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7-19-2017, Mobile Electronics -- Out on the west coast of California where many car audio and video companies are headquartered, SAVV Entertainment Systems makes its home, too. A manufacturer and importer of 12-volt video products, dash cams, and its range of Smart-Link products, the company has its own engineering lab in South Korea and manufacturing facility in China.

In business since 1998, SAVV has steadfastly built a strong network of regional distributors and retailers. A regular in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES for more than a decade, SAVV has also through the years established itself as an OEM partner to automakers and to other 12-volt companies.

Interestingly, the company established itself on a product category that is diminishing every year, and while it will never go away, rear seat entertainment has been forever changed.

“We have been doing video products for years—and that is our specialty,” said Daniel Lee, vice president of SAVV. “That includes headrest monitors and overhead monitors which we have offered since the company began back in 1998.”

Today, the most popular size for the overhead monitor is still the 10- inch, according to Lee. For the headrest, the most popular sizes are between seven and nine inches. “That has been the standard for years,” he said. “A few years back, there was a demand for larger screens so we brought out a 10-inch headrest monitor. We were the first company in the U.S. with that product, but the market demands have changed. It has been steady for years now at seven to nine inches.”

Zone Alone

Not that long ago, in-vehicle entertainment systems became a pretty big deal. Whatever options the consumer chose—overhead monitors or a pair of headrest versions—having movies in the car started out as a novelty. Ultimately these monitors became big sellers for families as a way to keep the kids entertained on vacations, road trips, or even just rides around town while getting errands done.

But with the continued popularity of tablets (the iPad came out in April of 2010) and the even bigger proliferation of smartphones that kids have learned to use practically at pre-school age, the idea of an overhead and or rear seat monitor has gotten some serious competition in the car.

More common than ever these days is that everyone has his or her own zone in a vehicle. In-vehicle entertainment—rear seat entertainment, in particular—is still an important and enjoyable convenience for a family to have, but it has meant some rethinking for SAVV.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Mobile Electronics July Issue, 7-1-2016 -- Once upon a time there was a 12-volt technician. After years of learning his craft by working at different jobs, he decided to open his own car audio business. He struggled for years, learning tough lessons along the way. Eventually, after educating himself thoroughly on industry best practices using every resource available, he created a list of procedures that helped grow his business.

With seemingly strong procedures in place, he began to hire and build a team. Despite using common sense to hire, eventually, one of his employees decided he wasn’t happy and left to work for a local competitor. With him were digital files he took on a cloud-based database. The files included build photos taken while working for the shop and operating procedures with sensitive financial data. Without thinking, he brought them to his new shop on his Smartphone and synced his phone with the shop's cloud database. The files were now in the hands of a competitor. Despite his best efforts to protect his shop, the store owner had not taken  all steps necessary to protect his data. 

In most industries, this practice can bankrupt a company. But in the mobile electronics industry, the common feeling is that as long as you take care of your staff, they'll take care of you. While it might be true in many cases, most lawyers would disagree. Despite the educational resources available to retailers, the concept of protecting proprietary or sensitive information is generally not fully understood to the 12-volt community. To properly ready one’s business for a potential lawsuit, it's important to know what risks are possible and how to prepare for them. That's where consulting with a lawyer could be the smartest thing a retailer ever does.

Mine, Not Yours

Stefan Mentzer is a partner at White & Case, a renowned law firm with offices all over the world. Mentzer specializes in intellectual property law and litigates for clients in several industries including technology, retail, automobile and financial services, among others.

"Store managers, to the extent they have customer information, the products they sell, prices they use and services are essentially trade secret information," Mentzer explained. If two stores offer the same service and one learns of the other's prices, they can drop prices to counter, which isn't a trade secret. But for things like processes and future promotional plans, shop's can protect themselves by requiring employees to sign confidentiality agreements. "They serve two functions: one, to educate employees that information is potentially property of the store and two, to let them know to treat it as property and not take it when they leave. It also functions to ensure that the store owner takes reasonable measures to maintain secrecy of that information," he added.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

July Issue Feature, 7/27/2016 -- It takes a lot of leg work to craft the perfect team. Some teams are assembled from a group of professionals who are also strangers. Other times, groups materialize naturally, from former colleagues searching for a place where they fit in.

The film "Ocean's Eleven" tells the story of Danny Ocean, a natural leader who is planning the perfect casino heist. To achieve his goal he needs a top-notch team. First, he finds his number one, Rusty. Then he pursues role players for each part of the heist. Finding these players for someone new to the game might be tricky. Luckily, Ocean had something strong on his side: past connections.

Jon Lackey  began his interest in 12-volt in middle school. After bouncing around to different companies over the years, Lackey became the Danny Ocean of 12-volt, acquiring allies without realizing he would one day call upon them as the A-team of his shop.

"In eighth grade, my friend's brother had a stereo system inside the house. We were listening to it, he gave it to his brother, my best friend and we started  listening to it in his closet. That's when I first got interested in audio," Lackey said. "At age 15-and-a-half I got my permit and installed a stereo and amp into the car. Soon enough I got a job as a boy in the bay at a shop called Audio Art where I used to buy equipment. I got the job by showing them the stuff I installed. They were impressed and offered me a part-time job while I was still in high school."

After two years as a part-time employee, he was promoted to full-time in 1992. After a year, the shop closed and Lackey moved with his family from Winter Haven, Fla. to Charlotte, N.C., the state of his birth.

He soon landed a job with Rick Wright at Car Audio Masters where he stayed for a year. He impressed Wright by seeking the job out, which Wright had never seen before. The position would teach Lackey many aspects of the business he had not yet learned. Then his father got a job back in Florida, so they moved again. Then a position opened in N.C., so they moved again. Luckily, the constant moving gave Lackey a chance to gain experience, landing at Streets Car Stereo/Dealer Services where he worked his way up to manager until the company went bankrupt.

"The shop was part of a chain and was the last to close up. The owner of Steak and Shake owned the chain. I worked there for a year and a half, then they closed. They had a store in Lakeland, Fla. and another in Winter Haven," he said. "I would spend three days a week in one shop and three days in the other. Our store was the most profitable, which is why it was last to close. I had a guy we had to report to every week. He was a sales guy, kind of like Eddie Kay. He went from store to store daily. It was great, it really helped."

Soon enough, Lackey saw an opportunity to open a shop with capital from another business owner who was the father of a regular customer he had. The man, Ron Bradley, a local restaurant owner, knew Lackey from his son's dealings and gave him the money to open a second store of a chain called Blvd Customs. The store became hugely profitable, more so than the other store with the same name which just sold wheels and tires.

"At that time, a manager of another closed shop and install manager needed a job. So we got together and said we got a ready-made team, let’s work together, we can make it," Lackey said. "We took over Blvd Customs in 1998. Ron Bradley said people were tired of driving all the way to them to do car audio, so he decided to add it to Blvd Customs and expand the shop. He told me he trusted me and asked where I wanted to go. I said I wanted to go to Lakeland with 110,000 people versus 33,000 people in Winter Haven, which was 25 minutes away. We opened the day after Valentines as Blvd Customs of Lakeland. I bought the name from Bradley for a dollar."

After being given some start-up money, Lackey found a former gas station located in a busy location of the city, used the money to redesign the shop and purchased some inventory. Today, the shop has been in the same location for 17 years. 

Read the rest of the feature HERE.

Mobile Electronics, 7-12-2017 -- Colonel Hannibal Smith, leader of the fictional commando squad, The A-team, once said, "I love it when a plan comes together!" But plans don't come together by accident—neither does a crack unit of the best in any field. Whether it's with television shows, military operations or business, the top minds in any field know that being the best relies on two main things: remaining competitive while staying cooperative to execute a plan. 

Since the start of his 12-volt journey, Sean Davis, owner of Tip Top Customs in Morris, Ill., has kept those two traits at the forefront of his business mindset. As the son of a business owner, Davis learned a great deal about best practices as a youth, especially when it comes to working on vehicles.

"I've been into cars my whole life. My dad owned a body shop when I was younger. He did a lot of racing, mostly drag racing," Davis said. "Once I was old enough to drive, I went to a couple sound-off shows. I remember clearly the Rockford Fosgate van being there. I sat in the back with  the four 18's. It triggered something in my brain. Then I started hanging out in a couple car audio shops pestering guys. Once I got a little bit older I started out detailing and doing accessories in cars."

The business, which Davis started at age 21, began as mobile detailing for car dealerships and individual clients. It changed course when a client asked Davis to install a deck and speakers for him. Not one to turn down work, Davis took the job and with it, his true calling. "I made more money doing that than in two days of detailing. That's when I started getting into car audio and began looking for distributors and parts."

Today, the Top 50 company sits atop a mountain of offerings that span the 12-volt spectrum, including radios, speakers, remote starts, marine, off-road, LED lighting and wiring. Much of the store's business has been generated out of necessity, thanks to a local river, a lack of competitors and the frigid cold of winter.

"Remote start business grew the fastest because it's cold around here and no other guys were doing them," Davis said. "In the last 18 years I think there's been three other people who have tried to open a shop in Morris. I haven't seen anybody last more than two to three months."

Finding the A-Team

With the store located an hour and a half away from the major metropolitan area of Chicago, it's been a challenge for Davis to maintain a regular staff over the years. It was also out of necessity in some ways, due to a lack of experience as a store owner.

"For the first eight to 10 years I had part-time guys who helped me out. I kept things kind of small on purpose. I didn't know any better—never worked in a shop. I was teaching myself everything," Davis said. "I opened my business because I didn't work for anybody else. When my daughter was a couple years old, I ran the business however I wanted. If she had something going on, I locked the doors and I went. That's not the way I run things now."

After learning proper business methods, Davis now makes sure the store is fully covered by other staff before leaving for any reason. With three store moves under his belt and plenty of turnover, Davis has finally locked in a strong staff of four, including two installation technicians, one part-time window tint specialist and a part-time bookkeeper. Lead technician Rob Colesby was found through a method that Davis considers his bread and butter considering the difficulty in finding experienced technicians these days.

"I got my current staff with the 12-volt careers Facebook group. I was by myself. Rob posted on there and wasn't expecting anything. I messaged him off of there," Davis said. "Finding experienced staff is the struggle. You can run 'Help Wanted' ads on Facebook. I got 30 inquiries off that, but no one with actual experience. There were a bunch of different guys with mechanical experience, working in the automotive field. That's how we got the guy we did.  A lot of it is talking with friends in the industry, using the 12-volt insider page. Craigslist doesn't work."

Training employees from scratch is one of the biggest ways Davis was able to move his business forward, but that comes with its own set of challenges. "You need to train on your own or you'll never get to the next level. A lot of people who come through have no idea what we do. It's a lot harder than I would have thought," Davis said. "A lot of people assume all we do is plug something in and it works. Finding the easy way to run a wire, that's not how we do things. We do things a certain way here. It's a little bit of a shock to people. They assume they put a radio in a car once for their buddy, so that's how things are done. It doesn't take them long to figure out that it's not going to work for the customer."

Employees at Tip Top Customs stay for an average tenure of about two years due to the remote location of the shop, according to Davis. "I had a guy not too long ago, drove for an hour and 20 minutes, was in next town over and said it was too far to drive. There's no one who lives here that's experienced with car audio." 

Read the rest of the story in this months issue HERE.

7-10-2017, Mobile Electronics -- It wasn't always the case, but over the years the 12-volt industry has developed an appreciation for self-sponsored education. When those same educators decided to incorporate real-world training into their classes, it gave students the chance to put their knowledge into immediate practice. Such was the case with the recent Mobile Solutions training in Tempe, Ariz., which was hosted by ORCA Design & Manufacturing Corp.  

The only prerequisite for entry was a required purchase of a certain amount of product, which could be any combination of brands a dealer carries. The workshop had a set limit of 25 people, made up of established ORCA dealers on a first-come, first-served basis. Naturally, the class filled up quickly, thanks to what was offered.

"Just buy an airline ticket and show up. Obviously there is a qualifying order, but that's peanuts. It's a normal order for most shops. We cover the cost of the seat, all three nights for the hotel and all meals while you're there," said Nalaka Adikari, Sales Director at ORCA. "Training is something that we truly believe in. It's about making our retailers better and to be successful. This is the formula that I want to keep. As far as funding goes, that's something I want to keep going as long as we'll be doing this."

The four-day workshop featured several popular industry veterans including Ken Ward of Educar and Musicar Northwest, past Mobile Electronics Installers of the Year JT Torres and Matt Schaeffer and past Top 12 Installer Chris Pate. Leading the trainings was Bryan Schmitt, President of Mobile Solutions.

"This class was a bit different from some of our others. We wanted to drive home how to build great audio and how to make money. It emphasized profitability, how much time was involved, multiple amp systems and DSP," Schmitt said. "We had this idea of doing a live build while doing some other fundamental training. That's why we had the other guest presenters like Ken Ward, Chris Pate, Matt Schaeffer and JT involved. We did it on my Toyota Tundra. Students could see the progression from start to finish, system design, how long it took to take to get it done and we did it live in front of them."

The workshop format consisted of each guest speaker presenting their portion of the build to discuss and show how to do it, then letting the students do that portion on their own. After students completed each segment, Schmitt and his speakers would go over how it went. "That was kind of the overall general layout of the class—watching this live build on this everyday vehicle with great audio upgrades," Schmitt added. "I think the important part is the knowledge they took from this. Out of the 25 people that showed up, I would say that 80 percent have been in the industry for a long time. Their feedback is phenomenal. I know they know how to do this, but [we presented] some efficient ways to do this [for them] to be more profitable. I think we achieved our goal very successfully. I don't know how I'm going to make it better."

The workshop was the brainchild of Nalaka Adikari and Bryan Schmitt after the two met at CES this past January. "This is something that we kinda wanted to do for a while but one night at CES things got hammered out and the next morning we sat down at a table and got the thing together," Adikari said. "It's something Orca truly does believe in. Finding ways to improve our dealers in different aspects. Installers aren't growing on trees. We want them to be better. Every shop has that A-guy. Sometimes that A-guy needs encouragement and a refresher. The up-and-coming guy needs to get to that level. This is something we see ourselves doing with Bryan in the foreseeable future and to help dealers to get better."

Read the rest of the story HERE.

7-26-2017, Mobile Electronics -- We are just starting a series on tuning that I am very excited about. First we had Ken Ward show us three simple steps to finding a good signal. I wanted to have him start the series because without a good signal, no amount of tuning can result in a great sounding audio system. Next, we had some fundamental groundwork laid out by Andy Wehmeyer. Andy shared with us some basic information on sound and how we hear it, and how the automotive environment affects that. Moving forward we will hear some more perspectives on tuning from a few other guest writers. The series will wrap up with an overview of multi-channel tuning by Andy Wehmeyer. Before we proceed further in that series, I wanted to take a break and give what you have read so far a chance to really sink in.

As the outside temperature begins to heat up, my mind and body remind me summertime is upon us. I can’t help but think back fondly on an adventure my wife and I went on last year with a wonderful group of people. Every year, Orca Design & Manufacturing sends a group of its dealers to France for a tour of the Focal factory. Last year I was able to go as a representative of Simplicity In Sound. As I do with most trips, I documented it with many photographs. I thought it would be fun to share the experience of the trip and some of the cool tech-related things I learned while there.

Jumping the Pond

The hop across the Atlantic was my second, so I had a general idea of what to expect. Thankfully, our flight was pretty uneventful. We touched down in France and were greeted by the smiling faces of Nalaka Adikari and Carrie Sahotsky of Orca. After a short bus ride, we were at our hotel and sitting down to a wonderful dinner. We were introduced to a few Focal employees and given an agenda for the next day. The first day was going to be a tour of the factory in which our plus-one guests were invited. The second day was to be a more in-depth factory tour and more technically oriented discussion. The plus-one guests were treated to a trip into Lyon for shopping.

The next morning, we had breakfast and took a short bus ride to the Focal factory. The factory is located in the beautiful town of Saint-Étienne. We started the tour by meeting Pierre Pérard. Pierre was our factory liaison for the next two days. I was captivated by Pierre’s passion for speaker manufacturing and the Focal culture. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the history of Focal. After a brief review of Focal, its history and culture, we moved on to the factory tour. 

First Impressions

Before I tell you about the actual factory experience, I wanted to share what I thought it was going to look like. Up to this point, I had never been to any speaker manufacturing facility. My exposure was limited to a few pictures I have seen of workers building speakers in the JL Audio literature. So, my thoughts were that we would be touring hundreds and hundreds of feet of conveyor belts that paused briefly at times for machines to complete their tasks on the belted product. I expected to see a few lab-coated individuals with clipboards walking around, making sure the machines were in proper order. What I found, though, was quite different. We entered the factory to see people. People either holding speakers, or parts of speakers. As we paused before going any further we were told that some of the machinery we would see was manufactured by Focal, specifically for a task unique to some stage in the building process. I was unable to take photographs of these proprietary machines. However, I was able to take photographs of many other machines, which I will share for the amusement of those of you who have never been to a speaker manufacturing factory.  

Read the rest of the story HERE.

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