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November Issue Feature: Real World Retail - True Grit

11-16-2017, Mobile Electronics -- It was the middle of winter. The temperature was 10 degrees below zero. Two men were outside in a dirt parking lot, working on a remote start install with a blanket draped across the door to keep out the snow. An electric heater was pumping warmth into their makeshift cave to offer the only sliver of comfort they'd get on this cold, cold day. The two men had no experience with remote starters, their only guide being a printed installation manual. Nineteen years later, those two men—owner Ben Larson and his brother John—would see their store, Sound Connection, Inc., become Mobile Electronics Retailer of the Year, Store Chain.

"The moral of the story is that every day I come to work, I'm kind of amazed that we've made it this far. It really did start from absolutely nothing. We had no prior experience in car audio or business and we just fumbled our way through it," Larson said. "If anybody ever wanted to start a business and was worried they didn't have enough money or knowledge, I can tell them otherwise. All you really need is grit."

Since 1995, Ben Larson has been in business as a retailer, but his journey really began when he moved to Minnesota with his parents at age five, witnessing their journey as small business owners. "My parents were in retail for as long as I can remember. They had a little tchotchke store called Soup and Save. They sold tools and trinkets," Larson said. "One day I saw an ad for amps and speakers in a catalog they used to order. I tried to put amps and speakers into my car. I had no idea what I was doing. I jig-sawed a doghouse for a speaker box and it looked like a beaver chewed through it. It was awful. Then I started reading articles in a car audio magazine and a friend asked me to do one for him. With each install, I got a little bit better. So I thought there might be a market for this and opened my first store."

With only 300 square feet, no cash register, no accounting system and no install bay, Larson knew he had a long way to go, but pressed on regardless. "I bought $1,000 worth of product from M&M. I kept growing the business, read every car audio magazine and did as much research as I possibly could. In 1998, I brought my little brother on. He had just graduated high school," he said. "That was my life. I ate, slept and breathed car audio forever and just kept getting better and better. I invested every penny I had and it grew from there."

Today, the two-store chain, which has locations in Waite Park and Brainerd, Minn., is doing better than ever, having just moved to Waite Park earlier this year from a location in St. Joe. The move was caused by a leasing issue, but the company is all the better for it.

"Business is great right now. We ended up buying a building, completely remodeled it, and moved in less than 60 days. Now we own a building in a very busy part of town. Our other store is in another fantastic part of town in Brainerd. We're working on building our second building," Larson said. "Business has been consistently up since 2010 when we joined M.E.S.A. and started doing Black Friday events. We're looking to expand to a third store and are getting into different revenue streams like window tinting, PDF and truck accessories."

All in the Process

With trial and error comes a world of experience that Larson and his team have taken to heart by crafting detailed written procedures, which include how customers are to be treated. On the company's website, visitors are given a detailed explanation of what to expect from the customer experience at Sound Connection.

"We hold ourselves to a higher standard than most. The Sound Connection standard.

The policies and procedures we have painstakingly implemented and follow every day on every install ensure you are getting the highest standard of work completed anywhere," the policy states. Thanks to this and other detailed information provided on the company website, customers are well-educated prior to entering the store, according to Larson who knows his customer base well. 

Read the rest of the story HERE. 

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