Sound of Tri-state Proves Car Guys Can Fit In with CE Retail Crowd
During a recent trip to Wilmington, Delaware for an UNBOXED-related mission, we had the opportunity to meet the folks at Sound of Tri-state. The jaunt to their store—a shop with plenty of aftermarket audio products for cars, boats, and more—involved my car being torn apart, literally, by their team of technicians as they replaced 15-year-old factory speakers with newly-released product from Pioneer.
A car shop might not seem like the kind of place to talk about consumer electronics retailing, but a quick tour around the store, and a long talk with Sound of Tri-state general manager Bruno Berg did plenty to push those feelings aside.
What I learned from Bruno is that, much like a “typical” CE retailer, independent car shops need to stay on top of the latest tech trends, their installation business is crucial as well, and they face a lot of the same challenges as any other retailer today.
Despite the agony we caused his team having to trick out a crummy piece of scrap metal with brand new speakers, Bruno graciously agreed to hop on a call to dive deeper into what life is like at Sound of Tri-state. We’ll share the full conversation when Dealerscope launches a podcast series in the near future, but for now here’s a snippet of how the conversation went down.
Bruno just start, tell me a little bit about Sound of Tri-state and what you guys have going on down there in Delaware.
Bruno Berg: So, Sound of Tri-state—we have four different locations, three of which are located in Delaware and then one we actually have in Morton, PA. Sound of Tristate has actually been around for over twenty-five years. We do pretty much anything from mobile electronics, we do lighting, we do a little bit of home audio as well too. And we also have an online presence as well.
So, to get the UNBOXED talk out the way—we were down there not too long ago getting some stuff put in my shoddy little car. I know it was a bit of a crazy day, but you guys seemed to have your stuff together. As far as working with clients goes, trying to go through these kinds of projects, what's the process like, working with a client to help them upgrade their car?
You know the business has changed a little bit over the last 10 years where customers are coming in not necessarily looking for new technology today. Of course, we like showing a lot of our customers the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and also with a lot of the newer vehicles, and some of the older vehicles we're also changing out a lot of the audio as well too. Customers are looking for really good sound, quality products. But they're also looking for something that's a little bit more budget minded as well, too. We do a little bit of everything from your high-end, all the way to your entry-level customer, and also mid-level projects to basically be able to fit every type of budget that's out there.
As far as technology goes, it's surprising that, as many built-in radios that we have on display that have Apple CarPlay, a lot of customers are still unaware of that type of technology. So, just being able to put that in front of the customer and educating them on it and giving them that type of experience is something we take pride in. You know, you can see it in our faces that it really blows them away, and they appreciate the fact that someone is actually sitting down and taking the time to actually show them that technology, because even in some of the newer cars, you go and buy a new car, and even though the technology is there, they're not really explained exactly how that future works. Everybody is familiar with the phone, but nobody's really explaining to a consumer how easy it is to interact with their radios through CarPlay or Android Auto.
You mention all of that new technology. Is there any sort of—I don't want to call it a threat, but cars today are coming with technology that lets you integrate your phone right into the car, and they’re also coming with quality sound systems. Has that made it more difficult for you to get consumers to buy into the tech that you’re selling?
You know, it's interesting—to us it’s really just about educating the customer. A lot of vehicles today, and even some of the older vehicles that are still on the road, they have factory amplifiers. Customers would come in in the past, and you'd want to replace the speakers and add an amplifier, and you were pretty much good to go. In today's cars, and even some of the older cars, we're not replacing factory radio because at that point they have Bluetooth built in, and they have navigation, factory amplifiers, and solid speakers.
So, what we do is we generally take the customer, we explain to them exactly how that system works inside of their vehicle. We can explain that we can't remove the radio, we can't remove the factory amplifier, in specific vehicles. But what we can do is we can educate the customers and say, 'Hey, you know what, we're not going to change anything on the radio. You're familiar with that radio it's going to work exactly the way it's going to work today.' But what we do, is we actually start expanding on the audio system. And so at that point we're actually replacing speakers, we're adding amplifiers, we're adding processors. So a lot of it has to do with the explanation and the education to the customer, where years ago you had to spend a thousand dollars for that radio. Now what you're doing is you're taking that same dollar amount and even less in some scenarios, and you're using a processor so you can actually integrate into the factory stereo and then start expanding from there on out.
Talking a little bit about the product trends in your space—typically when we talk to a CE retailer, they have a buyer that goes around to different tech trade shows, something like a CES, just to stay on top of trends. Is it similar in nature for you guys? Obviously you're really plugged into car tech. But how do you stay on top of the trends and what's happening in your space in order to properly stock your showroom and have the right mix of products on your show floor?
I think it's important to stay on top of those trends, whether it's through any type of trade magazines, we attend all the trade shows as far CES and SEMA go, and we attend all of the manufacturers trainings that they have available and provide to us. I think those are the things that really help us kind of stay on top of trends, because as fast as product comes out and fast as new technology comes out we need to be the specialists to know exactly how that product is going to work and affect consumers lives.
Similar to independent retailers today, we've seen a lot of retailers in the consumer electronics space build out their business and expand to include installs. They're going into consumers homes and similar to how you say you guys are selling solutions, they'll they'll say that they're selling a home theater solution where they have the TV the speakers and then beyond selling it, they'll go into the consumers home and actually install it for them. It's easy, I think, to draw comparisons here, with the fact that you guys are selling solutions and then you just happen to have the garage right next door to your store where you can install everything. So I'm curious, how important is that part of the business to you guys—the actual installation of product into consumers' cars.
I think in today's market the installation ability is probably the most important aspect of our retail locations. One of the things that we constantly battle that every retailer battles up against is the internet. If it's price driven product or whatever the case may be, yes, we can always match pricing. But what we do have that the internet can't compete with us on is customer service and the labor of our skilled technicians, and and also the product knowledge, and also the experience of our technicians. That's probably one of the most invaluable parts of our retail business because the guys in the back really do a great job for us when it comes to—whether it's an older car, newer car, jet skis, boats, whatever the case may be—that's where these guys really shine.
Consumers today, could they do it themselves? Well maybe. But they definitely—just like, could anybody change their oil? Yeah anybody could probably change their oil on their car, but it's a service that they're looking to do because nobody wants to crawl up underneath their car and change the oil, just like nobody wants to take apart the dash just to figure out that they can't do the job. So, I think the installation has become, over the last 10 to 15 years, a really big part of our retail business.
Speaking of the internet. What kind of focus are you guys putting on e-commerce?
We have a pretty good online presence when it comes to our website. The website plays a really big role—we do have a lot of advertising and a lot of marketing through there. We also have a presence with social media, whether it's Instagram and then we also do Facebook as well, and we're also on Twitter. So we try to get the word out—not so much on the sales aspect, but more on an educational basis. You know, me personally if I'm getting on my feed, if I'm getting tons of you know 'sale this' and 'sale that' I generally tend to dislike things. But what we try to do is we try to actually educate the customers and we show what are installs are all about. Customers a lot of times, they're scared to ask questions. But if we can put that installation out there, whether it's a radio, whether it's CarPlay, whether it's radar detection, and we put that out there and we put it on a specific car—we get a lot of feedback from consumers saying, 'Hey you know what? That's pretty cool. I got the same car. Can you do it to mine?' So it's using that medium to create questions and create a conversation with the consumers.
Bruno, thank you for the time. You know, I would be remiss if I didn't thank you guys again for all the help with the install and also a shout out to Pioneer. I really appreciate it, man. It's always good talking to you.
Yeah absolutely. I definitely appreciate the time, and I hope that that car stays all in one piece.
Look out for our full interview with Bruno when the Dealerscope Podcast to drops in the next few weeks. Are you a retailer who's interested in sharing your story with us? Reach out to Editorial Director Rob Stott at firstname.lastname@example.org.