The story of Jon Robbins is one that, he happily admits, precedes him.
“My dad was the founder of HiFi House in 1955; it was a family business,” Robbins said. “And you know, as a family business, we were kind of, I won’t say forced, but it was strongly suggested that we participate to help support the family.”
Robbins’ father, Saul, was inducted in 2011 to the Dealerscope Hall of Fame for his legacy with HiFi House, a stereo business not far from Philadelphia and a short ride from his hometown in Delaware County - warmly recognized as Delco, if you are a local.
It was in that store that Robbins, as early as eight years old, began his career in the custom installation world, even if it didn’t quite exist yet. His glowing memories paint a picture of hosting industry luminaries such as Dr. Amar Bose, founder of Bose, hauling in a “weird-looking speaker” to his parents’ house - it would later be dubbed the Bose 901. Or when Akio Morita, the chairman of Sony, stopped by his father’s business in Broomall. Or even when Bill Kasuga, one of the founders of Kenwood, stopped by in a station wagon with some of the world’s first solid-state equipment.
“I have pretty vivid memories, as just a kid, working for HiFi House,” Robbins said. “I feel like I was integrally involved in all the evolutions that had to occur over my 40 years working full time [there].”
Carving His Own Path
After his run with the family business, HiFi House was shuttered by an impatient demand from the bank. By the time the family business concluded, Robbins had been involved with many of the events that would define both his life and the industry he was so passionate about.
“One of the very proud things was to help my company evolve into a into a custom install hybrid business - to see the need that not only were we a retailer, but to evolve into being a significant player in Philadelphia. I am really very humbled. And I’m very proud of the fact that we got involved with it in the very early days (of Home Technology Specialists of America), which is kind of serendipitous in a way.”
Robbins’ fortuity in HTSA was a reflection of the core values of HiFi House, and in some ways, feels like a successor. The level of advocacy that his team and the founding members of HTSA brought to the early conversations of what a custom installation channel might look like is part of the reason the industry exists today.
“We had high-quality people coming together to form this unified group that has sustained,” Robbins said. “I’m very proud of the fact that we, as a group, recognized the need to have this advocacy, this kind of consortium, all the way back in 1995-96. Hopefully, I was instrumental in helping to evolve this group which is now made up of 78 really great members in HTSA.”
Today, HTSA is one of the few buying groups in the nation dedicated to the success of both the modern-day integrator and the hybrid custom installation retailer. Robbins was invited to take over the organization as Executive Director in 2015, a move that put the founding member back into a leadership role for a new generation of integrators.
And while it may seem that the buying group is gaining the most from Robbins’ wealth of experience and expertise, he feels that he is benefiting by surrounding himself with the best in the business.
“I have the highest respect for all my members,” Robbins said. “These people are entrepreneurs that have done a spectacular job; I mean there are some that I’ve known for 30-plus years. There are just so many brilliant people that I have met, and I’ve done business with, and I’ve had the good fortune to have entered my life. There are just so many people that have had an absolute influence on me ... I honestly wouldn’t know where to start.”
All in the Family
It’s no secret that Robbins is a family man. There seems to be a welcome complexity among original family members and the family he has accumulated over the years. Maybe it comes from working in the family business for so long, or perhaps it comes from building relationships with some of the most genuine people he has ever met.
Or maybe it’s because the best business advice he’s ever received came from a family friend outside of the industry. Turning his small idea of a travel company into a household name in Apple Vacations, John Mullen has been “an absolute mentor, and something like another father” to Robbins.
“The most important business lessons I’ve learned came from outside the industry,” Robbins said. “My parents have of course taught me so much about being humble, but I’ve never met anybody more humble than Mr. Mullen, no matter his incredible success becoming an absolute icon in the travel industry. I’ve run into circumstances, in my business life, and he always told me that in good times and in bad times, you put your feet on the floor in the morning and you do your job.”
“He has been a huge influence on me for the past 25 years,” he added.
Robbins’ family bond is his passion. His hobby gravitates around being with his five children, visiting his two grandchildren, and most importantly, spending time with his wife, Christine, who has become a consistent source of comfort in his life, and at the buying group’s biannual meetings.
“I can tell you, right now, I don’t have a lot of hobbies,” Robbins laughed. “My biggest hobby is work. Nothing I do leisurely can match having work successes.”
“But my biggest passion really revolves around my wife,” Robbins added. “I have the most patient wife in the world. She understands that my work is my passion. My other passion is my kids, and my kids’ kids. I enjoy seeing them evolve and become successful people and hopefully humble and kind people. My idea of a good time is to go out and maybe grab a hoagie and go to bed early—and get up the next morning and do it again.”