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May 2021

me-mag.com

After choosing a destination and plotting a course, DES of Wilmington continues to build trust among its client base and increase revenue year after year.

KnowledgeFest Roundtable

PLUS:

What’s the forecast? Keynote panelists at KnowledgeFest West talk industry trends

Full Circle: Sales experts discuss 5 keys to closing the sale

Going With the Flow: Steve Witt’s entrance into 12-volt was happenstance, while intentional strategizing led him forward


Volume 53 Issue 4

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

12

mobile electronics association

Chris Cook, President 978.645.6434 • chrisc@mobile-electronics.com

FEATURES

ARTICLES

12// What’s Happening: Future Forecast

16 Retail News

Richard Basler, Dir. Technology Solutions 978.645.6449 • richb@mobile-electronics.com

How can retailers stay ahead of the game? Industry professionals discussed recent trends, store culture and connecting with consumers during KnowledgeFestWest.Live.

54 Installs

Tony Frangiosa, Chairman of the Board, MEA

58 From the President

Ad Index

26// Real World Retail: The New Horizon

DEPARTMENTS

After switching its main focus from dealership to retail about two years ago, DES of Wilmington, Inc. continues to expand its service offerings and skillsets to ensure longevity.

40// Learning From Leaders: Rolling With It

4 Editor’s Forum 6 Feedback ON THE COVER:

An acoustical engineering degree and a chance meeting set Steve Witt’s serendipitous career in perpetual motion.

44// Strategy & Tactics: Shaping the Future

Tomas Keenan, COO of Break Free Academy, shares his insights and advice on how retailers can advance both personally and professionally while avoiding burnout.

50// Tech Today: The Connected World

In this month’s installment, we talk vehicle safety technology with Ted Cardenas of Pioneer Electronics.

2  Mobile Electronics May 2021

Cover Design: Ana Ramirez For DES of Wilmington, Inc., finding the retail groove took a complete reset as owner Branden Shuler worked to recreate processes and procedures that would result in the best possible customer experience. The result? Massive growth, and the certainty that varied skillsets and service offerings will keep DES going for the long-term

Alpine Electronics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 AudioControl. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 DD Audio. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 MEA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 Escort. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Firstech - Compustar. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Harman - JBL. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 InstallerNet. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 JVC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Kenwood. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Kicker. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 KnowledgeFest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 KnowledgeFest - Orlando . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 MECP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Metra Electronics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Orca - Focal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Sirius XM. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Sony. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 SounDigital . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38,39 Vais Technology. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 Vision Zero. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Voxx Electronics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35


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EDITOR’S FORUM

JOIN US IN ORLANDO, JUNE 25TH TO 27TH FOR NETWORKING, DISCOVERY AND JUST PLAIN FUN! IF YOU MISS IT, REMEMBER YOU’LL HAVE TWO MORE CHANCES THIS YEAR.

FACE TO FACE

IT’S TIME TO REOPEN KNOWLEDGEFEST.

C

M

The sign on the door says we’re open for business. As schools, amusement parks, and, yes, trade shows and conferences reopen, we are excited to begin returning to normal. This June 25th KnowledgeFest will be starting up again in Orlando, Florida. This will be our first event in the Sunshine State. At the time of the event, it will have been over 15 months since we were able to meet in person back in Long Beach, California in February of 2020. It has been a long, hard road for many of us, and for a myriad of reasons. Learning from the challenges of the past year As an association, we better understand key facets of the industry and how best to provide assistance in times of uncertainty. I can vividly remember the last in-person events I took part in. In February 2020, I was in Germany as a presenter at the Car Media Convention (CMC). In March, I was in the United States as an exhibitor, and I also had the privilege of presenting the keynote at the GoFast Solutions Mobile Expo. Each was at the very beginning of the pandemic. During the pandemic, as an association, we pivoted to provide needed resourse to our members to help them navigate the new rules and to continue to do business. Here’s what to expect at KnowledgeFest Orlando Since so many on social media have been wondering what to expect, I thought it would be a good idea to provide perspective on what we’re planning for KnowledgeFest Orlando. The first question: “Do we have to wear masks?” At the time of this writing, the answer is yes—you will have to wear a mask on the trade show floor and in the education and training sessions. While Florida is a mask-free state, we are taking an abundance of caution knowing that many will be traveling from all

4  Mobile Electronics May 2021

over the country. Should guidance change prior to the event, we’ll comply with the prevailing wisdom from federal, state and local ordinances. That said, much of the time you’re in Florida, mask-wearing will be up to your individual preference. Our goal is to provide the highest level of safety for you as the attendee. All the information you need can be found at KnowledgeFest.org/register, then look for “[Click Here] for information on what to expect at the Orlando Event.” One very important thing to expect is the best live learning experience in the industry and a lot of fun networking with exhibitors and others in the industry. What’s new? This event will be a bit different from past events. First, it’s in Orlando! It’s a great place to take the family for vacation and to connect face-to-face with friends. As an industry, we have a history of being able to adapt to new things. This will be a new thing for many of you who have not attended a KnowledgeFest event. To date, Orlando has been our most anticipated event. We will have an excellent line-up of presenters for both the education sessions and the manufacturer trainings. Expect to come home from the event with knowledge and wisdom that will improve your business. Join us in June If you are in the mobile electronics industry, take this as an open invitation to join us in Orlando, June 25th to 27th for networking, discovery and just plain fun! If you miss it, remember you’ll have two more chances this year. One in Dallas, August 27th to 29th and the other in Indianapolis, October 8th to 10th. Regardless of the event, I look forward to seeing everyone together again!

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 feedback

Infinite Opportunity At KnowledgeFestWest.Live in March, industry experts shared insights on closing sales by offering packages and experiences to clients.

6  Mobile Electronics May 2021

“What they come in for is what they’re getting—not necessarily what they ask for, but what they come in for is what we’re giving them. And we do that with open-ended questions. When you have a process, it makes it that much easier. You and your team should be able to work to cover the weaknesses and be stronger together.” Jayson Cook, Columbus Car Audio & Accessories, Columbus, Ohio “[You have to] understand the difference between a market opportunity and a sales opportunity. Understanding this can mean the difference between being hugely profitable and focused, and not being profitable or focused. [Years ago I learned] a sale opportunity is something you can sell once. A market opportunity is something you can sell again and again and again. Salespeople know what they can sell if they have it today, but if you ask them what they can sell if they had it in two years, you’re putting them in a different position. Market opportunity is identifying an opportunity to build

something or make something available, whether it’s a product or a service, that people will discover over and over again, and they’ll buy it. A lot of work goes into determining what is a market opportunity and what is a sales opportunity.” Andy Wehmeyer, “Marketing 201: The Difference Between a Sales Opportunity and a Market Opportunity and Why This Matters,” Audiofrog, Inc. “You don’t sell what it is, but you sell what it does. You don’t sell the components separately—head unit, speakers—you sell the package as a collective and explain how it achieves the goal the customer wants. You do this in a very specific direction. Educate the customer on how the package works front to back. What should be in the package? Everything they need. They will tell you what they need as you go through the process. Vincent DeStefano, “Selling Back to Front: 5 Tools to Create a Complete Sale,” presented at KnowledgeFestWest.Live, DeStefano & Associates LLC


 stats

Mobile Electronics Industry Retail Sales Report

The Mobile Electronics Association reports specialty retailer performance for the first quarter of 2021 as compared to 2019. Here are the findings.

Key Observations • The average dollars per transaction has increased 5% from January to March. • The first three (3) months of the year saw double-digit percentage increases. • The first three (3) months of the year saw decreases in inventory availability with head units leading the shortages. • After all this, despite inventory shortages, the industry is still experiencing record growth that is poised to continue for 2021. Data owned and provided by the Mobile Electronics Association.

8  Mobile Electronics May 2021


TM

SAVE THE DATES FOR 2021

June 25-27

Orlando, FL

August 27-29

Dallas, TX

October 8-10

Indianapolis, IN Produced by TM

mobile electronics association

Register Today Not an MEA member?

Join today at mobile-electronics.com  9


 helpful stuff

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SITE TO SEE: Laconia Motorcycle Week, June 12-20, 2021 LACONIAMCWEEK.COM/HISTORY-OF-THE-RALLY

As enthusiast shows begin to get back on schedule, there are some classics already set for summer—like Laconia Motorcycle Week, which holds the distinction as the Oldest National Motorcycle Rally! Often mentioned with the same regard as Daytona and Sturgis, Laconia draws over a million riders and motorcycle enthusiasts every year. Laconia’s roots reach back to 1916 at a time when the Gypsy Tour gathered for several days at Weirs Beach on the southern shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. Each year, typically around the same summer weekend, riders would travel long distances, sleep in tents and swap stories around campfires. The legacy continues this June.

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 What’s Happening

Future Forecast

How can retailers stay ahead of the game? Industry professionals discussed recent trends, store culture and connecting with consumers during KnowledgeFestWest.Live. WORDS BY ROSA SOPHIA

Keynote addresses at KnowledgeFest have always focused on current events, issues and trends. This year, although two events were held entirely online, each keynote provided industry perspectives and useful advice for business owners and other professionals to take and apply to their shops. During the Friday keynote for KnowledgeFestWest.Live, Dave Elkin of DOW Technologies shared how the company has responded to product shortages and challenges within the past year that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Elkin advised listeners to focus on what they are able to control instead of what they can’t. Working on the business, he said, involves taking a step back and perceiving it from the eyes of the customer. While economic impacts and difficulties in the market certainly affect businesses,

12  Mobile Electronics May 2021

retailers can still work to improve and make positive change. During Sunday’s keynote address—the CMA Live KnowledgeFest Roundtable hosted by Ben Woo—Chris Cook, president of MEA, said his biggest concern are the shops currently struggling to get better. “If you can’t market yourself, you won’t be successful as a retailer or as a human being. I don’t worry about businesses like Five Star Car Stereo or Traffic Jams Motorsports—I worry about the 1.5- to two-star stores that are trying to improve,” he said, adding, “What keeps me up at night are the retailers who can be better…but choose not to be.” Incorporating the ADAS Category During the past year, experts in the industry have continued to recommend shops expand into ADAS (Advanced

Driver Assistance Systems). During Saturday’s keynote address, “Aftermarket Safety: Should You Dabble or Dive Deep?”, Cook interviewed Steve Witt of Driver Safety Technology. Witt noted that one of the biggest things retailers should keep in mind is that many consumers still don’t know they can incorporate these technologies into their vehicles. Because of this, Witt said, “I want to encourage the retailers who are listening to look at how you could become the experts in your market.” The first step, he said, is to become very intentional and build a strategy. “Start to create that culture and create that awareness.” Stores, he added, must let customers know they can acquire blind spot detection from them, blind spot cameras and lane departure, to name a few technologies. “Start the promotion even just locally,” he said, “and that will start to build the awareness.” He explained that such promotions will “dovetail” with big automakers’ efforts, as well as online advertising and content marketing focused on these products. Of course, technicians need to know how to install these technologies, and Cook asked Witt if he felt that educating installers would be a hurdle to overcome. Learning how to work with these technologies, Witt explained, is no different than applying oneself to learning anything else new in the industry. “Think about 25 years ago when highend amplifier and speaker manufacturers said there’s big business in subwoofers,” he said. “What did we do? We had to learn the fabrication and principles of


Future Forecast

building a good subwoofer box. We had to understand it. The safety category is the same. It’s a learning curve, but once you’re over that learning curve, you can make these routine installs in the bay and profit greatly from being an expert in the market.” Witt added that he feels resources and education are largely the responsibility of the suppliers. DST has been working with Kris Bulla and MECP to help develop and make available some base-level knowledge, he added. “We will have a very intensive training and certification program. Without that, retailers will struggle and customers will be disappointed.” Additionally, selling ADAS technologies is a bit different, he said. Salespeople who focus on car audio are accustomed to selling products “to make people happy and make driving joyful,” Witt noted, adding that the safety category requires retailers to look at their selling strategies and even their store culture. The technology makes a vehicle safer to operate, whether it’s a family vehicle used by teenagers or adults, he said. “It’ll also help keep insurance premiums lower because there will be less accidents. The overall insurance market will be more friendly. We even have some insurance companies now offering incentives with some of this technology.” These focal

points, Witt added, means the selling strategy is a bit different because the reasons to purchase are different. At KnowledgeFestWest.Live, DST presented a “soft launch” of the new Omni View 360 Surround View Camera System, according to Witt, who invited listeners to visit www.driversafetytech.com and fill out the contact page to receive more information from the company. Adapting to the Year’s Challenges To kick off Sunday’s KnowledgeFest Roundtable, Ben Woo introduced listeners to the panelists: Chris Cook, president of MEA; Dean Beyett of Five Star Car Stereo in Clearwater, Fla.; Jeff Smith, the director of training and events for AAMP Global; and Ron Venable, general manager of Traffic Jams Motorsports in Buford, Ga. The panel discussed how difficulties resulting from COVID-19 forced the industry to adjust, and Cook noted the biggest adjustment for the Mobile Electronics Association: “We’re sitting here because of an adjustment we had to make, and that’s to go virtual,” he said. “We knew it was important to stay in front of retailers.” Additionally, MEA helped early on by providing resources to retailers (www. meahelp.com), including assistance with PPP loans, and business and crisis

management. “We had to look inside and say, ‘What should we do?’ I’ll be the first to say I don’t like this virtual format, but because the only other option is nothing, it’s great to have,” Cook added. Despite everything, the industry has adapted and found ways to connect. “We did what we had to do. This time, we put together an event for folks on the west coast. After the first KnowledgeFest.Live, they said they wanted one held on their time zone.” He noted MEA is looking forward to being in-person in the future on the west coast for KnowledgeFest Long Beach. According to Jeff Smith, product backorders and reaching core customers with important information have been key challenges during the previous year for AAMP Global. However, the company adapted by focusing on online training formats and creating a library of resources for dealers. He added that “it’s easier for me to get feedback from a dealer one-on-one, versus doing big broadcast trainings.” During one-on-one trainings, Smith noted dealers are more likely to feel comfortable asking questions they might refrain from asking during a larger training session. From a retailer standpoint, Ron Venable also underscored the difficulty

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 What’s Happening with inventory. Fortunately, Traffic Jams Motorsports began the year with plenty of stock. Venable said eventually they began to run low. “We’ve been busier than ever before,” he added. “You have the business, but if you don’t have the product, it gets hard to finish projects. It affected the way we buy. The minute you hear someone has the product you need, you try to buy as much of it as you can.” Woo underscored how everyone in the industry has had to pivot without hesitation, to keep going in the hopes these difficulties would pass. Beyett added that despite issues resulting from COVID-19, Five Star Car Stereo’s social media platform has been gaining traction and attracting even more attention from consumers. “A lot of people are consuming our content,” he said, noting that with weekend car shows and other events on hold, car audio aficionados continued expressing interest. “They’re going to where it’s at—and right now it’s on the Internet.” Embracing Positive Store Culture Having a solid foundation in place will help a retailer overcome difficulties, including those faced this past year. Five Star Car Stereo and Traffic Jams Motorsports have worked to remain in touch with customers. “You have to keep an interest,” Venable said. “When we work on a car, we post pictures and give clients updates. This engages them more and they enjoy the updates, even if it’s something you’re doing in one day.” When the shop posts the updates on social media, the client gets to see the post and so does everyone else, Venable added. “Content is king. It’s about the projects and the work, whether it’s window tint, a tire rotation, or the coolest audio system. You have to post it so someone can see it.” Other panelists agreed staying on top of social media has to be part of the protocol and the business’s strategy to stay connected. Five Star Car Stereo has recently refocused on a show presented on Instagram called “Five Minutes with Five Star,” which Beyett said often

14  Mobile Electronics May 2021

KnowledgeFest Responds to Industry Feedback

During the first KnowledgeFest.Live, Mobile Electronics Association offered 65 hours of content over three days. Chris Cook, president of MEA, noted during a KnowledgeFestWest.Live keynote address that this amount proved becomes an update for a client on the progress of their project. “We’ll show what we’ve done on the car in the install bay, and the customer will have already watched the video on Instagram,” he explained. When it comes to store culture, Beyett said Five Star has a small team, which means everyone has to be on the same page. The goal is always to ensure every customer has the best possible experience. For Smith and AAMP Global, brand culture is much more involved. “Everything has to work in unison and everyone has to be rolling in the same direction,” Smith said. “If a product launches and we don’t get information out to retailers, they won’t know a solution is available for the customer, and it becomes a fail on our end.” The entire team needs to work together in order to reach the end user, and help the retailer know how to educate their employees to properly sell a product, Smith explained. On the retailer side, Venable said “everyone has to be well-versed in what it takes to be a Traffic Jams team member.” This past year, Traffic Jams Motorsports was the recipient of the Store Culture Award from Mobile Electronics magazine.

to be too much at one time. “A lot of people went back and watched presentations after the fact,” he said. “Being able to watch them again and use these trainings as a resource is great.” The presentations will continue to be archived to provide a central location for education, he noted. The second online KnowledgeFest provided about 45 hours of education, instead. “We looked for the best way to deliver the content. This is just a different dynamic for learning,” he said, adding, “I’m looking forward to the next in-person KnowledgeFest event.” “When I’m trying to build a brand, it’s easier when someone is present who cares about the brand and store as much as I do,” he said. “You can’t have a brand or a store with high expectations and not mean it. The Store Culture Award was very exciting for us because we do believe our brand and culture is different from anyone else’s, and we put a lot of effort into it.” Venable added that the first time the store pursued an industry award, they lost, but “it fueled the fire and made us better.” The panelists agreed that without a healthy, positive store culture, the culture will become toxic for the business. Cook said the aim of KnowledgeFest is to get industry experts—and those who’ve harnessed positive store culture—to teach what they know and share their information and resources to improve the industry as a whole. “Every retailer, every businessperson and every manufacturer needs to do what’s best so customers are impressed with the industry and want to spend more money with us,” Cook said, adding, “Communication is important to developing good store culture. Take time to communicate. It’s a relationship between you and your employees that your customers will see.”


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 retail news

Experts Discuss the Foundations of Closing a Sale WORDS BY ROSA SOPHIA

“Five Things to Do in Every Sale and Why” was one of the last workshops presented at KnowledgeFestWest.Live, led by Jayson Cook of Columbus Car Audio & Accessories, Tony Dehnke of 12v.Biz and Elias Ventura of SounDigital USA. They began by stating that while each of them had been taught differently, their individual processes remain similar when it comes to sales techniques. The following five aspects of the sale are most important, according to the three of them: Attitude, impressions and greetings, going out to the vehicle, offering a tour of the shop and asking for the sale. “There’s no right or wrong,” Ventura said. “We make it our own.” The presenters agreed that it’s important to get a good night’s sleep, have a morning routine and come in at least a half an hour before customers begin arriving. Doing a pre-check is essential, they said, adding that this half-hour in the morning will give the salesperson or store owner time to turn on displays, clean up the area, check to see if inventory needs to be ordered, check in with the staff and more.

16  Mobile Electronics May 2021

Even if the shop is extremely busy, Cook said it’s important to acknowledge everyone who walks in—even if that means only offering a wave or a nod. “Try to stay upbeat and positive. When I answer the phone with a smile, it always seems to go better,” he said, adding that keeping the outside of the business looking neat and tidy is just as important as tending to the inside. “Little things go a long way and really help your clients to know what to expect.” Ventura said showing enthusiasm will create a long-lasting first impression. “If you’re slouching or being negative, it’ll show. But if you’re excited, the customer will be, too,” he explained. It’s important to take note of a customer’s attitude, too, according to Dehnke. “Take a look at their demeanor. Do they look upset? This will change how you engage and interact with them,” he said. “You may need to shift gears and prioritize them, then triage the situation after they vent.” It’s okay to ask the client you’re already with if they would permit you to deal with the other customer, as well. “You usually get an affirmative,” Dehnke

added. “Make sure customers are comfortable. Offer them a drink while they’re waiting. Give them something to do or look at, like a display board. If your hands are full, always give them a nod if you can’t wave.” Complimenting the customer’s car allows the salesperson to break the ice, according to Ventura, who added that it’s best to ask as many questions as possible while looking at the car. “You will get better information because they are comfortable with their vehicle,” he explained. If the customer is looking for better sound, Cook recommended listening to the stereo at the volume the customer prefers, with the music they prefer. A customer may think they need new speakers, when what they actually need is a new subwoofer. Experiencing the vehicle with them will help lead the salesperson to what the customer really needs. Get as much information as possible, Dehnke said. “Pop the hood, especially if you’re in a remote start area. If you find out their battery hasn’t been replaced in five years, the terminals are corroded or the engine is dirty, it tells you something about the customer’s level of concern,” he added. “The next step is to sell them on you and your store. This is to get them to understand why they need to choose you as their expert for their audio system, and why they need to choose your shop. Show off your specialty tools. Talk about the cool builds you’ve done. Introduce them to the staff.” Ventura said he sees demos as an opportunity to “show and tell. Get excited for them and they can vibe with that. Involve them in the demo. The


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 retail news

WHO’S WHO?

Industry faces

Graeme Wyatt Impact Tint and Audio City: Tyler, Texas Years of Industry Experience: 15 Hobbies: Woodworking and guns What You’re Really Good At: Spending money on tools.

Thomas Manegre

demo doesn’t have to just be about product, but about your store and your installers.” Cook, Ventura and Dehnke all agreed the most crucial part is asking for the sale. “Early in my career, I never asked because I had this huge fear of rejection,” Ventura said, adding that a salesperson can take a stealthier approach, such as, “By the way, how soon are you looking to get this done? Would you like to go over scheduling options? Ask investigative questions. Be a sales detective. You have to ask or you won’t get the sale.” Stop the anxiety, he added. “Check everything again. Give yourself a demo when the installation is done. Then go get the customer. Be excited, be enthusiastic, show them how everything works and how you did it, and confirm they are satisfied,” he said, noting, “Make sure you give them a genuine thank-you.” While Cook said he encourages top-down selling, he also underscored the fact that every salesperson handles things differently. “Take what you like,” he said, “and make it work for you.”

18  Mobile Electronics May 2021

Dealer Source LTD. City: San Antonio, Texas Years of Industry Experience: 40 Hobbies: Electronics What you’re really good at: Inventory control

Kimberly Trainer Car-Tunes, Inc. City: Greenville, Miss. Years of Industry Experience: 20 Hobbies: Cooking


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 hot sellers

The second online-only KnowledgeFest took place in March, where manufacturers offered solutions for both end-users and the retailers who serve them.

20  Mobile Electronics May 2021


SRK-RAM13H Integrated Kit for RAM Trucks This is the latest RadioPRO Advanced RAM truck kit from PAC, enabling installers to replace a RAM factory radio with the HEIGH10 while retaining OEM features. It offers vehicle-to-radio connectivity, and the ability to view and adjust vehicle information through the customized screen, including climate controls, performance gauges, tire pressures and more. This product is flush-mounted for seamless installation and OEM look-and-feel. Coming this Spring for 2013-2018 RAM trucks, plus 2019 “Classic” body style.

Kingpin University CREATE Effortless Finish Filler This product was designed to be the cornerstone for all fabrication products which require filler to smoothly integrate from one panel to another. Upon application, CREATE will lay smooth and allow for an effortless finish. This is a premium lightweight filler and easy to sand. Hardener is sold separately. CREATE is available on the Kingpin University website.

Kingpin University Extra Strength Template Tape This template tape is designed to be extra-strong, and is a must for delicate materials, small templates, or anything that needs to stay put. The template tape is available on the Kingpin University website.

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 hot sellers AudioControl LC-5.1300 Multi-Channel Amplifier with AccuBASS® This amplifier features eight active speaker level inputs and six line level inputs. It also offers intuitive setup controls for high-pass, band-pass and low-pass filters, automatic and selectable signal summing, and AccuBASS. This product can be integrated seamlessly with an OEM or aftermarket sound system. The optional ACR-1 remote for level control can also be added. Race Sport Lighting V2 DRIVE Series LED Headlights and Fog Lights This is the latest kit for motorcycles, ATVs, racing bikes, off-road vehicles and automotive applications. The kit doesn’t contain a driver, but comes with an optional CAN bus decoder to interface with CAN bus functional vehicles. The bulb sizes are designed to eliminate fitment issues from oversized aftermarket bulbs. This product also offers high light output, increasing safety during nighttime driving. ESCORT Redline 360c Portable Radar Detector This portable radar detector offers unprecedented detection range and accuracy against false alerts, with a powerful processor that provides rapid response. Three hundred and sixty-degree directional awareness gives the driver an all-around protective shield.

Metra Saddle Tramp Motorcycle RGB LED Lights and Accessories BC-RGB-K1 The new RGB LED strip light kit for Harley-Davidson offers plug-and-play connections. The kits are prewired with trigger controls, and easily customizable. It is also app-controlled and features water-tight connectors.

22  Mobile Electronics May 2021


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 hot sellers

The 12v.Biz Toolbox Meant to offer tools and support to the 12-volt retailer, the 12v.Biz Toolbox gives users a calendar that sends SMS reminders, digital checklists, a place to keep vehicle photos, and keeps the staff on the same page with digital work orders. The toolbox can be accessed from a desktop computer, mobile device or tablet. Learn more at www.12v.biz.

Compustar PRO T13 Pro 2-Way RFX Bundle w/ LTE Module This product is USB rechargeable, offering trunk release, remote start and keyless entry. It is water resistant and has two-way alarm alerts. New: HandsFree Proximity Unlock. Compustar PRO T13 and PRO R5 both feature a built-in proximity sensor which automatically unlocks the doors when the user approaches the vehicle.

Sony XM-GS6DSP 6-Channel Amplifier with DSP and Bluetooth This amplifier will boost the sound of a factory car stereo without altering the dashboard’s appearance. It also offers onboard crossover and bandpass filters. Class D amplifier technology gives you high power output from a small chassis. It’s space-efficient and has built-in signal processing.

Audiofrog GS25 Full-Range Speaker This speaker offers a direct fit in many Toyota and GM vehicles, and has a responsive polypropylene cone with high internal damping for smoother frequency response. Audiofrog also uses a oneinch copper voice coil to enhance power handling. This can be used with active crossovers (sold separately) in a two- or three-way system, or it can stand alone in a multi-channel setup. Directed DS4 T-Harness Solutions These T-harnesses drastically reduce the time spent on an install, and offer the most coverage for compatible vehicles. While aiding on the installation side, consumers also benefit by gaining an easy upgrade to Viper SmartStart and other security features, plus Viper smartphone contro

24  Mobile Electronics May 2021


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real world RETAIL

The New Horizon After switching its main focus from dealership to retail about two years ago, DES of Wilmington, Inc. continues to expand its service offerings and skillsets to ensure longevity. WORDS BY ROSA SOPHIA

26  Mobile Electronics May 2021


THE NEW HORIZON

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real world RETAIL

FAST FACTS Main Location:

Wilmington, North Carolina Number of Locations:

ONE Square Footage:

6,000 Type:

Traditional Retail Number of Employees:

NINE MAIN FOCUS 60% Car Audio 30% UPHOLSTERY 10% ACCESSORIES

KEY STAFF

Altering business strategy and focus sparked fast-paced growth, leading to added team members and a larger building with more space to work.

W

hen Branden Shuler first entered the industry, much of his focus was on dealership work. Shuler partnered with DES of Wilmington, Inc.—then Dealer Electronic Services—in Wilmington, NC in 2004, primarily serving local dealerships. In 2012, he bought the company, and in 2018 rebranded it as Driving Enhanced Solutions to focus on the retail market. Attending classes at KnowledgeFest opened his mind to retail possibilities, and Shuler credits much of his progress to learning from industry leaders. After he met the former owner of Certified Autosound, Chris Cope, at KnowledgeFest, Shuler hired Cope as a consultant. Ever since implementing his recommendations, Shuler said DES has changed drastically.

28  Mobile Electronics May 2021

Together, they took a closer look at every aspect of the business, resulting in changes in billing management, invoicing, receiving, the install bay and more. “Ever since then, profit margins have been higher. We’ve generated a lot more business from social media. The past two years, we’ve been firm on retail. We still do some dealership work,” Shuler said, adding that about 30 percent of the business’s revenue comes from dealerships, while about 70 percent is retail. The switch in focus has led to fast growth. While most of the shop’s projects involve car audio, upholstery is also one of its specialties. Shuler said the team even reupholstered two private planes for a client. A lot of recent business has been centered around head units, speakers and amps, focused more on the car rather

Owner: BRANDEN SHULER STORE MANAGER: Justice McFall ADMINISTRATIVE: Christine Shuler and Kristin Bouldin LEAD TECHNICIAN: Joshua Thaxton TECHNICIANS: Jose Resendiz, Marcus Darden, Kevin Moffitt, Dave Agatone

than the marine sector. Eventually, DES hopes to expand into a second location. The business currently has seven installation bays and an in-progress woodshop, as well as a bay for boats and larger vehicles. “We’ve gone from two employees in a 500-square-foot building to nine employees—and multiple drivers—in a 6,000-square-foot building,” he said. “Our sales have continued to increase year over year.” Building Trust Through Education Focusing on retail led to expanding to carry multiple brands, and now DES is pursuing MESA membership, according to Shuler. The showroom currently offers a display with numerous radios, speakers and amplifiers. When it came to taking on more retail,


THE NEW HORIZON

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real world RETAIL

DES of Wilmington Goes the Distance To help raise brand awareness, and to retrieve cars, DES has five vehicles. Shuler said the drivers are typically retirees who are sub-contracted. The drivers come in, pick up a vehicle and an invoice with a pickup location, and they go out, get the vehicle and return with it. They continuously shuffle vehicles back and forth, he added. “About 15 to 20 percent of our business comes from out of town. We have three main drivers who work almost full-time for us,” Shuler said, noting that some vehicles have come from as far as four or five hours away. Generally, jobs from out of town come from dealerships. Sometimes a manager who has relocated to another area will continue trying to use DES. “It doesn’t usually last long because there are generally people closer to them who can do the same job faster,” Shuler explained. “Most of the time, out-of-town jobs are for video navigation or leather. Some of them are individual clients.”

When the business chose to focus on retail, the biggest adjustment involved understanding that customers wanted a variety of product choices. DES conducted market research and talked with potential clients to learn more, so they could provide the best possible experience.

30  Mobile Electronics May 2021

DES will also pick up vehicles for clients who are getting larger custom systems, he said, adding, “We have a family who regularly has vehicles done through us—big Focal systems—and we will pick up their vehicles almost every time from an hour and a half away.”


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VISIT MECP.COM TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PROGRAM, CHECK YOUR CERTIFICATION STATUS, OR TO BEGIN YOUR CERTIFICATION JOURNEY. The Mobile Electronics Certified Professional (MECP) program is the only nationally recognized program of its kind. facebook.com/MobileElectronics  31


real world RETAIL Shuler said the biggest adjustment involved getting accustomed to the kinds of products customers wanted. Dealerships, he explained, were looking for the most affordable products so they could meet client demands quickly and easily. Because DES never dealt with the end-user, refocusing on retail meant doing market research and finding out what the shop’s core demographic wanted. “Dealerships usually wanted a Pioneer CD player, one double-DIN unit and cheap speakers,” Shuler said. DES began by asking current customers about preferences, conducting research and attending KnowledgeFest to learn more. Shuler said he has learned a lot in the past two years. “We’re becoming well-known in town as the place to go, even within a couple of hours’ distance, so we’ve had a lot to learn,” he explained, adding, “We even dove into the Sprinter van category, catering to people who are trying to live off-grid.” The team is “extremely thorough” on every sale. “We start from the top,” he said. “Most customers always want the best, so we begin there and adjust the quote depending on individual requests.” When integration with a factory radio is required, this is explained to the customer prior to installation. If the build is more in-depth—such as a custom system, leather interior or Sprinter build—Shuler said a team member will go over the vehicle with the client and explain where each piece will be installed. “If there are specific placement details regarding what the customer wants, we can note that for the installer. We try to be as specific as possible to avoid any issues that might occur” so the customer receives exactly what they are looking for, he added. Although the business did have a demo vehicle, Shuler said he sold it and that it was almost never utilized. DES clients usually go with whatever he or the store manager, Justice McFall, recommend. “They trust us,” he said. “We also have really nice displays and a cool demo board. Some people want a demonstration, which is always fun. But for the most part, people just trust us and give us a deposit.” After any install, Shuler said a team member will go over everything with the client to ensure they understand how to use the product. “We will set up Bluetooth, help them program stations, go over how the unit works, and if it’s a full system, we let them crank it up and make sure they like how it’s tuned. If they want an adjustment, we will do that,” he explained. “If we’ve installed seat heaters, or anything else like that, we will go over how things function and where the switches are located so we know they are comfortable with everything before they leave.”

32  Mobile Electronics May 2021


THE NEW HORIZON

More bass. Less space.

Introducing the new XS-AW8 compact powered subwoofer.

www.sony.com ©2020 Sony Electronics, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Sony and the Sony logos are trademarks of Sony Corporation. Features and specifications are subject to change without notice.

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real world RETAIL

To increase productivity and efficiency, DES created project bundles in QuickBooks. If a client wants blind spot sensors installed, for example, the salesperson can offer the full cost at the click of a button. Visual aids and clear explanations are also included in emailed quotes.

Audiovox Simplifies Product Returns DES has been selling Audiovox products for over twenty years. Most recently, Smart TV entertainment systems have been popular with parents who want to stream Netflix and Disney+ in their vehicles for their children, while maintaining smartphone control through VOXX Link. Shuler said the most positive aspect of working with Audiovox is that the company makes returns very easy. “Audiovox is the only brand we deal with in 12-volt that doesn’t question us on any return at all,” he explained. “We typically have what we’re installing on our shelves. We’ll install one that doesn’t work, and we’ll send it back and get a credit. Some vendors want pictures, examples, and they want to talk to the tech. This adds time to the return.” On the other hand, he said, Audiovox makes it simple. “We had an issue recently with the seat-back system where the paint was chipping. They could have said no to the return, but they still took it back and replaced it.”

34  Mobile Electronics May 2021


THE NEW HORIZON

PEACE OF MIND,

IN AN UNCERTAIN TIME.

EPA REGISTERED DISINFECTANT EFFECTIVE AGAINST COVID19. Protecting your employees and customers is more important than ever. Auto Oxide® is an EPA registered disinfectant that is safe on all surfaces and assures your customers your store is safe. Make sure you offer something your competition can't.

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ODOR ELIMINATOR Eliminates odors due to smoke, trash, mold, and more without using masking agents.

SOFT SURFACE SANITIZER Kills viruses and odor causing bacteria on all soft surfaces by eliminating the source. Great for upholstery, carpets, mats, and auto interiors.

For more information on Auto Oxide products , contact your local VOXX Representative or visit www.adventproducts.com/auto-oxide

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real world RETAIL

More Strategy Required for Future Car and Boat Shows

If the project was mainly focused on upholstery, a team member will still go out to the vehicle with them to make sure they’re happy. “We enjoy seeing their reaction,” he said. Bundling Products in QuickBooks Simplifies Sales Process Because so many clients come to DES looking for big builds, Shuler responded by creating “bundles” in QuickBooks. He added that the shop is currently seeking a new software to replace QuickBooks, but has yet to find the most ideal program. “We can click ‘blind spot sensors’ and it will prefill the part numbers, labor hours and everything about the job, so when someone comes in we can click on it and have the price ready for them,” Shuler explained. Additionally, the business offers quotes over the phone, but endeavors to weed out potential clients who aren’t a good fit. “We get hundreds of calls a day. There’s almost always someone in the showroom waiting to speak with a salesperson, so we try to make the process more efficient. The faster we can offer a quote, the quicker we can move forward.” Quotes are also emailed to customers, and the team utilizes a place in QuickBooks where photos, visual aids and links can be added. “Whether it’s an accessory or a roof rack, or links to a Kenwood page—whatever the case may be, we include it,” Shuler said, adding, “Sometimes if things seem too expensive, we’ll include a link to another site to show we aren’t pricing too high.”

36  Mobile Electronics May 2021

The business has had to remedy some bad habits, he admitted, such as failing to store customer phone numbers in QuickBooks. “We used to only have paper copies. Well, if you want to do mass emails, you can’t because you have no directory of customers.” Once the team began focusing primarily on retail, he said, “We sat down with someone who explained how important that is, and now we’re building a directory.” When a customer calls in, the staff member answering the phone finds out what they’re looking for, gets their name, number, email address and vehicle information, and begins the quote. “Either myself or Justice complete it,” Shuler said, adding that he’d like to set up more consistent email follow-ups with previous customers. Right now, the shop is too busy to tackle the task. At the time of this writing, DES was booked out for over a month and working through a stack of 30 in-process quotes. Thriving by Diversifying Offerings, Learning New Skillsets The growth of the company trickles down to the employees, according to Shuler, who feels that by expanding into new fields, skills and categories, DES will always be able to ensure positive growth and forward movement. Soon, lead technician Josh Thaxton will be taking on more of a leadership role in the install bay. “He’ll still be installing, but much of his job will focus on assisting the team and training installers to use proper methods,” Shuler said.

In the past, car shows have not been an effective marketing tool for DES, but Shuler admitted it may have been the wrong type of car show. “We did a classic car show, and we don’t really service that demographic,” he explained, adding, “We get almost no calls from most standard marketing campaigns.” The business had planned to participate in a large boat show this past October, but it was canceled due to COVID19. “If we did a boating exhibit, we would go all-in. Right now, it’s a toss-up between marine brands. But if we went in with Wet Sounds, for example, we would use their displays, have a booth and customize it with swag. We did have all this set up for the boat show,” he said, adding, “We plan on doing it in the future.”


THE NEW HORIZON

Content Marketing Builds Brand Recognition About 80 percent of the business’s clientele were drawn in due to word-of-mouth. However, within the past year, Shuler said, “We’ve really begun to put the time in with social media, Google and the website. The return has been very rewarding.”

The decision was made because Shuler’s help is often enlisted in the back, but if he’s with a customer, the installer may have to wait about 20 minutes for him. “Having Josh in place to handle this should speed up productivity,” he added. “That’s our biggest problem right now— trying to make sure everyone is staying productive.” If there are any issues with staff members, Shuler will meet with them one-on-one, adding that he may consider having more formalized team meetings in the future. “We all communicate. If anyone has an issue, they come to me and I handle it.” Throughout the day, he said he frequents the install bay to see how things are going. “I used to be an installer, so I will tell one of our technicians to start over if something doesn’t look right. It happens. If there’s a problem, I’ll work with that technician until the problem is gone.” Dealerships have slowed down in the local area, he said, which he feels is a good indicator of the current status of the economy. To keep DES on track, he’s willing to take on any job and learn how to do it from start to finish. “If an economic decline does happen, we have a lot to target outside of car audio and upholstery.” Recently, the shop has been installing

emergency flashers for the city and state, as well as tracking systems for fleets. “Each van build we do is different, too,” he said, “with hardwood floors and luxury seating. We’re trying to become diverse so we can offer many options to our customers.” Local police and fire departments often inquire about the business’s services, trying to get them to work on their emergency vehicles, according to Shuler. “There isn’t much money in it, but it’s a good fallback if you’re slow,” he added. “We have connections because of working with utility companies in the city and the state, but right now, we don’t need to rely on it.” For businesses that are interested in getting involved in this type of work, Shuler recommended first reaching out to utility companies. That’s where DES began in 2008 during the recession. “We got into emergency lighting. The key is finding the right vendor to teach you, which is what we did,” he explained. “Now, we’re doing this with the city, the state and other companies, but I’m not trying to push the envelope. We’re very busy.” Shuler stressed it’s a fine line: “You don’t want to be too busy. That’s as bad as being not busy enough because you don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver— or else you’ll lose customers.”

Most recently, a client brought in a Sprinter van for a full remodel in three phases. “The owner saw one of our videos,” he said, adding that the first phase of the build will bring in about $4,000. To help fine-tune social media strategy, Modern Media Geeks handles the business’s Facebook page. The biggest issue for Shuler, he said, was in relinquishing control because he wanted “a perfect picture, a perfect tagline and perfect hashtags,” adding, “I wanted to be able to like the post myself.” Shuler maintains the Instagram page on his own and stated that ever since the business started producing videos, they receive a lot of feedback. He also enlisted the help of a videographer. “Our videos are posted on Instagram. We aren’t getting anything from YouTube yet,” he said, noting that he spent $70 to hire someone to create a professional animated logo for the beginning of each video. Videos generally get hundreds of views, and some have gone viral. “Any time I post on Instagram, I also cross-post it on Facebook,” Shuler said, adding, “I get a lot of feedback from people—texts and phone calls.”

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real world RETAIL

1200.4 7.1 in

2

4

P OWE R @ 4Ω: 4 X 13 0 WR M S

P OWE R @ 4Ω: 4 X 19 8 WR M S

P OWE R @ 2Ω: 4 X 19 8 WR M S

P OWE R @ 2Ω: 4 X 3 00 WR M S

P OWE R @ 1Ω: 4 X 3 00 WR M S

P OWE R @ 1Ω: N /A

5.4 in

B R I D G E P OWE R @ 4Ω: 2 X 3 9 6 WR M S

B R I D G E P OWE R @ 4Ω: 2 X 6 00 WR M S

B R I D G E P OWE R @ 2Ω: 2 X 6 00 WR M S

B R I D G E P OWE R @ 2Ω: N /A

O P E R ATI N G VO LTAG E: 8V – 16V

O P E R ATI N G VO LTAG E: 8V – 16V

C U R R E NT D R AW (M U S I C): 49A

C U R R E NT D R AW (M U S I C): 50 A

C U R R E NT D R AW (MA X): 9 9A

C U R R E NT D R AW (MA X): 101A

R E C O M M E N D E D F U S E (M U S I C): 6 0A

R E C O M M E N D E D F U S E (M U S I C): 6 0A

TOTAL E F F I C I E N CY: 84%

TOTAL E F F I C I E N CY: 82%

DAM P I N G FACTO R: 200

DAM P I N G FACTO R: 200

F R E Q U E N CY R E S P O N S E (-3D B): 5H Z – 22K H Z

F R E Q U E N CY R E S P O N S E (-3D B): 5H Z – 22K H Z

S N R: 8 8D B

S N R: 8 8D B

C R O S S OVE R H P F: 45H Z – 850H Z

C R O S S OVE R H P F: 45H Z – 850H Z

C R O S S OVE R LP F: 45H Z – 850H Z

C R O S S OVE R LP F: 45H Z – 850H Z

TH D + N (10% R ATE D P OWE R): 0.1%

TH D + N (10% R ATE D P OWE R): 0.1%

CTA-200 6 P OWE R R ATI N G

SOUNDIGITALUSA SOUNDIGITALUSA 38  Mobile Electronics May 2021

YOUR MUSIC. YOUR POWER.


THE NEW HORIZON

8 00.1

M OTO R CYC LE

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Water Resist ant

2000.4

UT V

Corrosion Protection

O F F-R OAD

Vibration Protection facebook.com/MobileElectronics  39


 Learning From Leaders

Rolling With It An acoustical engineering degree and a chance meeting set Steve Witt’s serendipitous career in perpetual motion. WORDS BY JAMIE SORCHER

40  Mobile Electronics May 2021


Rolling With it Fate can be fickle, but it’s been kind to Steve Witt, who has enjoyed an intriguing career that’s taken him from corporate executive to co-founder of a fleet start-up company called Driver Safety Technology. In high school and again in college, he played in a band, which influenced him to major in acoustical engineering. At the time, he added, his dream was to design recording studios, but his plans took a detour when he helped a Canadian friend move back to Ontario to pursue a law career. As payment for helping him move, Witt’s friend invited him to his parents’ cottage on a lake, and one night they went out to listen to live musicat a bar. There, Witt had a chance meeting with a gentleman who’d been sitting in the far corner of the bar with four Japanese men. “He told me that he and the other men were planning a clandestine business venture,” Witt explained. “I ran into him again an hour later and we started talking and it turned out this man was the executive vice president of ALPs and Motorola in the U.S. The Japanese men at the bar were ALPs executives.” And what were they planning? The formation of Alpine in North America. One thing led to another and Witt gave the gentleman his home phone number. When he returned home to Boston, the executive called him to offer him an interview for a position with Alpine of America and Alpine of Canada. When he was hired, he said, he was about the seventh Alpine employee. “Alpine of America had already opened offices in Torrance, California,” Witt said, adding that while he would go there for some orientation, he was ultimately offered a position with Alpine of Canada, and he accepted. He stayed for 18 years. In 1996, he said, he was moved to the Torrance office where he became a vice president of Alpine of America and stayed with the company for 30 years. Looking back, he noted the entire thing was completely happenstance—“But it was definitely fate.”

it became the second industry to fall. At the time, Witt said, about 80 percent of Alpine’s revenue was OEM. “Car company production was being reduced month by month because no one could get financing to buy a new car, so all of Alpine’s big customers were essentially cutting their forecasts,” he said. Later that year, Alpine’s OEM business was down 50 percent, according to Witt, who’d been with Alpine in an executive role for so long that “there was an optional agreement which I could exercise as an equitable way out.” Witt decided to leave the company. As luck would have it, Witt next connected with a company on the leading edge of OEM integration with Apple and iPod. Dice Electronics was a small southern California-based integration business that developed its own hardware and made a path into Apple. “They developed one of the early integration boxes for an iPod to work with a factory radio, then won an OEM contract with a large Japanese company to do their iPod integration. I still don’t know how they found me, but it looked like a fun venture.” Yet again, though, it was time to pivot. A year later, VOXX Electronics bought

Dice, so the leadership team asked Witt to stay on with the aftermarket team as a vice president. Once again, he said, “Why not?” The decision was made to go with the flow. VOXX brought the company into its organization, and Witt took over as the VP of product and marketing for the vehicle technology group. Driver Safety Technology Enters the Scene When it was time for another change, Witt decided to start his own CMO, Chief Marketing Officer, consulting company. Within two weeks, Witt landed a contract. It lasted about six months and led him into the world of driver safety. He signed a second contract with a company that wanted to build a fleet technology sales division, in concert with what was happening in the big picture of driver safety, he added. “We entered into an agreement to build this new business unit. This company was based on insurance replacement claim fulfillment in the vehicle world,” he said. “For instance, if your car was insured with State Farm, and your car stereo head unit was ripped off and then your insurance company said they would replace it,

Taking Chances Leads to Personal Growth In 2009, the auto industry was reeling from the financial market meltdown and

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 Learning From Leaders very visual thinker, so during brainstorm sessions he prefers to have access to one. “That’s how you get all the ideas out,” he said, adding that the approach brings the entire team to the table where they can brainstorm solutions and new initiatives. “Now your team is on the same page because they understand the objective, whether it’s solving a customer’s problem or brainstorming a new idea.” For Witt, it led to huge personal growth—but it’s also been essential for the success of DST. “There are lots of install companies. There are lots of companies that sell hardware. There are lots of project management companies,” he said, adding, “We decided to bring it all together into one.”

then the insurance company would hire this company: Premiere Services.” Witt said the company had installers, the ability to get any aftermarket equipment necessary, supply agreements and a national agreement with InstallerNet. “They could replace anything for anybody in any state and any city. They wanted to build this new division because they were watching the slow and steady decline of traditional aftermarket car audio,” he explained, adding that as insurance claim frequency began to decline, the company decided to take a closer look at fleets. “They came to me, and we launched this.” Ultimately, though, it was Witt and the installation director, Carlos Garcia, who partnered to create another venture—Driver Safety Technology. They incorporated the business in December 2017 and opened the doors in January 2018, entering the world of integrated fleet safety. “We aggregated our skillsets, took our experiences and let go of the past,” Witt said. “All of that allowed us to put together a very disruptive business model in the fleet safety environment.” Building an Operational Framework There are many differences between the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds,

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and Witt benefitted from a solid foundation. “I am blessed because I had an amazing career with Alpine,” he said. “I loved every minute of it.” In the corporate environment, he said he learned a business must have a solid operational framework which includes repeatable, sustainable procedures. Also, he added, there must be policies that encourage compliance by employees. “Policies should not be restrictive or punitive. One of the biggest takeaways from my corporate career—30 years at Alpine and three years at VOXX—was that you’ve got to be an entrepreneur with a clear and operational framework.” The new company took shape at a whiteboard. “We spent three months just mapping out the vision we had for Driver Safety Technology,” Witt said. “I leveraged all of those management and executive skills I learned into this new framework of being an entrepreneur and starting something from scratch. I let go of the nemeses of the corporate world—like too many procedures, too much policy—and just took the bits and pieces that were necessary to set up a little corporation focused on doing the right thing for the customer.” In fact, every wall at DST’s office has a whiteboard, and Witt added that he’s a

Follow Your Instincts to Find the Right Path Another key takeaway from the corporate world, according to Witt, is how important servant-type leadership really is. “If you’re a leader and you think you can just boss everyone around, you will fail at some point,” he said. “Trying to live into this notion of servant leadership is what we are practicing here at DST. We have big ideas, but we understand it’s going to take a team to pull things off.” Empowering employees—whether there are three or 300—is very important, he said. Witt feels this is something many entrepreneurs don’t take into account— just “letting go and allowing people to do their jobs.” While Witt isn’t thinking about retirement yet, he will make some determinations later this year. Then, he’ll decide whether or not he wants to step back. His passion for the industry remains a constant. Witt said that throughout his career, whenever he was faced with decisions, he always listened to his heart. If no answer appeared, he added, “I would ask myself, ‘What do I truly want to do?’” Follow your heart and your passion, he said. “That’s what makes anyone significantly more successful” in whatever field they choose.


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 strategy & tactics

SHAPING YOUR FUTURE Tomas Keenan, COO of Break Free Academy, shares his insights and advice on how retailers can advance both personally and professionally while avoiding burnout. WORDS BY ROSA SOPHIA

Tomas Keenan, COO of Break Free Academy in Dallas, Texas learned a lot of what he knows through trial and error, sharing his business pitfalls in his book, Unf *ck Your Business: Stop Business Self-Sabotage by Getting Clear on Your Core Values NOW.

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During March’s KnowledgeFestWest. Live, Keenan presented a workshop entitled “The Visionary vs. the Integrator.” At 21, he said, “I decided I knew more than my boss, or so I thought, and I opened my own business with $300 in my pocket. It lasted five years. I was

a great technician, but I didn’t know anything about running a business— whether it was inventory, supplies or bookkeeping. Anything mandatory to running a business, I didn’t know. It crashed, I closed it and went to work for someone else.”


SHAPING YOUR FUTURE

Keenan told listeners that after his first business closure, he was deep in debt, and he had to get back on his feet financially and rebuild his confidence. “It was a struggle for quite some time. Three years went by. In 2009, I got married and opened Top Class Installations, specializing in dash cams in commercial vehicles and GPS tracking.” Today, Keenan helps people in various industries succeed in business. Break Free Academy’s goal, he said, is to help people become the best version of themselves. And part of that, he feels, is understanding the differences between visionaries and integrators. Find Your Purpose in Life and Business In November 2019, Keenan wrote about finding a business vision in Mobile Electronics magazine’s Strategy and Tactics column: “When you work in your business, it owns you. You don’t own it. You are at its beck and call. You’d better not get sick or hurt, and just try to have kids and be there for them and your spouse as much as you want. Not gonna happen. I learned these lessons up close and personal twice.” Keenan said he hadn’t expected to go

to work at Break Free Academy. After owning his own business for so long, he felt unemployable. “It came down to the company culture and the lives we’re changing,” he explained. “It aligned with my purpose in life.” In his 2019 article, Keenan wrote that purpose, mission and core values make up a vision for your life or business, and it’s important to understand these. “Before you can begin to formulate your vision, the three components—purpose, mission and your core values—should be defined,” he explained, adding that decisions will be made based on your core values and purpose in life. Before joining Break Free, Keenan started his own business, Step it Up Academy. In the midst of building it, Break Free offered him a position. “I was already a part-time member, and I saw that I could have a bigger piece of their larger pie. The small piece I had [from becoming part of their company] was greater than any pie I would’ve had from my own business.” However, Keenan still hosts the Step it Up Entrepreneur Podcast, which readers can listen to on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and via other podcast sources. After joining the Break Free Academy

team as a sales manager, Keenan began to make what he called “massive shifts” in the company. “I started on November first 2020, and as of March 2021 we’ve grown 180 percent since I started, which is a drastic number. I’m proud of that and excited for what we’re doing.” The mission, he said, is to elevate people “to the top of their game and help them become the most elite version of themselves.” Learn the Difference Between Visionaries and Integrators It’s important to understand visionaries and integrators and their differences, according to Keenan. “You should know which one you are,” he said. “Visionaries see the future. They’re creative and they have lots of innovation and drive.” While this is a positive thing, Keenan noted that visionaries often have lots of ideas, but not all of them are good. These ideas, he said, can shift the business and cause it to either succeed or fail. “A visionary knows where the business wants to go and they establish the vision.” Integrators—Keenan falls into this category—are the opposite, he said, in that they create the future by bringing

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 strategy & tactics the vision to life. “The visionary needs this assistance from the integrator to help make the dream a reality. The integrator will maintain business harmony and integrate systems and processes across the company. They will develop processes that make the company function overall.” Integrators keep visionaries focused on useful ideas that align with the goals of the company, he added. Often, people take on both roles out of necessity. This happens when a small-business owner has no one else to rely on. In this case, he explained, “If you’re a visionary, you must also be an integrator in your business.” A business owner must understand his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and learn where they fall on the scale, whether they’re a visionary or an integrator. Keenan said this is essential for bringing a company to the next level. When looking for a business partner, “you have to find someone who is strong where you’re weak, and vice versa. That’s why these roles are so important to understand.” It’s important to have great ideas— which is the value of a visionary—but another person is needed to implement structures to ensure that vision comes to fruition. “If you want to grow, put in the work no one else is willing to do,” Keenan said, adding that the focus is always improving oneself as well as the company. This is where it’s important to avoid getting stuck working in a business instead of on it. “We become skilled technicians and then it’s difficult for us to let go of control and delegate.” Delegation, he said, is a big struggle for a lot of people who often also have difficulty managing their time. Keenan said he sees this in many different industries, not just in 12-volt. Pinpoint the Steps Needed to Accomplish the Goal Business owners might be wondering what the next step is, and Keenan said it involves finding out where you are on the scale: “What do I need to do to make this happen? You can’t do it all yourself.

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SHAPING YOUR FUTURE

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 strategy & tactics I tried that in several of my own businesses over the years. There’s not enough time in a day, and as good as you think you are at certain tasks, there’s always someone who’s better than you. That can be a tough pill to swallow.” He described a scenario in which a technician installs an audio system and puts the vehicle back together only to realize they didn’t run the sub-wire. “We’re very structured when it comes to installation. If we forget that step, it forces us to tear it apart again. Visionaries tend to forget steps like this, while integrators will be planning the install before they even get the car into the bay.” Finding their place on the scale will help anyone—whether they’re an owner, salesperson or a technician— understand their own strengths and weaknesses in order to improve themselves. Keenan noted that some people can be both. “People who are integrators score high on needing to be a fact-finder prior to taking action. They want to do the research.” This involves finding out the exact steps needed to accomplish a goal. On the other hand, most visionaries take action on an idea without necessarily considering the outcome, he added. “They start taking the steps without thinking about the pieces they need to put together.” Educate Yourself and Read, Read, Read Readers are leaders, according to Keenan, who said that from age 17 to 35, he was not a reader. “I read every instructional manual, installation guide and Mobile Electronics magazine,” he noted, adding, “The problem was, I wasn’t learning more. I wasn’t expanding my mindset. I was stuck in my lane.” When he was 35, he had his first child, which he said made him realize he needed to improve himself. “My business had potential and I didn’t know how to unlock it, so I looked for a business coach. The first thing he had me do was read. I said, ‘I don’t have the time.’” The business coach, Keenan said, refused to accept this. After learning how many

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hours he spent in his car, he advised listening to audiobooks. Keenan recommended Traction: Get a Grip On Your Business and Rocket Fuel: The One Essential Combination That Will Get You More of What You Want From Your Business by Gino Wickman and Marc C. Winters. “Traction covers the EOS system, or the entrepreneur operational system. It outlines the structure you need to implement in your business.” The book provides exercises to help create a system and find out what a business owner specifically needs to work on, he said. “This book will provide an outline and a structure. It’s helped me and all the businesses I’ve operated in.” In Rocket Fuel, the author discusses integrators, visionaries and the differences between the two, Keenan said. “He dives deep into this topic and says these are the main differences and this is why it’s important to the overall success of a business and its ultimate scalability.” He added that good things didn’t start happening in his life until he expanded his mindset. “It was because I started reading,” he explained, adding that if he enjoyed an audiobook, he would buy the paperback copy and reread it. He advised industry professionals apply these concepts to their businesses and, most of all, do the work, adding, “Make your business better.”


SHAPING YOUR FUTURE

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 tech today

The Connected World In this month’s installment, we talk vehicle safety technology with Ted Cardenas of Pioneer Electronics. WORDS BY DAVE MACKINNON

Image: Lead-In.jpg Over the last six issues, we’ve taken a detailed look at some of the collision avoidance technologies available from mobile electronics retailers like yourselves. The Vision Zero Automotive Network has spearheaded this series of articles. Vision Zero’s goal is to promote the use of accident prevention technology to eliminate fatalities from traffic accidents. Vision Zero has partnered with key manufacturers and distributors from across North America to promote its goal. One of the first companies to join the Vision Zero effort was Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. In this article, I talk with Ted Cardenas, Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications for Pioneer. The Consumers’ Perception of the Connected Car One of the first topics we discussed was the perception of the connected car. For those who work in the mobile electronics industry, our interpretation of connectivity typically involves some kind of Internet or smartphone integration with an infotainment system like Apple’s CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto. Another example would be a communication system that uses a cellular data solution like OnStar to monitor the vehicle’s status or provide real-time assistance. Ted pointed out that consumers aren’t typically on the same page. Their concept of a connected car could be as simple as having Bluetooth for hands-free calling or audio streaming in their car radio. According to a recent IHS Markit’s

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study, the average age of a car on U.S. roads is nearly 12 years old. In Canada, according to Statista, that number is 9.66 years. Since smartphone integration technologies didn’t exist a decade ago, this explains much of the disconnect between what is available and consumer expectation. Regardless, in terms of “connecting” technology to a vehicle, the consumer’s perception isn’t wrong. In fact, it indicates our need to emphasize the technology options currently available that can make time behind the wheel more enjoyable, more convenient and even help people make safer driving decisions. There’s no denying that the task of driving should our primary focus when we’re behind the wheel. Ted added that one of the best options for allowing the driver

to concentrate and focus is the integration of voice services like CarPlay and Android Auto. Demonstrating How to Use Smartphone Integration While those of us in the industry are accustomed to using Siri and Google Assistant to send text messages, make phone calls or ask for navigation directions, the average consumer barely knows this technology exists. If someone is waiting for a remote car starter or window tint installation—when waiting in a store is permissible—offer them the opportunity to connect their smartphone to a radio that has CarPlay or Android Auto. Have a short list of “things you can do with smartphone integration” on your display and let them experience this


Vehicle Safety and Blind Spot Monitoring, Part 2

Many Pioneer CD, digital media and multimedia receivers like this DMH-WT7600NEX feature or enable Amazon Alexa Built-in.

technology firsthand. Here are a few examples we discussed, and how the maturation of voice services have changed the user experience for the better: Task: Pick a specific song to play Past: Press “Songs,” page down, page down, page down, page down, page down, etc., select. Present: Press the “Voice” button on the steering wheel for two seconds and say, “Play ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd.” Task: Make a phone call Past: Tap “Phone,” “Keypad,” enter a phone number. Present: Press the “Voice” button on the steering wheel for two seconds and say, “Call the closest Starbucks.” It’s your job to remind potential clients that these technologies are not only easy to use, but also that voice assistance can help them keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel without sacrificing their ability to stay connected and entertained. Ted mentioned that Amazon’s Alexa, a feature now available through more than 30 Pioneer CD, digital media and multimedia receivers, has grown steadily in popularity over the last five years and that many Alexa owners now have multiple units throughout their homes. These consumers are obviously very comfortable using voice in their homes, but most are unsure or unaware about their options when it comes to bringing Alexa into their cars. Unlike CarPlay and Android Auto, Alexa’s broad adoption into homes provides the unique ability to use features like “Drop In” calling and messaging to communicate directly with other Alexa-powered devices, regardless of their location or yours. Ted mentioned that during his commute he often uses the “Drop In” feature through his Alexa Built-in Pioneer receiver to talk to his kids through their Echo Dot or call his dad over a thousand miles away through his Echo Show.

Of course, Amazon folks never miss a chance to sell you something. Ted mentioned users can ask Alexa to order dog food (or practically anything else Amazon sells) and the system will offer the option to add the items to your shopping list or shopping cart. If you’ve previously purchased a specific item or brand, Alexa will even quote you the current price and let you complete the purchase from behind the wheel. All of this happens using only your voice and within a few minutes a bag of dog food can be on its way to your front door. Ted also pointed out another interesting difference: Because most Alexa users first experience the voice service through a smart speaker, asking to play music is both a priority and expectation for the Alexa owner. When combined with the direct integration of Amazon Music, asking Alexa to play a specific artist, song or album in the car is almost always met with success. Connecting the Home to the Car Another topic we discussed was consumer awareness of the many opportunities available in a “connected car.” While advertising on television and online by car manufacturers help build consumer awareness of connectivity solutions, they often tell only half of the story—controlling features of the car from afar. Ted mentioned his favorite connected car feature is the ability to

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 tech today control or check the status of smart home devices from the car. Suppose you have smart devices like a garage door opener, a smart thermostat, Internet-connect light switches or door locks. If you can control these smart devices in your home using Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant you now have the same ability in the car with Alexa Built-in, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Can’t remember if you turned off the lights, locked the doors or closed the garage? With a connected car and compatible devices, you might never have to turn around to check again. Classic Collision Avoidance Technology When asked about the collision avoidance technology available from Pioneer, Ted pointed out that their unique SPH10BT smartphone-based digital media receiver (which features a built-in smartphone cradle to turn a connected phone into a touchscreen control for the radio itself ) has an option to add dedicated parking sensors to this single-DIN radio. Called the ND-PS1, this add-on accessory is an array of four microwave sensors that install in the rear bumper and when combined with the SPH-10BT and the Pioneer Smart Sync app provides both visual and audible warnings when reversing or parking. Pioneer also offers several camera solutions. Although their ND-DVR100, a compact high-definition dashcam with an integrated two-inch LCD screen debuted several years ago, Ted hinted at plans to expand their range of drive recorders in North America during 2021 to include

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several connected Pioneer models currently on sale in the European market. The Pioneer ND-BC8 back up camera is a stand-alone wide-angle camera with excellent glare-reduction technology. This camera is a perfect upgrade for any of the dozens of multimedia receivers with a backup camera input available from Pioneer. On the driver assistance forefront, Pioneer has introduced three blind spot detection systems. The SDA-BS900 uses a pair of radar sensor arrays designed to be mounted behind the plastic bumper cover at each rear corner of the vehicle. This layout provides detection that extends from both sides of the vehicle and up to 82 feet to the rear. The SDABS1 and SDA-BS100 are license plate bar-type blind spot detection systems that don’t require extensive installation and also can be mounted to vehicles that have metal bumpers. All three of the Pioneer blind spot detection systems alert the driver with A-pillar installable LED indicators and a loud warning buzzer, utilize GPS for speed sensing to reduce and prevent annoying false-alarms at lower speeds or in heavy traffic and will even provide cross traffic detection when reversing from a parking spot. The Future of Automotive Connectivity and Safety Ted and I talked about how technologies like 5G cellular communication have the potential to offer dramatically reduced latency and in turn improve vehicles’ ability to communicate with one another, further enhancing the ability for technology solutions to assist the driver in making intelligent and informed driving decisions. He pointed out that store owners who want to tap into the massive driver assistance market will need to carve out a section of their store dedicated to displaying these solutions and targeted at a more general, non-enthusiast customer. An interactive backup camera, dashcam and blind-spot warning system display are good starting points, but to get these clients to step through your front door, you’ll need your storefront to be inviting

and comfortable when they arrive. The demographic of someone looking for a blind-spot monitoring system is very different than that of someone looking for pair of 12-inch subwoofers and a 1,000watt amplifier. Of course, the next step is to register your store as a Preferred Retailer with Vision Zero. Once your application (https://vzan.org/preferred-retailer-application/) has been approved, your facility will be listed on the Vision Zero website (https://vzan.org/) to let consumers looking for technologies that improve their safety know you are a specialist in this field. Thanks to Ted Cardenas for taking the time to provide his insight into this growing and important part of our industry. Dave MacKinnon has worked in the mobile electronics industry since 1988 in almost every capacity, including roles as a Retail Salesperson, Installer, Sales Representative, Technical Trainer and Product Development Manager for some of the largest car audio companies in the world. Dave started his writing career in 2000 as the Technical Editor of a Toronto-based car audio magazine and has reviewed more than 450 products. Formally trained as an Electronics Technician, Dave is considered an industry expert when it comes to explaining how mobile audio components work, and he has crafted thousands of articles to share that knowledge. He’s currently the Head Writer for 1sixty8 media and the Editorin-Chief at BestCarAudio.com.


It's all about saving lives

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 installs

FILLED TO THE Submitted by:

Brian Schurg, Extreme Audio, Inc., Mechanicsville and Midlothian, Va.

Photos by: Daniel Allen @iamhidef

54  Mobile Electronics May 2021

With limited space available, the team at Extreme Audio, Inc. was faced with a unique challenge when it came to incorporating one client’s selection of high-end equipment in a 2020 Audi S4.


When this 2020 Audi S4 arrived at the shop, Brian Schurg of Extreme Audio, Inc. said the client “went above and beyond” in terms of equipment selection. “It was all we could do to squeeze everything into the trunk and keep it serviceable and looking good,” he added. The vehicle already had an air ride system in the trunk which had been installed by Josh Hannabass at Altered Components in northern Virginia, according to Schurg.

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 installs

Extreme Audio, Inc. installed the following products: •JL Audio 1200/1v3 •JL Audio 300/4v3 (x2) •Nav-TV Zen interface •Helix DSP Ultra •Helix DSP Controller •JL Audio 13W7 •Audiofrog GB60 •Audiofrog GB25 •Audiofrog GB10 •Soundshield Sound deadener

A laser was utilized to make the tweeter and midrange plates. “We made the midbass adapters from PVC on a router,” Schurg said. “The controller pod was made using a 3D scan of the dash and console, by 3D printing the main body, and making a laser-cut faceplate to frame the LCD, knob and USB adapter.” He explained the USB runs directly into the Helix DSP for high-resolution playback, adding, “We went through plenty of rolls of Soundshield to make sure all we hear is the music.”

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From The President

You should always be able to provide an answer to these questions: Am I on track with my goals? Am I growing or shrinking? Am I profitable? If you know these answers, you are positioned to thrive.

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CREATING A BUSINESS WITH PURPOSE Building a solid foundation is never an accident— it’s a strategy. Let’s get back to the basics. I still take time to reflect on core values and foundational elements that bring me back to what first sparked my achievements. Many of us focus on passion-thinking that propels us forward regardless of whether or not we have a real plan. While passion is essential, it’s seldom enough to establish a future-proof business. To achieve success, you must first define what your success will look like when you get there. A true foundation for your business should be your creation, not a copy of someone else’s accomplishments. Take caution when you spend time on social media admiring those who are seemingly successful. When you find a truly successful business, the reality of it may surprise you. A solid foundation is important. Make sure you review the basics before you attempt to measure your own success or the success of others.

Define Your Purpose First, define guiding principles that drive your business. Ask the hard questions: Are your mission statement and goals still relevant? What about the vision for your business? Does your business measure up to what you defined? Are you still growing? If not, take the time to find out what you need to do to improve, then make the appropriate corrections. Make sure to communicate these changes to your team and, where appropriate, to those with whom you do business.

Review Your Operations Take a closer look at policies, procedures, position titles, and responsibilities to define areas for improvement. Your operational guidelines should be written and shared with your team. Make time to research new technologies and business processes. You can find great pearls of wisdom with a small amount of effort. Should you find a great idea, try it in your own business and see if

it produces a better result than your current procedure.

Get the Word Out You may be working toward being the best in your market, but this might not be enough. What will you do to get people calling, emailing and stopping by? Your participation in local events, charities and community groups should be a priority. There are many marketing tools available, so research and implement what works best for your business. It’s great to have vision and purpose, but neither will benefit you if you have no income. This is where you should take time to review what you sell and why. How much will your business profit when these items are sold? Defining the perfect product mix should be in line with your goals. Make sure your services are properly valued and priced accordingly.

Make Time for Education and Goal-Setting Continued education should be an important part of your strategy. Take the time to attend local vendor trainings when available, and take classes at KnowledgeFest and other relevant trade events. Speak with other business owners for ideas. Join and participate with industry associations focused on your business. To know when you’ve achieved your defined level of success, you need to be able to track your progress. Define your goals and what it will take to reach them. Are you on track with your goals? Are you growing? Are you profitable? If you know the answers, you are positioned to thrive. It’s a good practice to review your vision, mission and goals on a regular basis. Put it on your calendar and make it a priority. Always do you best to drive your business and don’t let it drive you. Don’t lose focus on the fundamentals that define who you are and what you do. You’ll be glad you made the effort.


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