite pastime of late has been training and mentoring younger installers. Whether it’s on the Internet, Facebook or at a training class, it has become my priority to help nurture and bring forth the next generation of installers.

Biggest influence with regard to expertise, professionalism and work ethic: Picking one would be impossible, so I will narrow it down to three. Jeremy Carlson has helped pioneer the use of machines and automation in the everyday install bay. I came up learning these practices and looking for ways to intertwine them. Jeremy's advice has been instrumental in that. He influenced me to look past the title of installer and realize that we are really engineers and should approach our projects in that manner. Secondly, I would say JT Torres for his exceptional ability to connect, teach and help our industry. Watching him over the past three years has motivated me to join that same cause and help our industry learn and grow. My third choice is Gary Biggs. He is the first installer/fabricator to actually sit down and show me how to design and execute a complete idea in an automotive environment. It is because of his help and guidance while I was working in Tulsa that I have become the designer/builder I am now.

Vision of life five years from now: I would like to continue to grow as an installer/designer/fabricator and engineer. I want to learn new techniques and pass them on. It is my priority to begin training many fellow installers to help them grow and expand their skill sets. To be a part of the generation that helps train the next and to help close the gap in our canyon of qualified installers would be an honor.

Read the rest of the feature HERE.

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