Real World Retail: Sound FX
WORDS BY ROSA SOPHIA
Later this month, Sound FX will be opening its second location in Bridgeville, Del. Owner Brian Layton attributes the company’s achievements to its employees, whose talents and hard work attract clients from outside the Delmarva peninsula and beyond. Layton started his own journey as a customer in 1994, an avid supporter of the business which first opened in 1992.
Largely inspired by his father—who was a drummer in a rock and roll band— Layton fell in love with music and developed a passion for car audio. After being a customer at Sound FX, “Mike [Wright] invited me to become a salesman in 1998,” Layton said. “Mike was already an owner. Our business relationship developed as we continued to grow together.” Today, both co-own the business. The Lewes store is situated in a very busy area near the intersection of Route 9 and Route 1, which helps increase visibility.
Sound FX makes it a point to celebrate the accomplishments of its employees, Layton said, adding, “I’m trying to do my part to give them a platform. The aftermarket is their lynchpin to send their kids to college, to give them a great retirement, to buy their kid a car. As an industry, I don’t think we talk enough about how we’re helping our employees plan for the future as individuals. It’s a passion of mine to have a bigger Sound FX platform,” he noted, “but that stems directly from the employees.”
Driving Business Through Musaic Design and Online Marketing
To help celebrate the work of one installer, Layton teamed up with Matt Schaeffer, the 2016 Installer of the Year who joined Sound FX in 2017. “There wasn’t much of a celebration of his work beyond YouTube,” Layton said, adding that Schaeffer promoted his work on You- Tube prior to coming to Sound FX.
Musaic Design (www.musaicdesign. com) was Schaeffer’s idea, and it’s just his work on the website. “The inspiration behind Musaic is Matt’s,” Layton said. “The website was a push on my part to be able to take the idea of Musaic and actually have a library of his work, in addition to video formats.” The online portfolio is used to help sell builds.
“If we have a client talking about hidden or custom radar detectors in a Mercedes, I can send them a recent video from YouTube.”
The videos on Schaeffer’s YouTube channel, he noted, have over one million views. “Then we can say the video is tied to this picture album [on Musaic. We show them Matt’s] behind the scenes work. On the custom side, there are different levels of packages and they relate to the quality of the equipment and the design time.”
Schaeffer is able to demonstrate what a build will look like if a week is spent on it, and he’s also able to show clients what it will look like if he’s allotted two weeks’ time, Layton added. “We’re selling based off design and end-result looks. [The website] is a fantastic selling tool.” Potential clients will see Schaeffer’s work online and call about their own vehicle.
One such client came all the way from Huntington Beach, Calif. last summer. “This guy was following Matt on YouTube. He flew into Baltimore, bought his Tesla in Maryland, drove it to Delaware, and spent about a week and a half here. I gave him a loaner car for free. He got to enjoy a vacation at the beach,” Layton said.
When the work was completed, he drove his Tesla back to California. Additionally, Layton added, the client had a vanity plate designed for the front of the vehicle that says “Sound FX.”
Matt Schaeffer has had a lot of success with Instagram as a marketing platform, Layton said. Much like YouTube, Instagram is drawing clients to Sound FX. “We’re getting a lot of good leads from Facebook, website chats and Instagram direct messages,” he added. “We get a lot of direct messages on Instagram. I just landed a $3,300 accessory job on Instagram the other day. That’s the power of Instagram.” The business continues to draw clients from other states, as well, including a recent job that came from Kansas City.
Added Reception Area Leads to Improved Sales
Refining the customer service process has helped Sound FX grow, Layton said. “Our sales team is not on the sales floor. A major catalyst to our growth has centered on the refinement of our service process, led by our service manager, Heather Kauffman.”
Guests are greeted by service team members in a reception area in the front of the store, separate from the showroom. Before the potential client interacts with a salesperson, a service team member takes their contact information and asks them what they’re interested in. Whether the visitor decides to purchase or not, Sound FX still gathers their contact information.
“Service team members [in the reception area] greet our guests, load their information into our CRM, and call the best-qualified sales team member to serve that guest,” Layton said. “This refinement has eliminated the immediate ‘fire drill’ of the front door opening, and the barrage of phone calls that our sales team once managed. A more focused sales process has led to outstanding results.”
The reception area is its own separate entity, according to Layton. “The receptionists aren’t salespeople. A lot of the business is proposal-based now. It takes
time to put something together on the larger projects,” he said. “I have a door dinger that tells you someone is coming in. They are greeted by the service team. They feel welcomed. We’re also gathering why they’re here, what brings them in. That’s sent through a rotation based off what the request is.”
The customer’s name has already been sent to the salesperson, so “they’re going to walk out and address them directly,” Layton said. “The other members of the sales team can focus on customer quotes and follow-up without interruption until they’re summoned to the front. It’s a service team summoning, versus being summoned simply by the door opening.”
This allows for more consistency in the focus of the team members. Additionally, although receptionists are not trained in sales, they are able to sell smaller things such as accessories and window film. Revenue has also increased with the recent addition of no interest financing for 12 months, Layton added.
Expanding Business to Municipal Fleet Vehicles
Promoting the work of all team members is something that’s done in each department, according to Layton, who added that Sound FX is a “one-stop-shop” for automotive aftermarket. “We recently launched the vinyl wrap and graphics division with Tom Cahall,” Layton said. “Vehicle wrapping has been a big success [for us] in the commercial market.” Fleet vehicles or company vehicles are able to have lettering and logos put on their vans or trucks.
“There’s a synergy between the divisions. A contractor might bring us a van to install a ladder rack. We can do interior metal or steel bins so he can store all his painting materials or hardware. We can wrap the vehicle, or letter it,” he explained. “And then we have the opportunity of discussing things like cameras, alarms, GPS, with the client.”
A new category, “tactical and safety,” is adding another branch to the business’s offerings. Layton stated that he’s applying the term “tactical” to any police and emergency vehicles.
Sound FX is able to fully outfit municipal fleet vehicles, and team member Matt Bishop has been made director of this department because of his previous experience upfitting police cars. “There are a lot of local municipalities that don’t have a centralized hub where they can take their cars to be up-fitted,” Layton added. “It’s not a market where there’s a definitive leader here.”
Hundreds of 5-Star Google Reviews Provide Boost
“We currently have over four hundred 4.9-star reviews. I have given the team a challenge of hitting 500 reviews by the end of July. [To get more reviews] we just talk to customers. [Dealerships] are encouraged to do that, and it’s the same thing here. Customers have made the decision to give us an opportunity based on the volume of great reviews. “I’ve heard that a lot: ‘I haven’t done business with you before, but I found you on Google, and that’s why I’m calling you.’”
Too Difficult to Pinpoint ROI of Radio Advertising
“The questions I have are: What’s the right budget? What’s the right time of the day? What’s the right frequency? To pinpoint a solid return on my investment is very hard to do with radio. I can say, ‘We’ll be on four times or eight times from Friday at five to six on a rock station when people are driving home,’ but to me it’s hard to measure that ROI. I have pulled back from radio altogether. I tried it a year and a half ago. I find more conversations are had with Facebook and Instagram.
Key Vendors Always Willing to Go the Extra Mile
“We had a customer with a Jeep audio build that had a previous year’s model JVC that he had bought from Best Buy. He already had the radio installed. We upgraded his Jeep audio and did a custom enclosure. He had issues with the radio that we were already aware of, and even with a firmware update, it wasn’t perfect. We weren’t getting what we needed from the sound output. “I reached out to Steve Cote, the eastern regional from JVC, and my rep, Steve Gallagher. Even though we didn’t get the radio from them, I asked if we could get credit for it, and the answer was an instant yes. That’s what I mean by taking care of customers. “We would like to give a personal shout out to Steve Gallagher from AR Marketing (JVC and JBL), Dominick Butta from Focus/Bravo Marketing (JL Audio and Alpine), and Chuck Ottati from OPUS Marketing (Focal/Directed). These gentleman go above and beyond to make sure our clients and employees are taken care of and well-informed.”
Second Location Will Feature Vinyl Wrap, Car Show Planned for Opening
For the last five years at least, Layton said, Sound FX has been “bursting at the seams.” “We found an unbelievable property in Bridgeville, Del. which is about 45 minutes inland from Lewes,” Layton said. At the new location, they’ll have eight installation bays with 14-foot tall doors and 10,000 square feet on three acres.
The biggest challenge in reaching goals has been time, Layton noted. Andy Tavolario has been overseeing the process of opening the new store. The vehicle wrap and graphics department will be based out of the Bridgeville location because there’s more space there, Layton added, although “we’ll do everything [else] that Lewes does. The showroom and reception area will be set up the same way.”
While the new store opens this month, the car show to celebrate the grand opening will take place in August. Besides having more room to work, Layton said the new, larger location will provide future opportunities for Sound FX to host additional car shows—something they couldn’t do until now.
For the grand opening celebration, they’ll have a DJ, entertainment for the kids and catered food and refreshments. Past and current customers will be invited. “We’ll also reach out to big car clubs,” Layton said, adding that overall presentation of the vehicles will be judged and awards will be given.
“We don’t do car shows often,” he added. “The challenge has always been space. I’m not a big fan of off-site events because it takes a lot of effort to make it really special. We’re blessed with enough work to not have to stretch ourselves thin, even if it was over a weekend. Now, with three acres, we’re going to have room for customers to really enjoy themselves.”
Layton said they might even have a Cars and Coffee event in the future, “maybe on a smaller scale, to give the community something to look forward to a couple Saturdays a year.” For now, the grand opening car show is expected to draw a large crowd.
Nurturing a Healthy Life / Work Balance for the Team
Each new employee is onboarded with COO Andy Tavolario, Layton said, and the company’s extensive employee handbook is covered. Highlights of the handbook include company policies, 401K and health insurance enrollment, vacation time and paid time off. Communicating a healthy life and work balance is essential at Sound FX.
Team members also attend trainings at a variety of venues, including Mobile Solutions, Window Tint School, SEMA, KnowledgeFest, CES and more. Rather than sending the entire team at once, employees will alternate, Layton added, and the company foots the bill. “We’ll send two to three guys to SEMA, four to KnowledgeFest, Dallas, three to KnowledgeFest Indy,” he said. “It’ll be a rotation based off what’s fair for them in that segment. For example, I don’t need to send a vinyl wrap guy to a 12-volt conference, but he might enjoy SEMA.”
In-house training is always on-going. “Our retail operations director, Justin Smith, leads a once-a-week, hour-long sales meeting with our 12-volt sales team,” Layton said. “Recent successes are celebrated. Challenges are coached so improvements are implemented. New solutions are discussed and new sales leads are tackled.”
Celebrating and Supporting Employees Ensures a Brighter Future
About a third of all Sound FX employees have been with the company for over ten years, another third for two years or less. Following on the company’s decision to celebrate and support employees as they plan their future, Layton said that Sound FX “covers a large percentage of monthly health insurance costs, and provides up to a four percent 401K match. In addition, combined with the free use of the facilities after hours, we offer a company-financed, employee-purchase program. Sound FX is passionate about helping employees accessorize their personal dream ride.”
Installation team members are given generous hourly wages or salaries, Layton said, adding, “As Adam Lewis, our Road Warrior says, ‘We work for each other.’ Technicians are the backbone of this industry. It is our sole intent to provide for them and their families with the best path to financial freedom.”
Day to day challenges can be the most trying, according to Layton. “Let’s say I have a customer call in and say the radio in their 2013 Altima has no sound. It’s not enough to just close a diagnostic appointment. You’re touching on what might be a customer pain point. What if the radio is indeed bad? As an extension, they might be pre-selling the customer on a possible upgrade.”
The team can’t meet every client the same day they call, so they schedule it, Layton said. “We try to find a resolution. If there’s an issue with the radio or speakers, we need to be prepared to move forward. We also have to be prepared with the product as if the customer is going to say yes.”
The challenge is ensuring they’re prepared with both processes and product, he explained. “That’s always a work in progress. It’s not just about diagnosis, but sharing experiences. I want to minimize the customer trip back to the shop, so we make sure we’re prepared with everything up-front.”
Focusing on the team as the catalyst behind the business’s achievements is an important aspect of the business, and it’s a main reason why they’ve received national attention, Layton said.
“Andy Tavolario’s entrance as our COO in August has enabled us to drive this company forward. Stephen Loeffler has enabled us to expand into offering home and commercial window film. Tom Cahall helped us bring in vinyl wrap and graphics,” Layton said, adding that the vehicle wrap department has expanded and brought in more revenue under Cahall’s direction.
Layton noted that each and every team member has helped revitalize the company. “Bringing in Matt Bishop set the foundation for our entrance into the emergency vehicle up-fitter market. Dave Ellers has taken on a larger mentorship role in the last year to our younger techs. Adam Lewis is Superman. Matt Schaeffer and Paul Kauffman are building the best-sounding cars in our 27-year history,” he said, adding, “Our growth and success is the direct result of our team and their hard work—period.”