Knowledgefest will be changing names next year. As for this year, there was a change of venue across town to the Hilton Anatole vs. the Gaylord Texan. I guess the only astonishing thing to mention about that is the amount of hotels in Texas that can swallow a show the size of Knowledgefest—complete with demo vehicles and soundboards—and still take on other conventions within the same venue.
But in all seriousness, the convenient travel location of Dallas for manufacturers bringing demo vehicles facilitates getting together and talking shop. Dallas was also one of the favored towns for sound-off competition because it splits the distance between east and west coast competitors—as it does for east and west coast dealers and reps.
Town Hall Talk
Knowledgefest kicked off with the Town Hall Meeting where the future of the industry was discussed. According to the panel of experts assembled the evening before—which includes manufacturers, retailers and distributors/representatives—the biggest hurdle facing the 12-volt industry is still a lack of consumer awareness of what our products can do. There is still fear in the consumer’s eyes of dropping off a brand-new (or even like-new) vehicle for “retrofitted” electronics. But if we can just get them through the door, we can demo our wares.
Panelists included Jeff Peters, director of sales of Kicker, and Rob Wempe, director of marketing for Elettromedia-USA (who is famous for his dealer trainings). Mike Anderson of Alpine Electronics was also on the panel, and someone in the audience asked specifically about the requirements of becoming an Alpine Flagship dealer. Contrary to belief, it ultimately isn’t about how much Alpine product is moved.
“To sum it up in a word, we are looking for retailers that truly delight their customers,” noted an enthusiastic Anderson. In other words, Alpine knows that returning customers are ultimately better for the brand than selling products cheaply. This brought up the discussion of transshipping.
“I am very aware of the transshippers,” Peters noted, “but as a manufacturer, it becomes like playing a game of Whack-a-Mole. I can eventually stop it, but just not fast enough.” He then discussed the process of buying back equipment found on questionable or grey marketplaces online and then tearing down the electronics to track the circuit board serial numbers.
Another thing discussed during the Town Hall meeting was getting financial data from winning retailers. Brian Layton from SoundFX in Delaware was one of the panelists (and coincidentally, we featured him in a story in an earlier issue about dealership expediting). He was happy to give data about individual employee performance tied to gross revenue. Mobile Electronics was exploring the idea of anonymously getting the balance sheets of successful retailers so others in the industry could compare the numbers against their own personal stores. And remember: It is not how much you sell—just the ratio of how profitable you are. It was discussed that at least 25 percent of your sales revenue should be tied to installation labor. On the subject of individual employees, Jon Kowanetz of Handcrafted Car Audio in Chandler Ariz., noted, “I have found that finding and keeping good employees involves passion. A business without any passion is just a business, and our installers and installations thrive on creativity. You have to keep the structure somewhat loose for creativity.”
In the session workshops, once again 12-volt trainer Del Ellis packed the house at his seminars. One neat gift that Ellis—has is the ability to remember the name, vehicle and a specific detail about every single one of his good customers. That was a jump-off point for his seminar, “Five Best Practices for Creating Long-Term Customers.” Ellis advised installers to reach out to customers three days after the sale to make sure everything was working well. If there is an accessory that would complete the installation that could not be done the first time around, the customer could be brought in for a free tune-up where the accessory could be suggested.
One interesting thing noted at the seminar, “Building a Profit-Maximized Showroom Floor Plan,” was how John Schwartz of Perfectionist Auto Sound in Anchorage became one of the most successful 12-volt businesses in North America. Schwartz spoke of the time he got together with Marcel Newell of Avidworx about the condition of his showroom. “I was meeting with Marcel and the topic came up on how customers see your showroom,” he recalled. “When it is you as an owner, it is different than what the customer sees. We started going through pictures of successful retailers and I had one of the guys back in the shop start taking pictures and sending them to me. ‘Just go around and send me pictures of the showroom. Don’t try and make them look pretty; just send me over photos.’ That totally opened up my eyes to what the customer sees.”
In “Radar Detectors—Growing the Category,” options and technologies were discussed for both installed or portable systems. Retailers discussed there is still good profit in portable units, and they make great gifts. Evertt Morss, national sales manager of Escort, discussed the technology behind Escort Live and how crowdsourcing brings new data beyond actual detection to the table. Also on hand were experts from Cobra before the announcement that Escort acquired Cobra Electronics. We are interested to see how it will play out …
Another crowded session was held by Dr. Floyd Toole of Harman, who was assisted by Audiofrog upstart leader Andy Wehmeyer for Audio Myth Busters, in a discussion on taking acoustics to the vehicle. How istener preferences and reflected sound in the confines of a relatively small area (the vehicle) affect those preferences was covered. It was refreshing to see the interest of achieving high-end sound quality among younger installation technicians who may not have been fully exposed to sound-offs in their heyday.
The show floor was active after lunch, with many Pioneer dealers checking out the Five-Axis designed “show vehicle” in addition to their new lineup of single-DIN head units. They feature multiple Bluetooth inputs that can be toggled easily so both the driver and the passenger can choose songs on their smartphone and play them through the vehicle’s system. Prices top out at $150 MSRP. National training manager Ozzie Lopez notes, “The new Pioneer receivers are designed to take advantage of the smartphone’s entertainment and communication capabilities and are easy and simple to use.”
2015 will be a transitional year, as MERA performs a metamorphosis to Mobile Electronics. However, as long as the goal of assisting the independent specialist retailer is kept in the organization’s sights, then there will be opportunities for even more retailers to attend. Hopefully, Dallas 2015 will see even more prestigious presenters and manufacturers with one goal in mind: to help the specialists who truly delight their customers.