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October Issue Feature: Installer of the Year - The Six Year Itch

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

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

The Early Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Short Segue

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

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

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

Read the rest of the story HERE.

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