Tom Keenan found that his car audio sales were shrinking and it was getting harder to make ends meet. He closed up his shop on Long Island to work for another car audio store. But in 2009 he landed a deal to install GPS tracking in a large fleet. That led to the creation of Top Class Installations, Franklin Square, NY, which now handles fleet and commercial vehicle installations exclusively.
Since then Top Class Installations has grown from a 2-man operation of Keenan and his partner to 11 people. It just signed a deal to outfit 5,000 to 6,000 NY City school buses. This week it upgraded the GPS trackers in 87 trucks in the course of one day for Time Warner Cable.
“The industry is just growing and growing. There’s still a ton of opportunity,” said Keenan, adding that the market extends beyond trucks to include construction equipment. “We just did a project for Skanska Construction Company. We not only did their vehicles, but every asset in inventory including portable generators, welders, light towers and construction equipment. If it’s on a job site, they wanted to know where it is.”
Keenan’s partner Jimmy Gavalas originally worked for a subcontractor for Verizon that was looking to add GPS trackers to about 300 to 400 trucks. The two partnered up and took over the job, then launching Top Class Installations. The business now brings in gross sales of over $1 million a year. “In my original shop, the best year brought in $350,000” said Keenan.
Sales are still growing. Top Class increased its gross revenue by 53 percent in the past two years, he said.
There’s no physical shop, almost all of the work is performed on site at the client. Top Class doesn’t even sell the actual GPS trackers or cameras, but relies strictly on the sale of labor.
“We don’t need a showroom. Our overhead is extremely low compared to a brick and mortar business. Inventory is sold by the GPS manufacturing partner; it’s shipped to the end user and we schedule a time to show up at the job site,” Keenan said.
He’s starting to branch into installation of Mobileye-type collision warning systems and dash cameras.
“Dash cameras are going to be real big in the future. I think the US is behind the times when it comes to dash cams. I think there’s a very large opportunity in not just installing tracking but dash cameras or a camera that records to some extent. Some of the equipment we’re now seeing is a camera with GPS tracking built in, so it’s one piece of hardware, killing two birds with one stone,” he said.
Keenan’s advice for other retailers thinking about entering fleet sales is to start researching the various GPS tracking manufacturers and then approaching them, explaining that you have the installation expertise on these products. “But you must be flexible to do this. This is a mobile job. For the most part, you are going to have to send a mobile field crew or installer to do this work,” he said.
The downside of the job is that you have to be there either before the trucks leave in the morning or when they return in the evening. “This is a service based business. You must take care of your customers. You can’t be nailed down to typical business hours. That’s probably the hardest part of the job,” he added.