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June 2020

me-mag.com

After 46 years, Hurricane Katrina and the ’08 recession, Empress Audio & Marine powers through the pandemic with a winning business structure

PLUS Summer Sales Heat Up June is sizzling as audiophiles seek upgrades and hobbyists turn to adventure to let off some steam The Future is ADAS: There’s never been a better time to bring a new category into your business Enclosure Exposure: What type of enclosure is best for your client? Here’s how to decide


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Volume 52// Issue 06

Articles

19 14

19 Retail News/Who’s Who 56 Installs

Departments

FEATURES 14// What’s Happening: Summer Sales Skyrocket in the Wake of COVID-19

While businesses have struggled throughout the pandemic, many are now thriving as some areas begin to reopen. Retailers discuss this boom in sales, and how long they feel it will continue.

28// Real World Retail: Empress Audio & Marine

By continuing to build upon a solid foundation, Empress Audio & Marine demonstrates that a business with a reliable structure can persevere and thrive in the face of difficult times.

42// Difference Makers: Davis Distribution

Davis Distribution is “all systems go” for car audio’s new normal, offering webinars, a YouTube show and an updated studio to keep dealers motivated and educated.

46// Strategy & Tactics: Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Enter a New Era How can businesses further expand into ADAS technologies, or add safety categories to their list of offerings? As the industry invites discussion, retailers discuss raising consumer awareness and finding a client base.

50// Tech Today: Comparing Enclosure Alignments for Optimal Performance

Choosing an enclosure alignment depends on what your client is hoping to gain from an audio system. Cameron “Chimpo” Powell of LIS Audio takes a closer look at how each enclosure measured up during testing. On the Cover COVER DESIGN: Ana Ramirez Empress Audio & Marine has endured challenges before, which only served to strengthen the business’s foundation. With three locations and a host of services to offer clients, owner Floyd Seal and his team are facing the current pandemic with high hopes for the future.

4  Mobile Electronics June 2020

6 Editor’s Forum 8 Feedback

Ad Index

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editor’s forum

WANT TO WIN AT THE AWARDS?

YOU WILL BE THE JUDGE OF THAT! Tell the industry your story and get ready to rise to the top. When it comes to your Mobile Electronics Industry Awards, you can count on the process to be fair. We at the Mobile Electronics Association consider the integrity of the Industry Awards our highest priority. We know the industry counts on us to manage a fair process that accounts for all aspects of the program. To that end, each year we pick an esteemed panel of judges who review and cast their vote for each of the Top 12 categories. In addition, we have an audit team that oversees and reviews the voting process. These teams are made up of past winners, staff and an outside accounting firm which will audit the results. The Industry Awards are comprised of a months-long process to recognize and honor those in the industry who best exemplify the professionalism, business ethics, service and expertise we want consumers to think of when they do business with us. Companies and individuals submit video nominations and are narrowed to a list of finalists after a voting and selection process. In certain award categories, finalists submit materials which are then judged by a panel made up of past winners and other trusted industry experts. In other categories, final voting tallies determine the winners. All winners are announced at the awards ceremony, held on the last day of Dallas KnowledgeFest. Here are the voting rules: Votes for all industry awards are only open to industry participants. You may make one vote for each selection field. Voting takes place online through an approved submission platform. Emailed votes or votes placed in any other way will not be accepted. Each voter must provide contact information and employment information to determine eligibility. For contest accuracy, IP addresses for each vote are captured and compared to deter fraud. Voting by several members of a single location using a single computer/IP address is allowed. The awards recognize Installer of the Year, Retailer of the Year, Sales Pro of the Year, Trusted Tech, Rookie of the Year, Retail Performance Awards and Customer’s Choice Award (this is the only award that allows your customers to vote). The top in each category are announced prior to Awards Night. Other awards recognize industry professionals and companies: Distributor of the Year, Expeditor of the Year, Rep Firm of the Year, Representative of the Year and the Top Vendor Awards. These are voted upon by the entire industry and finalists are announced prior to Awards Night. Let’s take a deeper look at the process for picking the Top 50 Installers, Retailers and other awards. These are based on nominations from you and your peers. Your votes elevate the best of

6  June 2020

the best to the next level—the Top 12. Once the Top 12 votes are tallied, we announce the winners and move to the next part of the process. Many of the retailer awards have a phase two and phase three process. For the most part, both require the creation of video presentations which are judged using several criteria.

I HAVE SPOKEN WITH MANY INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS WHO HAVE SUBMITTED AND BEEN NAMED TOP 50, TOP 12 AND OVERALL WINNERS. THE COMMON THEME OF THE CONVERSATION IS HOW IT MADE THEM BETTER AT WHAT THEY DO. When it comes to Retailer of the Year, several things need to be submitted. Remember, the video doesn’t need to be professionally produced, but it must provide the following information: The basics of how long you’ve been in business, number of locations, location type and number of employees. Also include the business philosophy or mission statement. What’s your sales performance over the past three years? What makes your business unique? What’s the greatest challenge you’ve overcome in the past year? Why should your business or chain be part of the Top 50 Retailers? Include a video walkthrough revealing the customer experience from parking lot to point-of-sale and employee areas. Add still shots of any required documents. The Installer of the Year requires video as well and must answer the following: Name, years of experience and number of years at your current location. What’s your installation specialty, and how do you describe your philosophy as an installer? Name some installation professionals who’ve had influence on you and your career. How do your co-workers describe you? What’s the biggest challenge (personal or professional) you have overcome in the past year? What do you want customers to remember about the installation aspect of your service, and why should you be part of the Top 50 Installers? How does your performance influence team and store culture? Provide a video walkthrough of your work area and tools including still shots of work samples. There’s a lot that goes into a successful awards process, and it’s worth it. I have spoken with many industry professionals who have summited and been named Top 50, Top 12 and overall winners. The common theme of the conversation is how it made them better at what they do. I encourage you to take the time to review the awards website. Visit meindustryawards.com. Get started on the next level of your career. You will be glad you did! See you on Awards Night.


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 feedback

ADVERTISING SALES sales@mobile-electronics.com

EDITORIAL Rosa Sophia Managing Editor 978.645.6466 • rosas@mobile-electronics.com Chris Cook Editor-at-Large Creative Layout and Design: Ana Ramirez Contributing Editors: Jamie Sorcher and Laura Kemmerer

Published by TM

SUMMER WAVES Many 12-volt shops have reported a sharp

increase in revenue, while still others look forward to reconnecting and moving forward beyond the pandemic. “Make sure you train yourself in business management, not just product. It will help to grow your business into a professional establishment, not just a shop.” Richard Pappas, Sound Design Alarm Inc., Bronx, N.Y. “I wonder and worry about my fellow car audio professionals. I have made many friends over the 35-plus years I’ve been in the business, and I hope we all survive this challenging time. I can’t imagine not sharing my experience and passion for car audio. I hope when life gets back to normal, all my friends open their doors to a profitable and busy shop. Stay safe, stay healthy and stay passionate about what we do.” Dave Clews, 12v Dave’s Audio, Pottsville, Pa. “We are looking forward to being able to attend KnowledgeFest 2020. We understand that our employees and our business’s health is most important during this time, and we are looking for proper direction in moving forward. Training is and will always be number one in growing a successful business, and we plan on making it to the Indianapolis KnowledgeFest each and every year.” Brian Robinson, GB Customs Incorporated, Plymouth, Ind. “We received our PPP loan and the SBA disaster relief loan in early May. We reopened for business with regular hours and in less than two days, we were completely booked for two solid weeks with several big jobs and many smaller ones. It appears there is a lot of pent-up demand and people are ready to spend. As of right now, things are looking up.”

8  Mobile Electronics June 2020

mobile electronics association

Chris Cook, President 978.645.6434 • chrisc@mobile-electronics.com Richard Basler, Dir. Technology Solutions 978.645.6449 • richb@mobile-electronics.com Tony Frangiosa, Chairman of the Board, MEA 1) Title of publication: Mobile Electronics. 2) Publication No.: 957-170 6. (ISSN#1523-763X) 3) Copyright © 2019by the Mobile Electronics 4) Date of filing: Oct.1, 2019.5) Frequency of issue: Monthly. 6) No. of issues published annually: 127) Annual subscription price: $35.00. 8) Periodical postage paid at LawrenceMA and additional mailing offices. 9) Complete mailing address of known officeof publication: 85 FlagshipDrive, Ste F, North Andover, MA 01845. 10) Completemailing address of the headquarters or general business offices of the publisher:85 Flagship Drive, Ste F, North Andover, MA 01845. 11) Full names and completemailing address of Publisher, Editor and Managing Editor: Publisher: Chris Cook,85 Flagship Drive, Ste F, North Andover, MA 01845; Editor/Managing Editor:Solomon Daniels/Rosa Sophia, 85 Flagship Drive, Ste F, North Andover, MA 0184512) Owner: MERA, Mobile Electronics Retailers Association, 85 Flagship Drive,Ste F, North Andover, MA 01845. 13) Known bondholders, mortgages, andother security holders owning or holding 1% or more of total amounts of bonds,mortgages or other securities: None. 14) Tax Status: Not applicable. 15) Name ofPublication: Mobile Electronics. 16) Issue date for circulation data below: October2018. 6. a) Total no. copies (net press run) Average: 10,237 Single Issue; 12,826.b) Paid/Requested mail subscriptions Average: 6039, Single Issue: 7346. c) Paidsales through dealers, etc.; Average: 0. Single issue; d) Requested distributed byother classes of mail: Average: 435, Single issue: 520. Total paid and/or requestedcirculation; Average 6039. Single issue: 7346. e) Nonrequested distribution bymail; Average: 3593Single issue: 4223. Free distribution through other classesof mail: Average: 0, Single issue: 0. f) Non-requested distribution outside the mail;Average: 267. Single issue: 750. g) Total nonrequested distribution; Average3860, Single issue: 4973. h) Total distribution; Average: 9,899. Single issue: 12,319.i) Copies not distributed; h1) Office use, leftovers; Average: 338. Single Issue; 507j) Total; Average: 10,237. Single issue; 12.826Percent paid and/or requestedcirculation; Average: 61.01%. Single issue 59.63%. 17) POSTMASTER: Please sendaddress changes to Mobile Electronics, 85 Flagship Drive Suite F, North AndoverMA 01845-9998


 stats

COVID-19

SPECIALTY RETAILER BUSINESS IMPACT The Mobile Electronics Association continues to track the impact of COVID-19 on our industry as it relates to the mobile electronics specialty retail channel. The results shared are from our June survey. MEA reports the first quarter of 2020 as compared to 2019:

Do you feel your retail location experienced a surge of business due to communities reopening, stimulus checks, or both?

When our community reopened, we saw an increase in business.

Stimulus checks helped increase our business.

Q2 is shaping up with April 2020 vs 2019 reporting down 27% and May up 11%*

Additionally May 2020 is showing a 52% increase over April 2020

*MEA Point-of-Sale data ©2020 All Rights Reserved

Both factors played a part.

Is your business up year over year by five, ten, twenty percent or more?

11%

My business is up by ten (10) percent

16%

My business is up by five (5) percent

10  Mobile Electronics June 2020

22%

business is down

24%

My business is up by (20) percent

27%

Higher increase in business, above 20%


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facebook.com/MobileElectronics   13


 What’s Happening

Summer Sales Skyrocket in the Wake of COVID-19 While businesses have struggled throughout the pandemic, many are now thriving as some areas begin to reopen. Retailers discuss this boom in sales, and how long it might continue. WORDS BY ROSA SOPHIA

During the spread of Coronavirus, businesses continue taking precautions to protect staff and clients. Local response varies across the nation. Out of 75 retailers surveyed recently by Mobile Electronics magazine, 53 percent (40 businesses) have said they remained open despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty percent closed but recently reopened, while a small percentage of businesses— about 15 percent—remain closed as of this writing.

14  Mobile Electronics June 2020

Mitch Schaffer of Mobile Edge in Lehighton, Pa. said his business was shut down for a little over two months because Pennsylvania closed all non-essential businesses. “We may have been able to justify staying open because we did Intoxalock installations, but it made more sense to shut down just for the safety of our employees,” Schaffer said, adding that acquiring financial funding through small business programs was a bit of a challenge. “For those of us who had to shut

down, that money was a real lifeline.” During the second round of funding, Schaffer said Mobile Edge received financial help to alleviate the burden. The store reopened on May 22. During the shutdown, Schaffer said the shop was active on Facebook, but not as much as it could have been. “We reached out to scheduled clients and made them aware that the moment we reopened, we’d call them in the order they were


Summer Sales Skyrocket in the Wake of Covid-19

While it’s unclear how long the boom will last, retailers agree it’s time to be prepared for any possibility and to continue looking toward the future.

scheduled,” he said. “We also booked a couple appointments while we were shut down.” In Anchorage, Alaska, Perfectionist Auto Sound never lost business, though owner John Schwartz focused time and resources on producing face shields for local hospitals. Perfectionist offered contactless drop-off and pick-up. “We only had three or four cancellations, maybe,” Schwartz said, adding, “It’s picked up like crazy.” Some 12-Volt Shops Are Seeing Record Numbers While Schwartz said he can’t be sure why sales are skyrocketing, he feels it’s because people aren’t traveling as much. In May, business was up 38 percent over May of the previous year, and June has been even better. Schwartz, who travels

a lot himself, said this is the longest he’s been home in three years. “We’ve been doing a ton of RVs and boats because people are out using their toys instead of flying,” he added. The shop is booked into August, and Schwartz is considering running remote start specials early. “We’re booking so far out that by the time people want a remote start, we’ll be booked out two to three months and it’ll cover the winter months already,” he said, adding that he thinks the increase in business could continue for the entire year. Schaffer, who is a founder at 1sixty8 media—a digital marketing company that specializes in 12-volt—said many of his clients have also reported increased revenue lately. “Some people were experiencing record numbers,” he said, adding,

“And that’s what we’re seeing now.” Schaffer admitted he’d been skeptical at first. “The first week we reopened, we were just playing catch-up with installs we had to postpone. It wasn’t strong at first. I wondered if people were exaggerating about business being so good, but they were right. My vendors, both for 1sixty8 and Mobile Edge, tell me business is very strong for them right now.” Mobile Edge, he added, has experienced many days so far in June during which the business has brought in five to seven times the amount of revenue it ordinarily does on an average day. “It’s not showing any signs of slowing,” Schaffer said. While the business was usually booked out a couple of days, it is now booked out for about a month. “When we came back, we were only booked out a week and a half or two weeks,” he added.

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 What’s Happening

Wicked CAS closed its doors and switched to appointment-only for about two weeks, which gave the shop time to catch up on larger performance projects.

16  Mobile Electronics June 2020


Summer Sales Skyrocket in the Wake of Covid-19 Nazar Demir of Wicked CAS in Kingston, New Hampshire, echoed Schaffer’s conclusions. In fact, Demir said, locking the doors and going to appointment-only for about two weeks due to COVID-19 gave the shop a chance to catch up on their larger performance projects. Additionally, the shop has a license to sell cars and does some mechanical repair work, so it was considered essential and never closed. “I didn’t notice a drastic increase in business. We were steady the whole time. We specialize in performance cars,” Demir said, “so we have these older Toyotas to be worked on. They’re ground-up engine builds with turbo charge, so we used that time to catch up.” Revenue is up about 10 or 15 percent, he added. “We were booking ahead and we had a backlog of work. If we didn’t have that, we would have been in trouble. I consider myself lucky.” Although Mobile Edge had to close its doors for a little over two months, business has never been better. Owner Mitch Schaffer, who also works with 1sixty8 media, has heard from many other shops that sales are skyrocketing.

Schaffer and Demir agreed that people who have been cooped up at home might have decided to treat themselves. “If they were unemployed and collecting maybe more than they made at work, and if they have extra spending money, that could be a factor as well,” Schaffer said. Wicked CAS also builds and ships fiberglass enclosures all over the country. Demir said the enclosure business picked up, and online sales of these products made up for a loss of car sales. “When you’re a car enthusiast and you’re stuck at home, where else will you spend your money?” Demir said. “One customer who has a Jeep sent me a picture of all the parts he’d ordered online. He had time off, so he wanted to modify his car.” Numerous Variables Contribute to Increase in Revenue Schaffer said there are a lot of variables at play, so it’s hard to say why numbers are increasing now. Mobile Edge probably missed out on any benefit from stimulus money since the business was closed for so long, he noted, “But we are selling a lot of audio. A very unusual percentage of our business right now is audio.” Mike Bartells, president of Extreme Audio in Mechanicsville, Va. stated his business had a small drop-off in sales in

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 What’s Happening the beginning of the pandemic, but never closed. “We stayed busy making face shields over a couple of weeks and working on side projects,” he said, adding, “We operated as usual from day to day and it got progressively busier, with the biggest spike coming when the stimulus checks went out.” Most of Extreme Audio’s clientele are older and already do well for themselves, Bartells said. “I don’t think our core clients were very financially impacted by this,” he added. On the other hand, Extreme Audio’s two locations did see an influx of customers who wouldn’t normally have been able to afford the company’s services. Extreme Audio has also seen an increase in customers coming into the store for inexpensive base packages. “They might be laid off and they’re getting extra money on top of unemployment. People who might ordinarily go to Best Buy for something over the counter are coming to us. That’s something we don’t usually see.” Bartells speculated that it’s likely any disposable income is being shifted elsewhere, since people aren’t dining out as much or going on vacations. Extreme Audio experienced record numbers in May, and the company has been in business for 21 years. Safety Efforts Increase Amid COVID-19 Spread While businesses are reopening, efforts to keep everyone safe continue to be paramount. For some businesses, category focus changed. For others, it didn’t. “We considered adding vehicle sanitation as a service,” Schaffer said, “but decided against it. I am not an expert in that field. When we’re dealing with someone who’s coming in with the expectation that if their car is contaminated, we might eliminate that contamination, I just don’t have that training.” However, he added, the team wipes down contact points, uses disposable seat and steering wheel covers and has a standard practice to protect both employees and clients. Extreme Audio followed standard procedure for sanitizing and wearing masks, according to Bartells. Like Mobile Edge,

18  Mobile Electronics June 2020

he said his business also considered adding vehicle sanitization services, but decided against it. “I just doesn’t seem like the clients who are coming in are concerned about it,” Bartells explained. “It could be a market to people who aren’t coming in because they’re concerned, but we’ve been so busy with other aspects of our business that we don’t have time to explore it.” Schwartz looked at sanitizing from a different angle, advising other retailers to think like their customers. “We offered ionizers for the car that are supposed to kill all viruses and bacteria,” he said. “We haven’t had any customers take advantage of that, but ultimately it helped with strategic marketing.” When potential clients are worried about the pandemic and searching for a clean shop, he said, they’ll look on Google specifically for that. “A customer might search for a shop using a search term like, ‘What auto shop is sanitized for COVID-19?’ Perfectionist will come up because we have it listed on our website,” he explained. “You have to think like them.” Wicked CAS is located in a more remote area, according to Demir. He said it’s easy to drive by the shop without noticing the sign, but added that it’s nice for the staff because only serious buyers visit. “Here in New Hampshire, masks were suggested in businesses, but it’s not a law,” he said. “None of our employees were exposed to the virus. We ask customers to wear masks, but we don’t kick them out if they don’t wear them.” Instead, he said, the policy is to ask the customer to step back for their own safety. “We have a counter, so we already have five or six feet between us and the customer anyway.” Shops Focus On Staying Prepared Many retailers who are experiencing an increase in revenue are wondering how long it will last. Schaffer said he’s both interested and concerned to see what August and September will bring. He feels business will remain strong at Mobile Edge—but perhaps not as strong as it has been.

“It seems like everyone I’ve talked to is busy, and that doesn’t seem sustainable,” Bartells said. “It doesn’t make sense why we would be busier across the board despite record unemployment, unless it’s because of the extra money and the stimulus payments.” If so, he added, revenue will likely dip down as people return to work or government assistance decreases. Either way, Extreme Audio is ready for any eventuality. He said that while his business is always prepared for the worst scenario, the pandemic has certainly changed how it’s defined. It’s a wake-up call for many, he said. “Experiencing an influx of business enables us to make sure we are reinforced.” Bartells added that while the company has always had a target amount set aside in the bank in case of any problems, that number has probably doubled from what it was previously. “I have a phenomenal crew and I don’t want to lose them because I didn’t plan for a stock market crash or even a pandemic,” he said, adding that his focus is ensuring his employees are prepared and cared for. Demir added that he feels business could be strong for the next six months to a year, but he worries what will come next. “It might drop off,” he said. Schwartz feels that 12-volt shops will always be relevant, adding that businesses should closely examine every aspect of how they operate and always think like the customer. “How many people complain business is bad, or people want too much?” he said, adding, “They just aren’t being their own customer.”


 retail news

WORDS BY LAURA KEMMERER

Chris Spencer Celebrates 10 Years, While Essential Business Keeps Things Moving at Car-Tunes Inc. Though Coronavirus is leaving many with questions and fears about business, some good news is circulating: Chris Spencer, an installation tech and sales associate with Car-Tunes, Inc., marked his 10th year with the company on Aug. 13, 2019. Car-Tunes, having been dubbed an essential business, is also keeping business somewhat as usual, according to owner Kimberly Trainer. “[Chris] started as a tech in the shop and he advanced from that into sales as well, so he’s pretty versatile,” Trainer

19  Mobile Electronics June 2020

said. “Our store is very focused on a lot of teamwork. We’re not really separated like some other shops in the industry, where salespeople or installers work apart. We all work together daily. He’s pretty versatile, and that’s valuable.” As far as Trainer recalls, Spencer was introduced to the company through a cousin who recommended him for an open position. The Car-Tunes president and owner went on to note that although he entered the field with no background, she preferred it that way. From a business perspective, she said,

it’s better to train people on how you want things to be done. “And, of course, over the years, techniques have evolved and products have evolved, so he changed right along with that,” Trainer said. “In our industry, it’s a learning process every day. It’s my 19th year doing this, and you learn something new every day.” As for the business itself, things have been as close to normal as can be hoped for, given the conditions of the pandemic. Car-Tunes was dubbed essential due to carrying out certain


automotive procedures, and Trainer expressed her gratitude for being able to keep things moving. “Our customer base has been fantastic. They’ve been following all the guidelines, such as with social distancing,” Trainer said. “They’re very respectful of people’s personal space. Customers [are also still bringing in] ATVs, boats and things like that,

because they’re really enjoying the outdoors during this time.” And though Car-Tunes has offered curbside pickup in order to help keep customers comfortable, Trainer noted that she hasn’t had a lot of people requesting that service. There have also been a lot of customers who still feel safe coming into the store, mainly because of the amount of space

available and the ability to maintain distance. Surfaces and other necessities are also wiped down often. One of the largest changes the business has had to make has been the length of time they need to schedule out appointments. When reopening measures are rolled out, Trainer noted that current operations in-store aren’t likely to change much.

Team Addition Moves Up Through A.C.T. Audio Ranks

Sometimes taking on young, fresh talent is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to maintaining good business. James P. Smith, owner of Vernon, Connecticut-based A.C.T. Audio, noted that when he needed to hire someone new, he put up a job post on Indeed, and 17-year-old Ethan Deer was one of three applicants he brought in to meet the team. From there, Smith let the team pick who the liked best, and Deer was selected. According to Smith, he began as a breathalyzer tech, a

role that involved calibration and learning the basics. Deer soon proved his ability. “I have the perfect position for testing out whether an employee will cut it as a technician. We do 12 breathalyzers a day for calibrations, so if I have a kid doing calibrations all day, I can observe them,” Smith said. “I can look at their motivation level, and how fast they are picking it up, and I can judge them as a character. What do they do during their down time? If they are the kind of person who, when there are no calibrations to do, they have no

interest helping other people on staff, then do I really want them to move on to a tech position?” Within six weeks, Deer expressed interest in installing a remote starter on his girlfriend’s car. Smith had Deer come in on a Saturday in order to help him do it, but things got too busy. In the end, with some guidance from the team, Deer did the work on his own. Since then, Smith has been teaching him more complicated procedures, adding that he trusts the new member of the team with almost any job he can do. facebook.com/MobileElectronics   20


 retail news

Who’s Who Faces in the Industry

Bobby McCune “I have super high hopes for him being an all-star installer and a long-term part of this industry,” Smith said, noting, “He has no prior experience.” Smith explained that he assigns new employees to the breathalyzer tech position first, and has them do calibrations. From there, he teaches them the basics; if it works out, the employee can be promoted to a full tech position. “I haven’t found anyone who worked out prior to this,” Smith said. “I usually end up replacing people. Ethan is different. I quickly moved him into a tech position. I started looking for a new breathalyzer tech so I could move him up, because I felt it was a waste of his talent.” Smith hopes the new team member will pursue Rookie of the Year. “I trust him completely,” he added. “He’s smart and he knows when to ask questions. I’m very glad I found him and grateful I hired him.”

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real world RETAIL

By continuing to build upon a solid foundation, Empress Audio & Marine demonstrates that a business with a reliable structure can persevere and thrive in the face of difficult times. WORDS BY ROSA SOPHIA

28  Mobile Electronics May 2020


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real world RETAIL

FAST FACTS Main Location: Pascagoula, Miss. Number of Locations: 3 Square Footage: 5-7,000 Type: Traditional Retail Number of Employees: 21 MAIN FOCUS 50% Car Audio 40% Marine Audio 10% Window Tint

KEY STAFF Owner: Floyd Seal General Manager: Raymond Ladner

For almost 46 years, Empress Audio & Marine in Pascagoula, Miss. has been offering 12-volt products and services. Prior to that, owner Floyd Seal installed vinyl roofs in vehicles—but the mobile electronics industry soon became his focus when he was offered work installing car radios. “As things progressed, my business went into retail and we basically became an audio store. Now we’re 90 percent retail and about 10 percent expeditor work,” he said, adding, “We’ve been in car audio since 1975.” Today, the 21-employee business has three locations including the main Pascagoula store—one in Gulfport, and one in Mobile, Ala. which opened in September 2018. The main location has about 7,000 square feet, and the smallest store offers 5,000, with all locations having plenty of space for sizable bays and a showroom. Each store covers a wide variety of categories, including car audio, marine audio and powersports, window tint, motorcycles and lighting. The marine

30  Mobile Electronics June 2020

side has grown the most in the last five years—from about 10 percent of the shop’s revenue to roughly 40 percent. “It’s easier to do higher numbers in marine because the ticket sizes are so much larger for us,” Seal added. Around the end of January, the shop focuses on advertising marine audio offerings. “We’ve created a market,” Seal said. “Five or six years ago, there were very few nice systems on boats here. We started building them, and people came in. Now we have a lot left to grow.” Business Structure Ensures Stability Instead of having managers at each store, Seal said it’s just himself and his general manager, Raymond Ladner. Although the business once had store managers, sales managers and install managers, he noted this changed during the 2008 recession. Out of necessity, the business learned to adapt, doing more business with less people—which also aided in keeping things going during the

current pandemic. “We raised commission rates, and it’s worked out well,” he added. “We have a very efficient staff.” With about five salespeople—including Seal and Ladner—and six technicians, the company has continued to produce impressive numbers, he said, adding that the only comparable experience occurred after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Additionally, technicians will help out on the salesfloor if necessary. “That’s happened a lot recently, especially in the last 60 days,” Seal said. The company offers a 401-K and a rewarding commission scale. “At KnowledgeFest, we networked and listened to some of the guys. As a result, we went to a billable hour about two years ago, and our team loves it. If the job calls for two hours, you might say, ‘I bet I can knock this out in an hour,’ and they still get paid two hours billable labor anyway,” Seal explained. “Our productivity has increased considerably. It was a side-effect we weren’t expecting.” Employees tend to stick around for the


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real world RETAIL long haul, according to Seal, who said the longest-tenured employee has been with the company for 31 years. Others have been with Empress for 18 to 20 years. However, he stated that while the business doesn’t have a lot of turnover, finding the qualified help is still difficult, as it is with many other shops.

The business has had consistent income since the beginning of the pandemic, which owner Floyd Seal thinks is due to a few factors, including close proximity to shipyards and essential workers, as well as the recent government stimulus.

Recently, revenue has increased in all categories. Window tint accounts for about 10 percent of the business’s revenue overall.

32  Mobile Electronics June 2020

High Standards Met Through Strict Installation Procedures Monthly or once per quarter—depending on how overloaded the stores are—the company will hold a staff meeting or share a meal together. “We’re really burned out right now,” Seal said. “On Saturday afternoons, we close at four, so we’ll do conference calls with staff at other stores to address any issues, mostly related to pricing changes or things going on with vendors.” Seal said while the difficulties are few, he feels this is mainly due to running a very strict business with the main focus of upholding the company’s long-standing positive reputation in the community. “I’m very hard to work for,” he admitted. “At the same time, [what’s expected] is understood [when someone joins the team]. We don’t have a lot of issues. We’re all on the same team, and we’re just trying to do it right the first time.” Technicians are expected to do a checklist inspection of the vehicle prior to working on a project, and after the job is complete. The process is applied to boats, as well. “If we see a crack in the dash, for example, our policy is to call the customer and ask them whether or not they were aware. When they say, ‘yes,’ we continue with the job,” Seal said. “If a tech makes a mistake like cutting a door panel, and if we have to buy a new one, I’ll pay for half and the technician will pay for half. We live and die by our reputation, and we’re very strict. If something goes wrong, what does that do to your reputation? If they come back, the customer would be saying, ‘I sure hope they get it right this time.’” Empress doesn’t follow a specific technique in terms of sales, he added, though some of the salespeople follow top-down selling procedures. “We focus on selling the customer what they need,” he said. “I don’t care if they are buying something


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real world RETAIL

WordStream Software Offers Advertising Assistance

When someone comes in with equipment they purchased on Amazon, owner Floyd Seal said the customer will often return the item and purchase from Empress once they learn the benefits of local service.

for $500, or if they’re buying a $5,000 system. I just want to help them find what they need for the money they’re willing to spend.” Once he knows the customer’s budget, Seal educates them on what’s available within their price range. Often, the customer starts by looking at a lower-cost Rockford Fosgate marine speaker, Seal added, but will listen to a JL Audio product and decide to spend more. “I don’t try to upsell. We just listen to the customer.” Embracing the Internet to Increase Revenue While it’s a controversial topic, Seal chose to use Internet sales as a tool to grow his business. Currently, Empress has its own online store on the business’s website, and it also sells on Amazon. The Empress Audio & Marine website is nowhere near finished, Seal said, but locals will order online and schedule installation. “We sell very little on the Internet,” he added. “We are authorized by some vendors to sell online. We aren’t

34  Mobile Electronics June 2020

strong in e-commerce, but we have the opportunity to grow it.” Four years ago, Seal said the business’s numbers began to flatten. Rather than allow the Internet to take business away, he chose to embrace it. He added that some of his friends didn’t agree with his decision. “It wasn’t popular with my general manager or my salespeople at first, but here’s the way I saw it—if you’re going to grow your business, I think you have to be competitive with the Internet.” As a result, Empress Audio & Marine will install products that have been purchased on the Internet by customers, even though there are both pros and cons to this policy. “It is frustrating when people bring in things that you didn’t sell, and they want you to put it on,” Seal said. “But don’t be negative about it. We will install that product. We make that customer.” Part of the procedure involves bringing the customer to an understanding that the shop could have saved them money on both product and installation.

Having tried several other advertising companies with varied results, Seal said his business has recently found increased success with WordStream. “They have a software you can manipulate yourself to create ads for Bing, Google and Facebook without having to be an expert,” he said. “They also offer consulting. We tried them for three months to see how well they would work, and then we went with them for a year contract.” Aside from having access to an advertising portal, Seal added that his business pays extra to meet with a representative twice monthly for 45 minutes to an hour. The rep will take a look at their Google account and let them know where they are losing money on advertising. “A lot of times it depends on the person who is working your account. Their software is easy to use. Basically, you are paying for software to control advertising on one portal,” he explained. “It’s not for everyone, but it works well for us. It depends on your personal knowledge of digital media and how much time you want to devote to it. With this software, we don’t have to devote much time to it at all.” With so many years in business, Empress has created a local name for itself, so a lot of business is attracted via word-of-mouth. “You can’t live off that, though,” Seal added, noting, “That’s where Facebook, fun videos of projects we’re working on, car, truck and boat shows, Google AdWords and everything else comes into play.” He said people will often come in saying they heard about the shop from a friend, and would like similar work done. Clients will watch a video on the business’s Facebook page, and then request the same project on their own car. “That’s better. That’s long-term business, not just running a sale.”


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Digital Billboards Fail to Provide Return on Investment For about three years, Empress Audio & Marine advertised on digital billboards. “It didn’t really work,” Seal said. “The ad is shared every eight seconds or so. For the amount they wanted, and the amount of time the ad is displayed, if I put the same amount into Facebook, my return on investment would be much higher.” Only recently, the business decided the digital billboards were not working. In order to know whether or not the billboards were successful, Seal said they advertised very specific items or sales. This way, if someone came in the store and mentioned it, they knew the customer had to have seen the billboard. “We targeted the local market where the billboards were displayed and tried to have effective ads,” he said. “We just recently backed out.”

36  Mobile Electronics June 2020

Empress Audio & Marine has 21 employees across its three locations. Pictured from left to right: Ryan Montford, Mike Taylor, John Bohannon, Robert Ryan and Tripp Williams.

In fact, customers will often return the Internet-purchased product and buy from Empress. Installation rates drop when the client purchases product from the shop, Seal added. When the customer comes in with Amazon-purchased product, Seal said he doesn’t push them in any one direction— but he will ask them why they chose to purchase online. “They’ll say, ‘Convenience.’ Most people are buying on the Internet for convenience.” He added that he doesn’t think it’s about the cheapest price anymore, but rather about the ease of ordering. “They’re home, they buy it online and they bring it here to get it installed. Then I’ll ask, ‘Did you use Prime?’ If they say yes, I say, ‘That’s great, because you can send it back.’ Customers will often send product back and buy from us.” The most important aspect, he noted,

is the local customer service. “We make sure you get the right equipment, we design the system, and if you have a problem, it’s our problem,” he said. “You won’t get that with Amazon. We’ve taken the reason for anyone to buy on the Internet out of the equation.” Seal believes selling online helps lend credibility to the business. “Customers can shop what you have online,” he explained, adding that an employee at the Mobile, Alabama shop manages the online store. The user-friendly software allows for easy updates or price changes. Empress Audio & Marine will even offer do-it-yourselfers advise and expertise. While they might be able to get such advice from Crutchfield, Seal said, he’d rather they get it from his own store. “This is why our business is growing. It’s about relationships.” However, the negative aspect of selling products on Amazon


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We live and die by our reputation, and we’re very strict. If something goes wrong, what does that do to your reputation?

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In the last few years, the marine category has grown considerably and now accounts for about 40 percent of the business’s revenue. Empress Audio & Marine anticipates continued growth in this category in the near future.

is having to deal with returns. “It’s just an expense of doing business online.” Focused On Continuing Present Growth Mississippi hasn’t experienced the complete COVID-19 shut-downs as deeply as other states, according to Seal, which likely accounts for continued business since the beginning of the pandemic. “We’ve been consistently busy,” Seal said, adding that they’re nearly out of product in many cases. “Our numbers are up across the board, from marine to car audio to tint. I think some of those categories are growing.” The recent government stimulus definitely helped, but Seal noted that a few other factors contributed. “We have shipyards here and oil

40  Mobile Electronics June 2020

refineries,” he said, adding that someone who owns a boat and works at a refinery isn’t necessarily going to stop spending money. “A lot of shops around the country were made to shut down. And once you shut down, even for two weeks, much less than two months, it’s hard to get rolling again,” Seal added. “I recently hired a good technician out of New Orleans because the shop where he worked had to shut down.” As for continued training, Seal added that the wide availability of online training due to COVID-19 has been a boon for both his business and the industry. With so many clients, Seal said there hasn’t been much time to attend product or vendor trainings. “Training is an area we’re very weak in,”

he added, noting that he hopes more online trainings will be recorded for on-demand viewing to fit more rigid schedules. Despite the pandemic, he anticipates a record year ahead. He also hopes to add new product to displays, and he expects the demand for larger floating screens—similar to the Halo9—will only continue to increase in the industry overall. The newest store of the three, located in Mobile, Alabama, is currently doing well. “We were having good growth even before the stimulus money. We’ve had an increase almost every year for many years. In the near future,” Seal added, “I just want to focus on making these stores the best they can be and continue to grow.”


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 Difference Makers

Ready for Anything Davis Distribution is “all systems go” for car audio’s new normal, offering webinars, a YouTube show and an updated studio to keep dealers motivated and educated. WORDS BY JAMIE SORCHER

There’s probably no better way to get into the car audio business than to be born into it. For Nate Taliani, vice president of sales and marketing for Davis Distribution Systems, that’s exactly what happened. “My father has been in this industry since before I was born. I grew up around it,” Taliani said. “When I was 20 years old,

42  Mobile Electronics June 2020

we opened the company and I’ve been here since day one. This is all I’ve ever done for the past 22 years, so I have seen quite a bit. We were here for the start of satellite radio, when neon lighting was going through the roof, the Fast and Furious scene, NOPI Nationals and all that stuff.” In business since 1998, Davis is headquartered in Newell, West Va., and

includes Taliani, his father, two brothers and a sister. “We don’t have an official mission statement, but our reputation combined with our word is our number one brand,” Taliani said. “That means more to us than any brand we deal with. As we all know, brands come and go, vendors come and go, but your reputation and your word are what lasts—and that’s the most


First Things First important thing you can provide to your customers.” This has proven especially meaningful during the entire pandemic, and particularly now as dealers emerge from months of lockdown, seeking guidance and support.

Training Online During Pandemic

During the pandemic, Davis Distribution’s training webinars have been well-received by the industry. The company hopes to continue in-person events soon, such as the Custom Installer Roadshow Training in Columbus, Ohio, shown on the left. Pictured from left to right: Chuck Fauser, Robert Saddler, Phil Traverse, Nate Taliani and Sarah Taliani.

Robert Saddler, Nate Taliani and Phil Traverse accepted the Domestic Distributor of the Year award from JL Audio.

When it became clear that businesses would have downtime during the pandemic, and scheduled training events wouldn’t happen, Taliani said Davis Distribution wanted to be proactive. “We worked with vendors to coordinate a month-and-half worth of webinars and trainings geared for our dealers,” he said. “They were really well-attended. We promoted Davis University through Mobile Electronics magazine and had an absolutely tremendous response to it. For once, dealers actually had the time to hop on these webinars.” While the company has been offering webinars for years, Taliani added they’ve never hosted 30 of them in a 45-day period before. Each webinar was packed, he said. Moving forward, he anticipates that dealers will have a fresh perspective with online training and content. “They will be much more open to participating in webinars and recognizing the value in them,” he said, adding that businesses are swamped now as numbers increase and communities begin reopening procedures. “Everyone is trying to get back to normal. They’re completely swamped, but I am sure they will lean into these options more often now than they did in the past.” Davis offers more than webinars: They have a YouTube channel where they not only record and upload webinars, but they also constantly send out tech updates, Taliani said, adding, “We even have our own little show on our channel called ‘Check it Out.’ We cover different topics and keep dealers up-to-date on new products coming out.” This includes products such as Sony head units, power command centers from NavAtlas and STX Micro Amplifiers from Wet Sounds. “We started the show in November of 2018, and it’s interesting to go back and look at it,” he said, adding that he felt it started on a weak note because facebook.com/MobileElectronics   43


 Difference Makers

From Great Lakes to Garden State Davis Distribution is a regional “wholesale only” distributor servicing customers in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, Southern New Jersey, Delaware and D.C.

44  Mobile Electronics June 2020

the company was anxious to get it going. “Now we can see what we did from November 2018 to the end of 2019, it’s amazing how far we’ve progressed. Throughout COVID, we were doing about one episode a week or three to four shows a month.” This included segments on home products. “The other great thing is that during this time when everyone was working from home,” he added, “we also got to update our studio.”

Seeking Accountability and Consistency Davis Distribution’s continued commitment to in-house tech support, which always proved invaluable for dealers, was key during the pandemic. “We have a talented and knowledgeable staff,” Taliani said. “We’re very strong with remote start tech support and we actually prefer when the dealer calls us directly over the vendor.” In addition to in-house tech support, Davis offers a variety of trainings and roadshows throughout the year. “We hit the dealers from all angles,” Taliani said. The company offers mini roadshows, bringing either a single vendor or multiple vendors together to cover three or four cities in a week. Events are held in hotels, or networking opportunities take place at locations like Dave & Buster’s. “Sometimes we also take the vendor directly to the dealer or host events at our main facility,” he explained. “Throughout the year, there are also some vendors who will have the dealers come out to them for a tour of the facilities and to get hands-on training from their top guys.” While Davis works with a wide assortment of vendors, a longstanding record of consistency determines who remains part of the stable of brands. “The most important thing we look for in terms of a vendor is consistency,” Taliani said. “Vendors who are constantly changing their go-to market strategies every so many years tend to fade away. The vendors we do best with are those who are rock solid and consistent year after year.” While popular brands may be on the Internet, Taliani said it comes down to whether or not a vendor holds true to their policies, stays accountable and holds


First Things First an opening order. We also have them commit to an annual dollar amount since they are being offered exclusivity with that particular line.”

Navigating Uncertain Times

dealers accountable, too. “Those are the vendors we have the most success with. Fortunately, we’ve seen a lot of the major vendors take these issues much more seriously than they did in the past.” In working with its dealer base, Davis Distribution keeps it simple. “We first want to verify if they are a 12-volt specialist,” Taliani said. “We want to be sure they are actually in the 12-volt industry—and that it’s their full-time job. Do they have a storefront and an install bay? We have a

large rep force and in almost every single case the road rep will visit an account before we set it up. If we have someone who reaches out to us and says they sell online, we don’t even return the call.” As for the types of dealers they service, Davis has accounts across the board. “If a dealer meets our criteria, we have enough brands in-house to sell accounts A through D,” Taliani said. “When it comes to lines that are exclusive and there is protection we do require dealers to have

For now, Davis Distribution is helping its dealers get back to business despite the current circumstances with a hopeful outlook toward the rest of the year. Taliani thinks the present boom in business will last until the end of July, and he added it will be interesting to see how things play out in August and through October. “I hope November and December will be strong,” he added. “I hope everything will be back to normal. And that’s the thing—it’s unknown. It’s about trying to pay attention to what’s going on out there each and every single day, and then doing our best.” With a team of seven road reps who haven’t been out since the pandemic started, Taliani wasn’t sure at press time when they’d be getting back out to see the dealers. “What I do know is there’s been a spike in business for which we are grateful,” he said. “Obviously there’s been understandable inventory issues. No one can place blame for that. We’ve been working on finding solutions and working with each dealer when there is a shortage.” The company’s salespeople, he added, have been working hard to help dealers navigate these difficulties. “At the end of the day, I do feel good. I am hoping we’ve turned the corner.”

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 strategy & tactics

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Enter a New Era How can businesses further expand into ADAS technologies, or add safety categories to their list of offerings? As the industry invites discussion, retailers discuss raising consumer awareness and finding a client base. WORDS BY ROSA SOPHIA

In mid-June, the first ever Live Across America: SEMA Detroit Virtual ADAS Forum and Vehicle Review took place online. Three hundred and fifty people attended the 2.5-hour conference. Attendees were invited to learn more about ADAS technologies—Advanced Driver Assistance Systems—and to address any issues or challenges related to this category. Safety organizations also took a big step in May to agree to common terminology for ADAS, bringing these technologies into a new era. John Waraniak, Vice President of Vehicle Technology with SEMA, said that until now, there were no common terms. Instead, he explained, “There were hundreds of terms just for lane departure warning, and hundreds of sensors that each of the OEMs were branding around what they wanted to call it. Each company branded safety because they saw it as a positive.” This continues to open up many opportunities for the aftermarket, Waraniak added. As these systems become required in vehicles, 12-volt shops can further expand the category—or begin expanding if they haven’t done so already—in order to ensure another revenue stream.

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Of the 280 million or so vehicles in the U.S. on the road today, 60 million of them are eligible for ADAS upgrades through the aftermarket, according to SEMA.

“Backup cameras are mandated,” he pointed out. “Of the 280 million or so vehicles in the U.S. on the road today, 60 million of them are eligible for ADAS upgrades through the aftermarket.” New Opportunities for 12-Volt Businesses Many businesses have remained open throughout the pandemic because they provide essential services. Not only is safety performance becoming a prerequisite, Waraniak said, “But from a SEMA perspective, it becomes a ‘cool factor.’ As people buy into ADAS systems and rely on them, it makes their vehicles much safer. It’s like the old racing adage: What was your best race? Often the next one.” One example of a “cool factor,” Waraniak noted, might be customized lane departure warnings. Instead of a dash indicator, a blue LED light can be

integrated with the side mirrors. These technologies have emerged from the racing world, according to Waraniak, who has over 25 years of experience in aerospace, as well as the automotive, racing and performance industries. Tomas Keenan of Top Class Installations, based out of Long Island, N.Y. decided to focus entirely on ADAS and fleet work. The company is remote-based and installs dash cameras, GPS tracking and backup cameras, with their main focus being Mobileye installations. “We head out and service the customer at their location,” Keenan said, “which is one of the reasons we’ve sustained and survived through COVID-19.” Keenan said now is a good time to get into the category. “I think it will continue to grow,” he added. “Especially since the new Mobileye is coming out. It’s a different program with different calibration.


Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Enter a New Era

Technicians should definitely go out and sharpen their skills. Get used to this— because it offers good potential for any 12-volt specialist.” Mike Bartells of Extreme Audio in Mechanicsville, Va. said he hopes to focus more on this category in the near future. “We already do it, but I would like to market it more heavily,” he explained. “Between that and also wanting to expand into the radar category, we’ve been so busy I haven’t even had time.” Bartells feels his business will eventually have to bring on additional employees in order to focus on ADAS. “We diversify across the board,” he said. “We do a little bit of Mobileye. We do blind spot detection. I would consider us an early adopter. We jumped on board expecting it to be a big deal, so we’ve been doing it for about five or six years, but we haven’t seen significant numbers yet.” A Different Kind of Customer In Anchorage, Alaska at Perfectionist Auto Sound & Security, owner John Schwartz believes it’s important to make sure the showroom is both inviting and interactive. “A lot of people preach about demo cars, and I feel the same way about the showroom,” he said. “We

have a backup camera display in the showroom with a live camera. We have a bumper sensor underneath, and it’ll beep when people get close. They’ll say, ‘What’s this?’” After explaining the product, Schwartz said the conversation often leads into head units because a customer might ask if there’s a larger screen available than the one shown in the rearview mirror. “If you don’t have good displays, clients will never know the product is available,” he added. “Make sure there are no empty holes. The display has to be working.” Bartells agrees that it comes down to consumer education. “Our industry has always depended on enthusiasts, and that created demand,” he said. “Lots of people don’t know you can add ADAS after the fact. We need to get in front of them and explain it. Consumer education is the most difficult aspect.” Additionally, he said, while diversifying across categories helps increase revenue, it also makes it harder to focus on one category to grow it. Bartells noticed the clients who want this equipment are often different than audio clients. “Maybe they have a car that has this equipment. They like it, and they want to have it for their wife or their husband’s car, but they

don’t want to buy a new car,” he said. “They come into our store looking for it because the awareness has been raised.” Keenan said the first thing he noticed when Top Class Installations began focusing on fleet vehicles and ADAS is that commercial clients were different. “From the retail side, you have a customer come in, and you give him an estimate for a nice audio system. Say it’s $10,000. And he says, ‘Oh my God, that’s so expensive.’ You get into the commercial side of the business, and you quote a customer $10,000, they say, ‘Okay, here’s the check.’ It’s a drop in the bucket to a company versus an individual,” he explained. “We just have to do the right thing, show up when we say we will and perform the work.” To appeal to this type of customer, Top Class Installations also improved its image as a company. “We became more professional and transparent. As the business evolved and we dealt with executives, we realized we had to come off as business owners instead of installers.” Keenan said they dressed nicely for meetings and made sure every email was ultra-professional. They also started using tools like Grammarly to clean up email content. “We are appealing to a different type of client.” Keenan said he discovered early on that working with an individual on a personal project wasn’t as profitable. As a result, the company focuses on fleets of five or more vehicles. “When we started running the numbers through the Excel estimator tool our CFO built for us— which ties directly to our P&L and our balance sheets—we realized we don’t make enough profit on those one-off jobs, so it’s more beneficial for us to say no and go to a larger job,” he said. For shops who might be interested in focusing solely on ADAS from a fleet perspective, Keenan advised ensuring the business has the proper insurance, leverages the right software and utilizes meticulous pre- and post-check processes. Keenan also built an online course to teach people how to build custom data capture forms for field technicians, which readers can learn more about at www. paperlessprofits.com. “What information

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 strategy & tactics

Top Class Installations in New York State focuses entirely on ADAS installations in fleets. CEO Tomas Keenan advised retailers to reach out to an ADAS provider to get proper training if they wish to expand into this category.

do you need to capture in order to bill correctly? We record the company name, job number, the vehicle information and the serial number of any and all devices installed,” he explained, adding that any live devices need to go through a verification process to ensure they work. His team also utilizes checklists to ensure technicians don’t miss anything. “If it’s a live device, we often have to call a verification phone line where they log in from the back end to make sure it’s working. Then the tech records that data. We check the vehicle before we touch it and when we’re done—same thing guys do in the shop, but we do it remotely in the field,” Keenan said. “The tech fills this out from an app on their tablet or phone. Once they submit the form, it comes to my billing team and we can invoice the work almost immediately.” Raising Awareness and Nurturing Demand Neil Young was once a guest speaker at SEMA, Waraniak said. “When we were walking together, he told me, ‘John, an old car can take you to new places.’ It’s the ‘cool factor.’ He pointed out that out of the 2,000 or so exhibitors at the show, each of them had their

48  Mobile Electronics June 2020

own interpretation of what was cool. He was right. It’s a great way to sum up the potential for aftermarket companies and OEMs to start retrofitting over-the-air updates or upgrading a vehicle,” he noted, adding, “ADAS is really in its infancy.” Waraniak suggested that anyone interested in expanding further into ADAS should check out resources available at SEMA.org. “We couldn’t do this alone,” he stressed. “No association or company is rich enough or smart enough to do this alone. We need all our partners working together. We need to work together to help each other grow and prosper.” People will still have their hobby vehicles, though, he added. “They’ll still have what I call their Sunday car. It’ll have roll-down windows or a carburetor. And because of COVID, people are working on their cars even more while they have the time.” Retailers who wish to further expand into this category to make it a larger part of their business should consider reaching out to Mobileye, NAV-TV or another ADAS provider, according to Keenan. “You’ll need ADAS training,” he said. “If you’re doing any kind of advanced dash camera or ADAS installations, you have to supply your tech with a laptop so they

can calibrate and ensure these devices are working properly.” Other training can be useful, too, Keenan added. “Some guys who are excellent techs may not be as skilled with a computer. They have to be able to use an app, send professional emails, load software and verify ADAS equipment,” he explained. Bartells said Extreme Audio’s services are listed on the shop’s website, and those who are looking for safety installations find them easily. “I think we do good business in that category, but now I need to find out what I have to do to put myself in front of people who might not know it exists in order to drum up business for it,” he said. “We have to find out how to get in front of those people.” Schwartz said it’s about putting oneself in the position of the customer and thinking like they do. “For a business to be successful, you have to look at every single aspect,” he said, adding that the average customer doesn’t care how something works—they just want to know how it will make their life better. Applying this idea to marketing and raising consumer awareness, he added, will help businesses increase revenue in the ADAS category.


Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Enter a New Era

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 tech today

Choosing an enclosure alignment depends on what your client is hoping to gain from an audio system. Here’s how each enclosure measured up. WORDS BY CAMERON “CHIMPO” POWELL

It’s often difficult to describe the audible differences between alignments of subwoofer enclosures. In the beginning of my career in mobile electronics, I used the program WinISD to design random enclosures to see how the responses would change from alignment to alignment. Back then, I also had the opportunity to build some of those designs myself. Additionally, I sent other designs to people around the country to see how they would perform in real life applications rather than just viewing computer-generated graphs. At LIS Audio, we traditionally build or install four different types of subwoofer enclosures. Our go-to professional window tinter, Steve Newendyke of Cutting Edge Window Tinting, wanted to add a bit of bass to his factory system. We installed the amplifier and used a prefabricated enclosure with plans for a custom enclosure later down the line. We figured this would be a great opportunity to test the different options to see and experience the results. I will be covering these designs used in both daily driving and “Show Car” applications. Here are some key details on each of the four:

adding or subtracting to the internal air space, which will change the frequency response of the driver installed in the enclosure. This design is commonly used in Sound Quality (SQ) competition as it provides a very accurate and tight response, though it does lack a bit in output, comparatively. Sealed alignments are one of the most commonly found enclosures in car audio due to their ease of design and petite size.

Sealed (Acoustic Suspension): The interior of this enclosure has an airtight seal from the exterior environment. A sealed enclosure alignment can be tuned by

Vented (Ported or Bass Reflex): This enclosure design is commonly found in the car audio industry, and applies to both prefab and custom designs. It offers

50  Mobile Electronics June 2020

the ability to tune the enclosure close to, or around, a specific frequency. To tune this alignment, one must change the diameter and length of the port against the amount of the internal air space. Vented enclosures are more ideal for output as opposed to sound quality applications, which is why they are commonly found in Sound Pressure Level (SPL) competition audio systems. Dual Reflex Band-Pass (6th Order): This design is like that of a single reflex bandpass enclosure, except both chambers are vented. The two chambers must be tuned 180 degrees out of polarity from


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 tech today each other and must be tuned at least one octave apart to avoid cancellation issues. Dual reflex band-pass low frequency systems generally exhibit a roll-off of about 18 to 24 dB per octave on the high pass, and 12 dB per octave on the low pass. The biggest benefit to a 6th order enclosure is amazing bass from smaller drivers, but they can be very difficult to design and build correctly. Most prefabricated enclosures are designed to work within the specific parameters of many different subwoofers. Each subwoofer has its own set of specifications and parameters that allow us to know what enclosure alignments would be ideal for them individually. Manufacturers may offer information on whether the subwoofer performs best in sealed, vented, 4th order, or 6th order enclosure alignments. They may also list recommended airspace and efficient tuning ranges. Each manufacturer has different specifications, so it’s important for technicians to know these details before promising an end result. What’s the Difference? I collected data from the four enclosure types to offer a visual representation of the differences. For the tests, I kept all variables except for one independent variable—the enclosure. We used a 2013 Nissan Altima that still has a factory radio, factory electrical with an AudioControl LC800.1 amplifier and an Audio Dynamics 12-inch 2100 subwoofer. The amplifier tuning was kept the same throughout the experiment. The stereo volume remained at 20 with pink noise played to show the lower end curve. We set the amplifier to a safe level with the SMD DD-1 upon installation. I chose the following tools to measure and depict the output of the different enclosures: the SMD DD-1 CD, WinISD, and the AudioControl DM-RTA paired with a CM-10 Mic. The CM-10 will only accurately record up to 136 dB, so I decided to keep the mic sensitivity set so it wasn’t necessary to max out the volume of the vehicle’s stereo, which helped ensure accurate results. The rear seat was left up to create a daily driver environment for testing.

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Comparing Enclosure Alignments for Optimal Performance Let’s take a look at some details and data from each enclosure I built for this experiment. Sealed Enclosure The sealed enclosure was built using ¾-inch MDF to specifications, like a prefabricated sealed enclosure for the 12-inch subwoofer. It has .81 cu. ft. of inner air volume. The sealed enclosure comes to about 1.19 cu. ft. of external volume with the measurements being 14” by 14” by 10.5”. This can help show how a sealed enclosure performs against the rest of the enclosures and how much room it may take up in the cargo area. Many of the sealed enclosures we build at LIS Audio are fabricated into the rear hips of vehicles, dependent on space allowed, but generally have about the same amount of airspace as a generic sealed prefab. It is very easy to see on the WinISD graph that the initial curve of the sealed enclosure, which is the blue line, has a very smooth roll-off. This shows there might be a fairly smooth transitions from note-to-note as it gradually gets weaker the lower the notes go. From the DM-RTA readings, the most pronounced frequencies in the vehicle are between 45Hz and 55Hz. I set the pink noise to play the same 60 seconds of a specific section of the track for every trial to maintain consistency. This alignment produced an average maximum of 105.0dB. This setup performed most music genres well, overall. Prefab Vented Next, we have the prefabricated vented enclosure, single bass-reflex. The enclosures external measurements are 13.25” by 16” by 18” and the port appears to be tuned to 38Hz. This would put the enclosure at 2.20 cu. ft. of external volume—which is how much room it will take up in the intended cargo area. The interior volume is estimated to be 1.5 cu. ft. before sub displacement. As mentioned earlier, this alignment is often used in SPL competitions, and is commonly built by shops due to the ease of design. The prefab enclosure design depicted on the graph (red line) shows that we can expect an increase in output, which

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 tech today

may be most prominent around 57Hz. The roll-off looks to steepen compared to the previous sealed design. Observe the RTA results and it is clear that the sub-stage output has increased simply due to swapping out the enclosure. The data shows this alignment commonly peaks through the 47Hz to 57Hz range and has an overall maximum output of 111.7dB. While listening to music it is apparent this setup plays higher notes more aggressively, yet tapers off when low notes begin to come in. It performs better with music genres like classic rock and metal, than it does with hip-hop or dubstep. Custom Vented The custom vented enclosure is designed around the subwoofer’s

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specifications and to the client’s preferences of music. To build this enclosure, I factor the inner air volume against the port tune while also factoring storage space constraints. The exterior dimensions are 28” by 14” by 14” which is just shy of 2.5 cu. ft. overall. The inner air volume comes to 1.75 cu. ft. after port displacement and prior to subwoofer displacement. I built this enclosure to be larger than optimal and tuned it to the client’s preference. He wanted more output than the sealed enclosure provides, but wanted to hit lower notes more aggressively. On the RTA graph of the custom LIS Audio vented enclosure, we were to expect a decrease in total output that peaks near 55Hz. Due to the lowered

tune of the port, compared to the prefab, the roll-off seems to be smoother and not quite as steep. When we see the RTA results, we notice a tremendous increase in output, which was noticeable immediately once playing music. Not only did it look and feel louder, the lower-end frequencies had much more presence. The data shows the most prominent range of this setup in-car was between 38Hz and 60Hz, with 115.3dB was the average maximum output. 6th Order The last enclosure alignment is what Pete at Audio Dynamics refers to as “6th Order Series Tuned Bass Reflex.” This enclosure has two chambers, one ported into the next. The enclosure is measured at 36” by 14” by 18”, externally


Comparing Enclosure Alignments for Optimal Performance taking up 5.25” cu. ft. The 6th order utilizing this design tends to allow for a bit more driver power handling than the traditional, or more popular internally loaded 6th order enclosures. The largest disadvantage of building this alignment is having a custom enclosure that is nearly twice the size of a vented enclosure. For many of our clients the amount of audible output and frequency response gained is worth giving up the additional space. As seen in the graph drafted in WinISD, the 6th order band (turquoise line) was predicted to cover more frequency range and offer more output than the other alignments. The top of the band starts to taper off at about 73Hz and begins to get steeper after 47Hz. The in-car measurements of the frequency response on the RTA show the most prominent frequencies are between 40 Hz and 63Hz. While

collecting data it was noticeable that this entire range would seem to spike near the same decibel level with frequencies as low as 34Hz short behind. The average maximum output was 116.4 on pink noise. This alignment plays most music genres just as well as the previous alignments, and with noticeably more output. Which Enclosure Fits Your Client’s Needs? Changing only the alignment of the subwoofer enclosure can make a difference in output and frequency response—enough so it’s noticeable visually, audibly and physically. Keep in mind that some subwoofers will not perform in all alignments well, and may only perform efficiently in a single design. Though, many quality subwoofers on the market are surprisingly versatile. Also, keep in mind that the shape of the vehicle and any obstructions between the enclosure and vehicle cabin can make a big

difference in how each of the alignments perform. I hope this helps shed some light on how enclosure alignments and designs alone can impact the entire sub-stage. I wouldn’t personally say that one alignment is better than another, but I do think it’s important to know which enclosure would best suit the client’s preferences to meet their expectations. Overall, our client was very impressed with the quality and output of the 6th order enclosure—so, needless to say, he decided to keep that design in the vehicle. Now it sounds like there’s a gorilla in his trunk! Cameron “Chimpo” Powell is a fabricator and co-owner of LIS Audio in Spring Hill, Kan.

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ďƒŽ installs

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The team at Sound Wave Customs set out to build a system for this daily driver, using detailed design work to complement a Focal 40th Anniversary Limited Edition audio set as well as the vehicle’s Black Widow design. SUBMITTED BY: ETHAN BLAU, SOUND WAVE CUSTOMS, VIRGINIA BEACH, VA.

The client brought this 2019 Chevrolet Black Widow to the shop with very little requirements, which meant the team had a blank canvas to work with. The aim: to build a functional, daily driver set-up, while at the same time complementing the design of the custom Black Widow Tahoe and the limited edition Focal 40th Anniversary set. The team used the following products in the build: •Focal 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Audio set •All T-Spec wiring, V12 amplifier wiring with V-16 RCA interconnects •Focal Flax PC165F rear coax drivers •Focal FDS 2.300 2-channel amplifier for rear fill •Ballistic Sound dampening •NAV-TV M650-GM Audio Interface •Heise LED Accent lighting Intending to bring both balance and functionality into the build, the team began with the amplifier and DSP rack, and created a one-of-a-kind subwoofer enclosure. They cut the factory carpet to gain floor space, but to also install a custom HDPE wiring channel and flat base from which to build the amplifier and DSP rack. The team chose to laser-cut the template to create the sharp, jagged-edge stack fabricated enclosure, which not only complements the Black Widow Tahoe, but the Focal 40th anniversary subwoofer as well. Then, they designed and laser cut facia panels for the amplifier rack with both the Focal, Black Widow and Sound Wave Customs logos. The custom interior colors were fully color-matched with the sides of the enclosure, and completed by a seethrough acrylic window. Then they took the top of the Focal 40th Anniversary shipping crate and flushed it into the subwoofer enclosure. The custom stack fab design was left unfinished in raw birch wood, and a black piece of acrylic was laser-cut to offer a sleek infinity mirror

effect on the inside floor of the enclosure. Once the rear end of this system had taken shape, the team shifted their focus to the front to complete some custom modifications to the dash to house the Focal Utopia tweeters, as well as the Focal DSP controller. Fiberglass was used to create tweeter pods to mount on the top dash, utilizing

factory mounting after removing factory dash speaker grilles. Acrylic was then custom-cut and CNC-designed to mold the Focal DSP controller into the console so it would appear seamless, as if factory-designed. The entire vehicle was sound-dampened, and the build was finished with red and white accent LED lighting.

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from the President

You Can Count On It Knowledge of your inventory can make or break your business. This is one of the most feared questions when making the sale: “Do we have that in stock?” As retailers, I am reasonably sure you have had to walk or reschedule a much-needed sale at one time or another because we thought we had something only to find out it wasn’t there when we needed it most. Hopefully, you’ve found a system to mitigate this issue. If you’re still working through it, allow me to offer some ideas that might get you on your way to a healthy understanding of your inventory.

What’s in the barn? Knowing what you have available to sell is paramount. Your customer expectation for product availability was made when you sold products and services. To find out post-sale that your product isn’t actually available leaves you in a compromised position. Now you must come up with a reasonable explanation. This situation happens all too frequently and, for the most part, it can be completely avoided.

Count it, then count it again Counting your inventory is the first step to knowing what you have in stock. If you haven’t done so, now is the time to physically count your stock. Make sure you have a way to audit the results, especially for smaller items like kits, harnesses or adaptors.

How long will your stock last? To calculate how long your stock will last, you must know your rate of sale for each item. There are a few ways to accomplish this task. The first is look at the past year of sales for each item and divide it by 52 weeks. This method is simple, but won’t account for seasonality. Should you desire to get a bit more accurate, do the same by quarter or by month. If you are using a point-of-sale software that tracks what you sell, this task should be fairly simple. Regardless of your method, once completed you will have a calculated rate of sale that can be used for deciding how much of each product you keep in the barn. Next, let’s review ways to set proper inventory levels to keep important stock on the shelf.

Setting levels Knowing how many weeks of inventory to keep on hand can be a challenge. Knowing your rate of sale is an important step. You also need to have a good understanding of your supply-chain. You will have to account for lead-time, order quantity discounts as well as freight-cost reductions usually acquired from larger orders. Another important factor is availability. You should account for temporary product shortages. To deal with product shortage, you should assign an alternate product that could temporarily replace one that may be

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out of stock. This will help you manage your inventory levels going forward and put you in a better position to have what your customer needs when they need it. The number of weeks on hand is a calculation you will need to determine based on your business needs. Your purchasing power should also be considered.

If you haven’t done so, now is the time to physically count your stock. Make sure you have a way to audit the results—especially for smaller items like kits, harnesses or adaptors Creating and managing your open to buy The open to buy is a number set by you based on your ability to purchase inventory over a defined period. You can calculate it within your comfort zone by reviewing the rate of sales over a period and determining a dollar value of inventory required to achieve it. This doesn’t account for fluctuations and growth, but it provides an initial guideline. Next you should review your available cash and credit line to make sure you can afford to place the orders. Remember, just because you have favorable terms doesn’t mean you should order more. Each month a bill will be due and you need to ensure you have the revenue to pay it. You should also look at seasonality to account for higher and lower sales months, to keep you from having too much or little. Another consideration is separating it by category. Once the total is identified, you should review each category and set a number for each. Once completed, manage your inventory. Do regular counts. These are sometimes referred to as cycle counts. Assign someone to spot check troublesome categories to make sure you’re staying on top of your numbers.

Aging inventory Looking for an easy way to increase your open to buy? Review your aging inventory. If it’s collecting dust, it’s probably costing you money. Have a sale, move it to eBay (brand permitting), or write it off. This will provide more spendable cash to support your inventory goals. And it cleans up the stockroom, as well.

Smooth sailing ahead Regardless of how you complete the task, knowing your inventory and managing it better will lead to an improved experience for you, your business and your customer.


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