Update on Installer Shortage

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Mobile Solutions car stereo installers

The shortage of car stereo installers continues to plague retailers, some of whom believe the issue is getting worse.

Some stores have been looking for qualified techs for a year or more.  One owner said he left $30K of business on the table in a single month after losing an installer.

A promising trend is that more retailers are training kids out of high school who are mechanically inclined.  It takes about a year before these trainees can work on a car and essentially pay for themselves, retailers said.

On the other hand, more retailers are seeing their older installers move to other industries, as crawling under cars and dashboards becomes too demanding physically.

“It’s getting worse because a lot of the installers that have been around the industry for a while are getting older and installing is difficult physically and so some are moving on.” said Dean Magnesen Owner, Sound Warehouse, UT.

Even the shops that pay top dollar are finding it difficult to  fill all tech positions.

John Coleman, President of Stereo King, OR said, “I don’t lose [installers] to other stores, I lose to other industries.”  He cited the problem of car stereo not being cool anymore so it’s not attracting as many young technicians.

Ken Ward of Musicar NW, OR sees it this way; “I think we’ve been telling kids for 20 years that working with your hands says you are stupid and you have to go to college and have a white collar job.  Everyone wants to be in a startup and write software.  SnapOn has been taking out a lot of ads promoting the idea that working with your hands is fine.  They have a cool meme of a mechanic with a wrench in his hand that says, ‘I have the get rich slow plan.’  We definitely, as an economy, have trouble finding technicians of any kind.”

He added, “I’ve heard from people in the automotive service business that it’s also hard to get automotive service technicians on that level. And they earn more with better benefits.”

On the flip side, award winning installer Chris Ott said it took a while to find a new job as a top installer.   He visited many shops across the country and some didn’t have enough business to justify a salary for a leading installer with 20 years of experience.

Most stores said they pay an hourly rate which might be around $12/hour plus commission.  Newer installers with a few years of experience can make $35K or more and installers with more experience can bring in $50K.   Some said top installers make about $60 to $65K a year.  And  we heard of some making as much as $95K or more in some instances.

Sound of Tri-State, DE said its having success with training kids out of high school.  So did The Specialists, AZ.

Freeman’s Car Stereo, NC also said its cross training some of its window tinters to perform car audio installations and it plans to cross train the car audio installers to do window tint.

John Haynes of Al & Ed’s Autosound, CA said the installer shortage is at the same level as last year.  “We could definitely do more business in some locations if we had more installers.  We have three locations where we’re scheduling out and sometimes customers can’t wait.”

Installer Institute of FL is one of the few training centers specifically for car audio in the country. The school receives inquiries from retailers looking for installers about 4 or 5 times a week.  “We are definitely seeing a shortage,” said Director Monica Anderson.  She said 5 years ago the demand for installers was slower.

The school produces about 100 to 150 graduates a week through programs that range from 5 weeks to 6 months.

Photo: Mobile Solutions

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  1. Those salary numbers are exactly the same as what we were talking about in 1990 when I was an installer. When many other skilled trades salaries increased over the years, installer salaries stayed roughly the same.

  2. This is a “MAJOR” problem that is not going away anytime soon. There is “0” regulation on pay for an installer, and absolutely nothing to strive for. You go to work every day, and do the same thing for the same money. It averages out to about 50k a year or less for most installers. As a kid, that’s EXCELLENT money, but become an adult (Veteran installer) with no benefits, and the pay just sucks. Time to move on. The problem is that shop owners, manufacturers are doing nothing about it. Manufacturers offer financial rewards (spiffs) to sales staff, and only recently offer any incentives to installers, but it’s usually not monetary. If we keep driving out veteran installers in place of a kid that will do if for less pay, to make more profits, then expect this industry to fail in the years to come. Veteran installers are the most versatile, and educated (in their field) of anyone in this industry, and yet they are large in part the most under compensated individuals in the industry. What’s worse is that the sales staff in this industry is still offered a higher compensation, and yet most installers are better salespeople than the kids in the front of the stores, and they are closing sales, or teaching most of the new sales staffs also. It’s time to shit or get off the pot. Installers can cross over to mechanic, and increase their pay by 15-20k a year, and get benefits. Start paying your veteran installers properly, and you will see a increase in new blood wanting to become installers.

  3. Its amazing that we in the industry didn’t see this coming. We don’t actively promote our industry to the kids that are out there today. We still have shop out there that don’t have operated POS systems. They like to call themselves “old school’. We are living in the a high tech world and some shop are not moving forward. We still pay like its the 1980’s and wonder why we aren’t seeing more people get into the 12v industry. Sometime we need to look in the mirror or even get out of our own comfort zone.

  4. As a shop owner that pays his guys an above average wage I think the problem is in the public’s perception of installers. A huge step towards improving that perception is getting installers certified. Not a MECP certification but an actual Red Seal program. You can be a Journeyman of hair cutting for petes sake but installers that need to be electrical specialists, fabricators, upholsterers, and all around customizers, have no such program. This to me is the root of the problem.

  5. 17 years under dashes for other people, 34+ on the side. What do I have to show for it.
    No retirement, No large amount of money. and my last job was almost 10 years ago. I’m 90% less stressed, but at my age I’m done with crawling under someone’s car to put on Neon when we have a foot of snow outside, or installing a remote start system in the snow outside at 30 dg 2 days before Christmas because the boss booked 3 appointments for a one bay shop. 10 years in that shop that means 10 years of putting up with shitty treatment and crappy wadges.
    That why you have a shortage of installers.
    Oh I can still install at 55 I loved it, I just don’t do it anymore.
    Cars are not getting any e-zer to work on. will they are a lot with plug and play but where will car audio be in 5 years 10 years or 15 years?

    Next shop I’ll need to be behind the desk selling stuff, because I’m too dam old to install it anymore. in 15 years i’ll be 70. Will car audio shops still be around then?

  6. The answer is in the body of this article.. $35-50K is not a enticing amount of money to commit to a career. If installers made more money, then we would have more installers; the few guys who make 65+ a year are not the benchmark.
    Installers are integral to the future of our industry, without qualified installers we will not have means of keeping this industry going.
    Business models need to be adjusted to compensate the people that facilitate the installation of the products we want to sell, and attract new blood to keep the industry afloat.
    Show them the $$$

  7. we contact high school auto shop teachers here , in the dc area, and are told that all of their students are college bound. guess i will have to start looking at what the prisons are letting out.

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