Signature Audio in Scottsdale, AZ doesn’t have to advertise or promote itself on the web, because it already turns away clients. It’s that high end.
The shop has bred some top technicians who went on to be industry tech gurus including Derek Schmiedl of NAV-TV and Doug Dobson of MCS America (new US distributors of Brax, Helix, Match and BLAM).
Owner David Hill opened the store around 2002 and has just moved into a larger, 8,500 square foot facility, as sales continue to grow.
Signature Audio does about $1.2 million in sales and is typically booked out 2-3 weeks in advance. It has three full time installers but could use two more. Hill believes business could increase 25 percent with more installers.
The shop works on exotic and European cars mainly and about 40 to 50 percent of its business is in custom radar. “We’re one of 5 Diamond dealers for K40 and one of the largest single store ESCORT dealers,” said Hill.
He originally worked as a salesman for a high end shop near Seattle and Microsoft that had an upscale cientel. “I call it white collar car audio,” he said. “I learned sound quality and keeping the value of the vehicles.” He moved to Scottsdale and then opened his own shop. At the time, installers were easy to come by, especially with Phoenix being one of the car audio centers.
“Phoenix 15 years ago had Rockford, and JL Audio has a warehouse here, and MTX… Precision Power was here. This was one of the centers of car audio.” How does he keep his installers? “I compensate them at the top of the scale,” he said. The shop also has short hours by car audio standards 8:30 to 5 Monday -Friday and it’s closed on the weekends, but there’s no shortage of clients.
“We have two to three Porsches in our bay all the time. Now there’s a boat in there getting a $15,000 system that’s all JL Audio with new VXi amplifiers,” said Hill.
He doesn’t market because it only leads to bad Yelp reviews when he turns down customers. And there’s no such thing as walking into Signature Audio with merchandise bought on the web. “We don’t do it. We just tell them we’re not interested…I’m a top 10 percent store. My general clientel does not shop me.”
The new location is about two miles from the old and almost double the size. Hill is still in the process of moving in, and has been at the new location for only two weeks.
Business comes mainly from referrals. Plus high end customers can buy a car every couple of years and they may own as many as 5 cars. If they want custom radar on each one, that’s good business.
Hill’s expertise is as a salesman, not an installer. He says skills of true 12 volt salesmen are growing rare. A great salesman is someone who has the knowledge of 20 years of cars so when they are asked about a Honda, or Chevy or Porsche it’s ll in their head, including fitments and what works and doesn’t. “Spread that across 20 different brands of vehicles; you have to have that kind of knowledge and be personable and have the skills to close deals,” he said.
Like others, he came into car audio as a hobby. After working at a leading Seattle-area shop he moved to Scottsdale to be near family. He worked for a store called Streamline Audio that built Alma Gates’ first competition vehicles.. Then he opened his own store.
Along the way he learned a few lessons. “We just knew we needed talent. And we understood that what we’re doing..is not about putting fish tanks in cars and then when it’s finished the car is cut to shreds. I needed intelligent people who could perform the work and still respect the vehicle. I was used to our Microsoft clientel. They’d lease a vehicle and put $10 or $20 grand into it and still expect to turn in their car without incurring a huge expense [to remove the system]. Most of our clients swap cars very regularly.”
What does the future hold for upscale car audio? “From here forward I think car audio stores in general need to start recognizing they are going to have to up their tech game…to keep up with the times. Anyone who sits back waiting for the manufacturers to fix all the problems for them will get left behind. Top end stores will have CNC machines, laser engravers, scan tools, all the tings we need to read a car to either make them sound better and make our safety features perform.”
Signature Audio brands carried include Elettromedia, JL Audio, Focal and NAV-TV.