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Since it’s both baseball season and a time when many retailers are hiring seasonal staff, I thought it would be a good moment to discuss an important topic. In a baseball club, much like any workplace, a certain balance must be maintained, not just for players to do their jobs and play to their full potential, but also for the players to get along with each other and with management.

In the film Moneyball, Brad Pitt stars as real-life Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, who in 2002 was tasked with getting a low-budget, hand-to-mouth ball club to compete with big-budget teams like the New York Yankees. To do this, he had to think outside the box financially and do something socially that he had never done in four previous seasons with the club: talk to his players.

With all the hustle and bustle involved in running a retail shop, it’s understandable that an owner might be too busy to take a minute to get feedback from employees. Much like a baseball team, a staff requires the attention of management, but in an encouraging, rather than critical, way. A recent interview on with John Kotter, chief innovation officer at leadership strategy firm Kotter International, made clear that fear in the workplace acts like a “burning platform,” forcing employees to react. But that reaction style of management only works for so long, until employee energy and enthusiasm starts to wear out.  

“The reality is there are real risks associated with this negative stuff. People may jump off the platform, but they get tired, or they break an arm, to play out that metaphor. What we’re finding is that psychologists are coming out and saying that the positive stuff will maintain motivation over time much stronger and better than the negative stuff,” Kotter said. “Sure, the negative can get you going. You see a bullet coming at you, boom! You’ll get off of your chair. But in terms of maintaining energy and motivation over a couple of years, somebody just running from bullets doesn’t work.”

In Moneyball, tension in the clubhouse is visible when the team is losing. Players either keep to themselves and look at it as only a job, or they are unruly, joyfully dancing on tables to music, even after a loss.

That tension seems to come from the lack of positive reinforcement from Beane, and from the fact that the only interactions the players have with him are in the form of yelling when they lose, or silence due to his absence from the clubhouse most of the time. To clarify, positive reinforcement is the act of presenting a pleasant stimulus to entice a person to repeat a desirable action.

To the customer, it’s obvious when employees are unhappy. Energy levels are low, their mannerisms and speech patterns are less enthusiastic, and the work itself tends to suffer. Likewise, customers can tell when employees are happy.

Aside from the standard monetary compensation and benefits like a 401K, medical and dental insurance, rewarding good behavior can be easy and inexpensive, according to an article by two professors at the Harvard Business Review.

The article states that employees who strive to create a better future for themselves are, in their words, “thriving.” These employees aren’t just content in their jobs; they are proactive, engaged and highly energized. This type of employee was found to demonstrate a 16 percent better performance than their peers, and they were 32 percent more committed to the organization. They also missed considerably less work and had fewer doctor visits.

Whatever your method, knowing the strengths and improvement areas of your staff is vital for gauging what they can and can’t do. When you do need them to push, remember to reinforce their hard work with a reward, whether it’s a verbal compliment, a high-five, a simple thank you, or a form of compensation.

When Billy Beane finally discovered how useful interacting with his players was to their performance and overall happiness, he visited the clubhouse more often, spoke to individuals about specific improvements they could make, and formed strong working relationships with as many as he could. Doing this in your shop might just result in a metaphorical home run. 

As the event charged on, educators continued to bring their A-game by upping the ante with more seminars that helped enrich the livelihoods of the industry's finest.

In "Tuning Cars Part 2: The Next Step," Larry Frederick of Cerwin-Vega delivered what most were expecting with an honest, humor-filled seminar, complete with lots of expletives to enhance the experience for the installer-packed room.

The bulk of Frederick's lecture was focused on the tools of the trade needed to properly tune. Those tools included RTA's, oscilloscopes, and the CD=104 reference compilation, which contains a wide spectrum of music that can create the most balanced sound in a vehicle. He also emphasized the importance of using fewer speakers and subs whenever possible since "the more shit you put in a car, the more fucked-up it's going to sound," as he so eloquently put it.

Another popular seminar was Tim Parenti's "Face to Face Selling - The Forgotten Skill," part of the Sales Track. He emphasized the importance of looking at customers as ally's rather than adversaries you have to slay to make the sale. It avoids creating a combative atmosphere and instead establishes a collaborative element, getting them to see you as a friend that's helping them with a goal.

Palenti provided handouts that made the seminar interactive, asking attendees to write down responses to various objectives to focus on being helpful and positive rather than combative, rewarding them with suggestions rather than being defensive. He also broke down different personality types in terms of how people use their senses. For example, those who use hand gestures and require you to show them solutions are Visual, while those who make decisions based on how they feel are called Kinesthetic. As a sales person, it's important to recognize those types and match them with an appropriate response to best reach them.

Although the seminars are perhaps the biggest reason to come to KnowledgeFest from an educational standpoint, the heart and soul of the event seems to be taking place on the show floor, in the hallways and at the various bars and restaurants throughout the facility. This is thanks to the power of networking and friendship that is a staple of the 12-volt industry. Topics being spoken throughout the halls so far have been mostly positive, touting the wow-factor experienced by so many first-time attendees like Matt Cropper, a Top 12 Installer this year, who is in awe of how big the event is in scope.

Perhaps the biggest topic being mentioned, however, is that of the installer shortage and how the industry can solve it. One solution making the rounds is to make customers part of the business by bringing in the most dedicated either part-time or full-time depending on their current job status. At the least, making more channels to move up the ranks and cultivating the talent already in place is a popular sentiment, especially amongst some manufacturer representatives.

I for one am excited to see how the final day plays out, especially with tonight's industry awards.

4/13/2016 -- It takes time to build a business. First comes the idea, followed by the will to make the vision become reality. Once logistics are determined, the hard work of implementation begins. Any 12-volt retailer can vouch for the difficulty of opening a store, but all successful retailers share the same feeling at the end of the day -- a sense of accomplishment. 

Now in its second year, KnowledgeFest Spring Training has achieved a similar sense of accomplishment, nearly doubling last year's attendee numbers and gaining a confidence from manufacturers and retailers alike. The most common thing I heard while walking the halls of the event was, "this is great." Everyone was in agreement that the event was a success and better in many ways than last year. Considering it's a work in progress, the trade show has proven its worth as a mainstay for the industry, and in some ways, more timely than its counterpart, at least regarding its educational value. 

Taking place at the beginning of April, a time when most companies are planning the year ahead with new product purchases, manufacturers see the event as an opportunity to teach new products and gain new retailers for those products at the event. The centerpiece of the show was the theme of training. Regardless of whether it took place in the seminars, on the show floor, in manufacturer trainings, or at a table in one of the bars of the JW Marriott where attendees hung out after hours to talk over tasty libations, the word was getting out about anything and everything 12-volt related. 

Having only been in this industry for less than three years, I've learned a lot about the products and services offered, but nothing has given me more insight on what 12-volt is all about like its people. When I went to my first KnowledgeFest, I was overwhelmed with the positive, welcoming nature that everyone showed me, an outsider with zero experience. When I asked questions, no matter how rudimentary or naive, they were always answered without judgment by such names as Del Ellis, Bryan Schmitt, John Schwartz and Solomon Daniels, among others. 

The same spirit was represented at the town hall discussion where a panel of five retailers discussed how they got to the top of their game. Matt Schaeffer, last year's Installer of the Year Runner-up, spoke on the importance of how keeping passion at the center of his mindset allowed him to continuously improve his work. Ken Ward of Musicar Northwest delivered some of his signature wisecracks while mentioning how his shop does it different from others to help distinguish itself as a business. 

Overall, whether the comments were made on stage at the town hall, or in one-on-one conversations with individuals, the sentiment was the same: KnowledgeFest Spring Training is a great event and is here to stay. Regardless of whether you choose to go to Dallas or Indianapolis, your attendance is crucial if you hope to one day sit on the stage and tell the story of how you reached the top of your game. 

8-21-2016 -- As the event took on its second day, courses continued with packed rooms full of eager-to-learn attendees. While topics like fabricating to factory fit and practical tuning for a profit went as expected to hit all points on the head, there were added bonuses to most courses that presenters could not have anticipated: great questions from attendees. As KnowledgeFest continues to grow, so does its potential for learning. It's become clear in the last few years that for attendees to maximize their experience, they need to participate in a more active manner. This is understood by presenters as well, as most make it clear that feedback is encouraged throughout sessions to help provide the best knowledge possible from each expert. 

One example of this took place in the course, "Business Roundtable: Leveraging New Opportunities in Safety and Driver Assistance." The course consisted of a panel that included two retailers, Brian Layton of Sound FX and Mark Millar of Westminster Speed and Sound, and two manufacturers of safety and driver assistance products, Steve Witt of American Road Products and Phil Maeda of Rydeen Mobile Electronics. During the session, the presenters made their case for why retailers should get on board with selling the product, how to select vendor partners and how to approach selling the category to customers. But several retailers in the audience voiced concerns and made suggestions throughout the seminar that turned it into more of a discussion and brainstorming session, which was a pleasant surprise to the panelists who welcomed the comments and worked to find solutions. 

"I don't want to offer a product to my customers that only lasts 18 months. I want it to last," said Dustin Daigle of Prestige Car Audio and Marine. "The problem for us is the liability of it. I don't want to be drilling holes in someone's car for a product when a new one comes out 6-8 months later."

Witt responded by saying, "That's no different than when we started Alpine back in 1979. Those first head units, you'd push eject and the tape went into the back seat. There are definite good and back products, but it's important to know the products and choose the best partner that works for you." Former Installer of the Year Jon Kowanetz also chimed in from the crowd. "One big benefit of a demo vehicle is not just to sell things you're one hundred percent confident in but to use it as a test vehicle for new products. Nothing in our vehicle was permanently installed. It's an opportunity to test things out without fully committing and not on a customer's car."

Others, including the panelists agreed with the solution and the course continued. This was a common occurrence in other courses, where attendees brought up relevant concerns, with panelists and other attendees helping to find solutions. The event will conclude with its final day of classes, manufacturer trainings and the Mobile Electronics Industry Awards on Monday, August 22. 


"Find a need and fill it." Ever since I first heard this profound statement, which was spoken by 12-volt sales guru Del Ellis at my first KnowledgeFest, I found that it was also representative of the industry I'd soon come to adore.

When I was first hired by Mobile Electronics magazine I was a daisy-fresh rookie with a journalism degree who didn't know a double-DIN from a DSP. Although I'm still no expert on the technical side of 12-volt, what I have gained a strong grasp of is how the industry works. That's also what intrigues me the most about it.

In my first year, here's what I learned: car audio isn't just putting a deck and four's in a car but an entire industry filled with music lovers who also love cars. The products are vast and complicated. Installing those products takes great skill and expertise that is acquired through countless hours of trial and error, through which most are done for no money and could potentially ruin a vehicle's electrical system if done incorrectly.

My second year consisted of me basically trying to make sense of the whirlwind of things I'd learned in my first. I developed my writing, streamlined my management processes for assigning stories and kept in touch with industry representatives that would come in handy for different stories throughout the year. Mainly, I gobbled up the topic that the industry was all about: passion.

I also went from working in an office to work from home. I struggled to stay focused when the TV and video game console were a few feet away, then remembered Luke Fidler, a solo retailer who was able to stay focused despite not having a team around to motivate him. His motivation was to be passionate about the thing he was doing and keep getting better every day so his customers would notice. I didn't have customers, but what I did have was you. So I focused on doing a better job. I wrote what I felt were more engaging articles focused on the people of the industry. I listened to comments from people all around the industry, from young first-year installers to 30-year veterans. Jason Kranitz called me out when I got a company detail wrong. John Schwartz nailed me for incorrectly writing his store's name more than once (sorry about that, John). But through it all, I learned both how to be better at my job and how to be a better professional.

The fourth year was about not letting stagnation set in and staying motivated despite feeling like I'd accomplished all the goals I'd set out from previous years. So I worked on finding new ones, listened to the industry and worked to be better at things I wasn't so good at before, like product names, how a DSP works and what the future landscape of 12-volt might look like based on today's latest tech innovations. Thinking about how the outside world will continually impact 12-volt, I remembered Josh, Jeremiah and Jared Mojica of GNC Customs, a family retail operation who took a store that sold furniture and jewelry and transformed it into a powerhouse in the industry. They saw the same thing I see in the world: everything is relative.

During my tenure with the magazine I met top industry gurus like Bryan Schmitt, Del Ellis and Marcel Newell. I had fun-filled, engaging conversations with manufacturer execs like Nalaka Adikari of Orca (still waiting on those NFL tickets), Chris Kane of AudioControl (Teddy K!) and Steve Witt of American Road Products (we'll do lunch soon). 12-volt techs like Matt Schaeffer, JT Torres, Tom Miller and Chris Pate showed me the value of hard work and how you can reach your dreams by constantly being better than yesterday.

Being a judge for the Industry Awards was also an experience I'll never forget. I was asked to review videos from people I'd never met and make judgments on things I barely had any knowledge about. But thanks to the information I got from Solomon [Daniels], Chris [Cook] and the rest of the industry, it became easier to know what to look for and who ultimately deserved my vote for the top honors. I honestly believe that everyone who won deserved to win during the time I was judging the awards. I hope everyone felt the same way.

As a musician and music lover, I immediately recognized the connecting threads that I shared with all of you in 12-volt. I'm extremely grateful to have been able to take part and learn from you all and am humbled by the dedication, work ethic and passion you all continue to have despite the long hours away from family, stressful changes in the marketplace and complex nature of the job that no doubt drains each of you in ways I could never imagine.

Goodbye, 12-volt industry. Keep innovating and stay in touch. 

Copyright - Mobile Electronics Association 2020

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