Real World Retail: Ocala Car Audio
Ocala Car Audio has built a name for itself by hosting and attending local events and weekend Bike Nights. The shop has entered the new year aiming to increase revenue in the motorcycle audio category through grassroots marketing.
WORDS BY ROSA SOPHIA
Prior to opening Ocala Car Audio in Ocala, Fla., Parish Tanner worked in installation, sales, distribution and as a rep. Then, in 2008, he started installing at his home garage before moving to a retail location and joining with a business partner. “We were growing 15 to 18 percent per year,” Tanner said. In 2014, he and his business partner separated, and revenue dropped significantly. “I moved to a smaller shop with a smaller staff, but since 2015, we’ve had about 15 to 20 percent growth each year.”
Tanner attributes this growth to the shop’s grassroots marketing and community outreach. While return on investment can take longer to achieve, the efforts have paid off. Tanner said he hasn’t had the time to put together email newsletters because the shop stays so busy. However, he added that he’s planning to try it again soon to help keep the shop top-of-mind for current and previous customers.
Consistent Business Year-Round
Ocala Car Audio has a staff of seven people, including two installers, a window tint technician and a salesperson. The team completes anywhere from
seven to 12 cars per day, depending on how busy the shop is. “In window tint, we usually do three to six cars per day,” he said. “Each installer works on one to two cars per day, sometimes three to five.” He added that the focus is to sell to the masses. “We don’t do as much ‘trendy’ stuff,” he said, noting that super high-end custom builds aren’t as profitable for the shop. “We just want to build good-sounding cars.”
Tanner equated it to high-end cars versus vehicles marketed to the average person. “The Ford family built the most amount of cars and they service more people,” he said. “That’s who we are. We’re like the Ford of car audio. We aren’t trying to be super high-end.” Business is consistent year-round, and the shop is usually booked out at least a week. During hotter months, Tanner said, it’s booked four to eight weeks in advance. The slowest time of the year is August. “We do have a little bit of a dip, but we are pretty consistent across the board.”
Bike Nights Draw in New Clients
So far, Tanner said the best form of marketing for the shop is word-of-mouth along with grassroots feet-on-thepavement interaction with the local community. Though it can take a while to
gain business from hosting and attending events, Tanner said the shop has found it an effective tool that makes a slow-and-steady difference over time. The motorcycle category has grown the most over the last few years. Rockford Fosgate is currently the shop’s most popular brand for motorcycle audio, according to Tanner, who also anticipates Arc Audio, Power Bass and Stinger to grow in popularity in the coming year.
Tanner bought a motorcycle in 2015 and started attending bike nights in 2017. When he got into the motorcycle market, he added, “I wanted to be fully in
that market and own it. I wanted Ocala Car Audio to become the go-to place for motorcycle audio.” Rather than sit down and make a plan, Tanner simply immersed himself in the lifestyle. “I followed my gut. I bought a bike, built it and got involved in the motorcycle community.” The most difficult aspect, he said, was to find the right places in which to be present—places that would help make the shop visible in that category. Local bike nights were the answer.
“I just started showing up and hanging out with my bike,” he said, adding that he rides with a group two to three times
per week. “I went on every weekend ride I could.” The goal of attracting more bike business has been met, though Tanner continues to increase focus on the category in his shop. Being visible within the biking community is a must. “I think we did very well,” he added. “There was never a set number we were focusing on, but now we have people driving from hours away for us to do their bikes.”
On Saturdays, Tanner attends the local bike night, interacting with fellow bike owners. “I’ll be out at a bike night on a Saturday, have a beer with someone, and on Monday morning they might come
into the shop and spend three grand,” he said. “We pay close attention to how our customers find us. We ask every client how they heard about us, and it goes on our invoice.” Not every event draws such quick turnaround, however.
Becoming a Part of the Lifestyle
Tanner said it’s about full immersion in the community. If a shop simply spends money advertising to a specific group of people, rather than becoming involved in the lifestyle, he said he feels it’s less effective. “I think becoming a part of that community, instead, is the most effective
way. Attending events, showing people what we do, is part of that lifestyle,” he explained, adding that if a potential client is looking for the kind of work Ocala Car Audio can offer, the client will find them.
Some events take longer than others to build business. “People get used to seeing you there. Now, we hear, ‘Hey, I saw you six months ago at this event, and that’s why I came in.’ Being part of these events is more about top-of-mind awareness, getting to know people and being a part of the community.”
Bike night remains Ocala Car Audio’s biggest event. “I like bikers. We hang out and have beers,” Tanner said. “I like that environment.” Recently, the shop finished a vinyl wrap on a trailer that will carry bikes to events.
They’re also doing car shows such as Cars and Coffee, he added, on Sunday mornings. Most of the people at the Cars and Coffee events are people with higher-end cars, who are into the lifestyle long-term. Tanner said he and his staff are able to communicate with them more effectively because these vehicle owners have been part of the custom car scene for decades.
Ocala Car Audio also works with Engaged Media, LLC, owners of the publication Street Trucks. Builds by the shop have
been featured in the publication. “We network with them, and we’ve built a partnership,” Tanner said, adding that the company will be helping to promote Warrior Wheels—Tanner’s nonprofit organization which was created to help at-risk veterans by giving them transportation in the form of a motorcycle and connecting them with additional support. “We just got another bike,” Tanner said. “The biggest thing with Warrior Wheels right now is trying to get funding to help pay for it.”
To further increase visibility, Ocala Car Audio partners with local businesses. Tanner said Street Trucks and Engaged Media manages the All Truck Season Opener held in Ocala, a classic
Phone Book Fail Sparks Focus On Grassroots Marketing
About seven or eight years ago, Tanner said, Ocala Car Audio tried advertising in the local phone book to increase revenue. The attempt failed. “We met with a local agent,” he said, adding that the shop listened to what they had to offer and signed a year-long commitment. “It included a local tracking phone number to let us know exactly how many calls we received and then cross-referenced the phone numbers to our sales database to see if those calls were successful,” he explained.
Ever since this advertising flub occurred, Ocala Car Audio has endeavored to focus on grassroots marketing and local events to raise awareness, which Tanner said has provided a steady return on investment—even when the shop has to wait a while for the work to pay off.
and custom truck show. Ocala Car Audio was a sponsor for the show this month, which further associates the shop with the lifestyle.
The shop also stays visible online by posting videos about new projects on YouTube and Facebook. “We show off installations, products—things to fill the feed to let people see us and get to know us,” Tanner said. “They can see we know what we’re talking about. It increases profitability.” Tanner added that price becomes less of an issue when expertise is demonstrated. It’s not uncommon for people to drive several hours to visit the shop because they’ve found their videos online, he said.
Staying Organized for Maximum Efficiency
Both installers at Ocala Car Audio are skilled in fabrication and build enclosures and basic door panels, among other things. “We weren’t always organized,” Tanner said. “Wires were everywhere. It created a haphazard mess, and led to things getting lost.” Without organization, he said, efficiency is lost. “Production goes down because you can’t find a tool and no one knows who moved it.”
After dealing with the difficulties of disorder, Tanner said the shop created dedicated, organized spaces for wires and tools. The shop has a pre-wiring area where all the wiring is handled. In this
dedicated space, he added, “We do all our head units. Amp racks, too. That way all your connectors are in one spot. You reach left or right to get what you need, and you’re not running back and forth, so there’s no wasted time.”
Bins and drawers are labeled with part numbers and wire is carefully organized. “The overflow is kept in drawers below the work station,” Tanner said. “We always try to keep that stuff in one spot. Sometimes we’re better at it than other times.” Efficiency is key, he added, so the shop can turn out more cars.
“One of my guys was just talking about trying to get more efficient on projects and scheduling,” he said. “It’s good to
hear them talk about that without being prompted. Everything is about creating habits. Repetition breeds success and builds consistency.”
Tanner currently handles all management-related duties, although he said he hopes to find a manager one day who would be willing to embrace the store culture of Ocala Car Audio and its brand. “Some people say I micro-manage a lot,” he added. About every half hour, he said he checks on each department to see how things are going. While he hopes to hire a manager, he said it needs to be a strong
individual. “It would have to be someone who is willing to collaborate and listen to input—not try to change us, but add to us. Finding that person is difficult.”
However, the staff has clear organization and procedural guidelines to follow when it comes to installation, sales and more. For example, Tanner said Kurt Jordan runs the window tint department. With only one or two people in each department, he added, job descriptions are clear. The shop prefers to hire people who already have industry experience, though Tanner admitted they’ve reached
a point in which the next salesperson will likely be a sales professional, not necessarily a car audio expert.
Aiming for Evolutionary Change
Tanner said he feels retaining staff involves improved “education about how to offer better employee benefits,” adding that he provides medical care for his staff. When it comes to employee retention, shop owners, he said, should work to better understand the local market and what the Department of Labor and statistics say an average installer makes.
It’s important to make sure the shop is healthy first, and that the entire team is focused on improving store culture, he added. “Selling the vision of the company to the staff, and helping the staff understand that, is important.”
Ocala Car Audio hosts regular trainings for the team, often provided by Dow Electronics. “We had JL Audio come in recently,” Tanner said, adding that the
staff recently attended a dealer retreat. Sometimes trainings don’t work out. Once, he said, the shop brought in a sales trainer, but it wasn’t the right fit. The sales trainer may not have understood the shop’s vision. “We know who we are,” Tanner added. “We hone it and we move on.”
The open layout of the store, with small kiosks, encourage sales staff to interact one-on-one with customers. “The idea is to keep the sales staff out and
about with an open floor plan,” Tanner said. This way, he added, no one is hiding behind a desk. The inspiration behind the shop’s floor plan is the Apple store. “I think that’s the direction we need to go in as modern retailers,” he added. The floor plan supports the shop’s sales approach. “It’s a great way to say, ‘Here’s our needs analysis. Here’s what it takes to do it. If price becomes an issue, what would you like to take off the list?’ That works well.”
Tanner sees the shop continuing to build on what they’ve already been working on—and especially continuing to grow the motorcycle audio department. “I like evolutionary change,” he said. “We want to evolve, but we don’t want to change who we are at our core.”