9 minute read

What's Happening: The Starting Line

Fulfilling educational sessions and new beginnings in Orlando marked the return to in-person KnowledgeFest events, while the industry anticipates a transformative year ahead.


Over half of all attendees at KnowledgeFest Orlando, June 25-27, reported that it was their very first time attending, according to a survey by Mobile Electronics Association. Orlando—known as “the City Beautiful”—hosted the debut KnowledgeFest, and those hailing from Florida were excited to have the show in their own “backyard.”

Dave Elkin of DOW Technologies said it was a short drive from the company’s corporate headquarters in Tampa. “We decided to tell our ‘local’ story [to attendees],” he said, adding, “It was so exciting to look around the booth and see all the vehicles owned by DOW employees.” After all, he added, the company’s motto “‘We are Technology’ is something we live by every day.”

MMats Pro Audio, which manufactures most of its audio equipment in Jupiter, Fla., made the drive to Orlando for KnowledgeFest. For regional sales manager Mike Hall, Friday’s show floor experience was most memorable, with plenty of interaction with knowledgeable dealers. Hall said the past year has been a very busy one for the company, adding that MMats sold in the first three months of the year what would’ve normally taken nine months to sell.

“This was our third national event of the year,” he added. “While some might say attendance was low, we felt like those who did attend were very important to our success.”

KnowledgeFest as a Return to In-Person Networking

Professionals from across the industry agreed that getting to see everyone in person again was a highlight of the show. Elkin said DOW Technologies had very positive interactions with key dealers and core vendors, adding, “Everyone has been through a lot over the past 16 months. To be able to finally get back together with so many familiar faces was fantastic.”

He gave a nod to his company’s sales team, underscoring the importance of building value and deepening relationships, and said he feels the industry will begin to see higher levels of attendance at industry events in the coming year.

“I think some folks were just too busy, so they couldn’t get out yet, but I also think there were dealers who wanted to see how this show went before committing or planning to attend themselves,” he said, agreeing with Hall that although attendance seemed light, they were able to visit with a lot of dealers.

One of the challenges, though, is encouraging people to revisit the booth over the three-day period. “I saw several dealers on Friday evening and then didn’t see them again. As an exhibitor, I’d like to identify a way to encourage them to visit the DOW Technologies booth all three days,

maybe by offering something fun to participate in—who knows? We’ll have to see what the team comes up with for Dallas.”

Overall, Hall added that feels that any trepidation within the industry in relation to COVID-19 has passed, and he thinks events will only continue to grow through 2021 as more and more people attend. “Our industry has been extremely fortunate with the amount of sales throughout this pandemic,” he said, adding, “I personally think most of the forward-thinking businesses will continue to ‘ride the wave.’”

Miguel Vega, technician and fabricator at Titan Motoring, said things at work have continued to be very busy for him and his team. “We are blessed,” he said, adding, “I still have a job.”

Education Sessions in Spanish Continue in Orlando

Vega said the return to in-person KnowledgeFest classes was a great experience for him, adding that some people might not have attended simply because it’s a busy season. “All the trainings and seminars were really informative,” he added, although Vega did notice some attendees seemed confused about where to find certain classes. He hopes that more of an emphasis will be placed on the Spanish classes in the future.

“The Spanish trainings were too far to the end of the hall,” he said. “Mainly, it’s a matter of advertising those classes a bit more. The Hispanic community isn’t as informed. I think they are behind. I try to let people know about what’s going on and who’s teaching. If there’s a way we can inform the community a bit more, I think we’ll be [better off].”

Vega encouraged Hispanic 12-volt professionals to join his Facebook group, called Latin Fab. “We’re trying to keep the Latin community together and bring more information to the people who don’t necessarily know what’s out there,” he explained. “I share a lot of information on the group when it comes to trainings or even the work I do. I share it on Instagram, but I also post it there.” His goal, he said, is to encourage people to feel more confident about their work, and urge them to share their knowledge with others. “The group is all about helping each other.”

Training and Personal Development Lead the Way Forward

In his class entitled, “We All Have a Choice,” Tomas Keenan of Break Free Academy discussed how COVID-19 impacted his business, stating, “It’s in these moments that we all have a choice in how we react and respond.” He described how his team at Top Class Installations was apprehensive about going to work because of the pandemic.

“In the GPS field, we get called in for a job and our technicians go to the customers’ location to work on the vehicles. I had techs who didn’t want to do that,” he said, adding that while none of this was right or wrong, it was time to make changes.

“The best use of my time was managing my team and bringing on others, so I could do the higher-level stuff. I found myself back in the field as a technician. My partner and I worked hard to get out of that side of the business, but the switch flipped, and all of a sudden, there we were.”

Then people began asking for

Keenan’s guidance on PPP loans, so he learned all he could about it in order to provide the best information. Still, he said, it’s important to acknowledge that one person never knows everything, and then to leverage the knowledge of others who know more.

Keenan said it’s important to be on the lookout for what he called “the force of average,” because it comes when it’s least expected. “For example, you’re doing pretty good and then all of a sudden someone wrecks a car and it costs you a lot of money. That’s the force of average. For every action, there’s a reaction,” he explained.

During COVID-19, he said he spent a lot of time on the couch. “I got tired of that.” Seeing that others were experiencing success despite the pandemic, he decided it was time for a reset and took on the 75 Hard Challenge.

For 75 days, participants workout twice per day for 45 minutes each, drink a gallon of water a day, take a progress photo each day and read 10 pages of a self-improvement book. If a participant fails or forgets to do something, it’s back to the beginning.

“This is about you not lying to yourself,” Keenan explained, adding that he likens the changes to an iceberg. “The physical changes are the top of the iceberg. The bottom half is the mental change. You get stronger. That’s the biggest outcome. You can’t make excuses. I had a choice: I could settle for average, which goes against my core value. Or I could make massive changes.”

To become the best version of yourself, he added, you also have to surround yourself with the right people. Networking at industry events is a good start.

“You’re Better Because You’re Here”

Vega said there’s always new information to absorb in trainings, and he’s especially interested in business management courses. One of his favorites in Orlando was “Switching Gears From Spinning Wheels,” presented by Salim Kassouf of Boston Federal Financial.

For his part, Vega is trying to stay positive. He also recently attended the MSC training in Arizona, and said he learned a lot that he’ll be implementing at work. In the class, he said, the boiling point of water was used as an example: “It will get to 211 degrees, but it isn’t boiling until 212 degrees. [What this means is] a little extra of whatever you do will make a difference, even if you don’t see it right away,” he explained. “Making that extra effort will make me more confident in whatever I do.”

At the end of one of his education sessions in Orlando, sales trainer Vincent DeStefano said, “You are better because you’re here.” He went on to say that he studied philosophy in college. “The more I studied, the more I saw how little I know.” Attending trainings and pursuing education, he said, is about recognizing your own deficiencies.

DeStefano remembered the beginnings of KnowledgeFest over 25 years ago, adding that retailers got together to share problems and possible solutions. “They solved those problems collectively, and it’s developed into this event,” he said, going on to encourage attendees to support the Mobile Electronics Association—and especially the vendors exhibiting on the show floor.

Sony Announces the Return of Mobile ES

On Friday at the show, Sony Car Audio hosted a lunch and press announcement to unveil the next Mobile ES product. Chris Cook, president of MEA, introduced the Sony team, and Rick Kojan provided the historical backdrop of the iconic line. [Read this month’s Learning From Leaders, which features his career with Sony.]

Kojan noted that isn’t easy to reinvent a legendary brand, but with Mobile ES— which stands for Elevated Standard—the goal is to make it better than ever, according to the team. This past May fifth, Sony announced five new Mobile ES speaker SKUs.

Kojan then introduced Kris Bulla, Sony’s national product trainer, who showed off the newest product in the Mobile ES line: The XAV-9500ES. The head unit boasts wireless capability for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, iDatalink Maestro and two customizable backgrounds. The Sony team invited attendees to visit the booth on the show floor and enjoy a product demonstration in the Lexus NX.

“This has legacy in the industry. Even people who haven’t been in the industry long enough to have sold it, have heard about it,” Bulla said. “That’s why it’s back, and we have indeed elevated the standard.”

Anthony Tozzi of Sony Car Audio stated the head unit should be coming out in November, with more products on the way from Mobile ES.