Rockford’s 40th: A Reason To Celebrate in 2020
Among the American-designed car audio brands, few have the mystique and longevity of Rockford Fosgate. The company is celebrating its 40th anniversary and celebrations will be revealed throughout the year, and hopefully during some happier times.
Jim Fosgate, the founder of Rockford Fosgate, is often referred to as the inventor of the car audio amplifier. He and his audio enthusiast friends experimented with audio reproduction and the acoustics inside of the automobile, and eventually developed the first Fosgate Electronics product that debuted at the 1973 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. Shortly after, Fosgate created what is now known as the Punch Equalization circuit, and began marketing the first car stereo systems. That circuit was critical to enthusiasts because it could deliver a bass boost at 45Hz. This is the frequency that vibrates car panels and delivers the ‘punch’ in a high-quality audio system. After six years of building awareness for better sound in cars, Jim Fosgate found investment partners and in June 1980, Rockford Fosgate was founded.
At the launch of Rockford Fosgate, the company only offered four amplifiers that were originally sold by Jim in 1979 under the name Fosgate Electronics Car Stereo System. However, these powerhouses were among the first well-designed aftermarket amplifiers specifically designed for use in cars. These PR series amps were rebranded as the Rockford Fosgate PR2100, PR250, PR235 and PR220 Type II models.
Sparking the Car Audio Craze
With a new brand name, the addition of speakers, and a passionate team, Rockford Fosgate sparked the car audio craze. Over the next decade, they formed partnerships with specialty retail stores across the U.S. With a solid foundation and a high-energy dealer network, Rockford Fosgate high-performance audio skyrocketed into the 1990s. People loyal to the brand dubbed themselves ‘FANATICS’ after Rockford Fosgate’s original tag line, ‘Car Audio for Fanatics.’
“It’s interesting to reflect on the last 40 years,” Bill Jackson, Rockford’s CEO, mused. “The brand has come a long way. Rockford Fosgate has been built by passionate, dedicated employees, a great sales rep force and a loyal dealer network. But most of all, it is the fanatical customers that have supported the brand and carried the Rockford Fosgate DNA forward. We are proud of our 40 years and look forward to the next 40.” The momentum continues today, at their original Tempe, Ariz., headquarters. Rockford Fosgate markets over 400 audio products that are designed and purpose-built for automobiles, motorcycles, boats, and off-road vehicles. Fanatics span the globe from North America across more than 120 countries worldwide. The brand has grown, technology has changed, and music has become more portable, but Rockford Fosgate’s heritage of passion for performance remains the same.
But instead of noting this anniversary and being able to enjoy the celebration, Rockford is mindful of the need to pivot to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. Theresa Anthony, vice president of sales and marketing, notes, “As you can imagine, we’ve been very busy trying to continue to supply and service our dealers right now. Things are literally changing hourly. On the theme for our 40th anniversary… we were on track before the pandemic, giving back to the people who got us here. We’re running a number of special merchandising programs and promotions throughout the year, and especially after this clears. They include things like dressing up our dealers’ stores with a 40th Anniversary LED lighted sign, and a vintage Rockford Fosgate clothing giveaway on social media (think: neon colors and the original pointy RF logo). Many of our celebrity Rockford Fosgate fanatics will be joining in on their social feeds as well, such as 4X4 Barbie, Danny G, and RJ Anderson. Just as in previous years, we will be launching some new products in various categories such as mobile, motorcycle, motorsports and marine, but they will not be specific 40th-anniversary products. We are also planning for unique giveaway items and promotions at events throughout the rest of the year. For now, that is on hold. Hopefully after the situation with COVID-19 clears, we will be able to get back to our event schedule.”
So, How to Pivot?
Rockford CEO Bill Jackson took to video to help out his legions of faithful dealers through the pandemic. The company is now offering free shipping on all orders. Payments made by credit card incur no extra fees. More importantly, Rockford informed its dealers that if anything is needed above and beyond the usual terms, they will work with the dealer to get them what they need. This can be critical in the case of landing a large build during the crisis. It can help keep an entire shop going, as well as maintaining the sanity of the tech or two involved, if they are properly social distancing. A huge system in a car or boat can help spark creativity, even if it just back to the owner himself doing the installation.
Bill Jackson’s Winston Churchill Moment
Jackson offered other words of encouragement for retailers: “This is going to be a new game. There is nothing like this that has ever happened in the past. You have to have the will to survive this – and a little humility. Learn all the facets of this virus and apply that on how to operate a business. Learn all the programs out there to help your business. Learn how to be a better businessman. If you do those things, you are going to survive this. I can tell you right now, Rockford is going to survive this, because we are learning all that we can. It is our job now to take that information and share it with our dealer network. We are only as strong as our dealer base, and we will get through this together.”
Addressing dealers directly, Jackson continued, “You guys, as our dealer base, are great business owners and great operators. I have massive respect for all of you as successful business creators in the retail market.
“Here is the crazy thing: Your 2020 operating plan is in the trash can, just like the one at Rockford. We threw it away. We are working on contingency plans. We are working on different business models. We are trying to figure out what is this thing going to look like, not only for the short term, but what does it look like when when we are back to our new normal and re-engage our businesses as fast as we can. We have to define some new guidelines from an operations standpoint.
“The way we conduct our business at retail will change. There are going to be new rules for social distancing in place. The hours the store is open. How you handle installations. How you handle deliveries. There are going to be a lot of pieces to the puzzle that are going to change. Make sure that when you start building your post-COVID operations plan that you are thinking about those pieces.” He added, “You have to have an ultra-sanitary environment for your customers and employees. You have to explain to customers that there is a new operating system when they come into the store, for everyone’s safety.”
Finances are going to be a big hurdle to overcome, Jackson said. “Make sure you are using the correct tools to manage your cash and inventory. At this point in time, cash is king, so it must be managed carefully. Look at everything from your rent to insurance. I know it is tough to go back to your landlord and request a different rent payment. But they don’t want to lose you as a tenant. They want your business to survive, and they need your business to survive. Another important thing is government stimulus packages and forgivable loans. You need to, as a small business, make sure you are getting the money you are entitled to.
“Finally, the last piece and most important piece of the puzzle is your customers. You must stay relevant to your customers. Whether you are deemed essential and you are open for business or you are closed, you need to be relevant. How do you do that? You need to communicate with them. You need to tell them what you are doing, especially if you are open. What are your hours and store policies? You need to tell them how to do business with you. Because if you don’t tell them, how are they going to know? If you are closed and you can’t be open, you need to be communicating with your customers on any projects and future opportunities.
“If you go into a black hole, you can’t spend enough money to get that information out there. So, you have to be consistent as you work through this. Focusing on the customers is the thing that is going to make you or break you. Moreover, if you are closed, you have to communicate with your staff. If you have folks at home that aren’t working right now; you need to talk to them. You need to tell them what you are doing, what your plan is, and what this looks like when we reignite and we come out of this.
“We are going to get through this thing. We are going to get through it, together. I am going to survive it. I have the will. It is going to be a battle, but this team is battle-tested, especially after 40 years. We are going to be the strong ones standing at the end. This is going to be a test of your mental fortitude. And it’s not going to be easy, but if you have a plan and execute it, you will come out of this and survive.”
Maybe next year, those who survive will even thrive.