Are Vehicle Specific Audio Systems Good For Retailers?

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Are Vehicle Specific Systems Good for Retailers

By Mr Retail

 Are vehicle specific audio systems good for dealers, or do they detract from installation business? These systems bolt right in so they are easier for  dealers to install, but some are also easier for consumers to install.

Vehicle specific systems may be simple speaker kits or subwoofer upgrades, or they may be complete packages with amps/subs, DSP, and speakers. 

Let’s say there are three types.  The first is intended for and marketed to DIYers. Here the supplier is effectively competing with an independent retailer and removing all the profitability we would have in selling the product. This is a race to zero for us, in my opinion. I would not support, suggest, or install these products if I were running your store for you.  Most familiar aftermarket brands are not in this category.

The second type of system targets an independent retailer to do the work. It allows us to make money on the product AND the labor. But there’s a catch in how these brands (including many leading aftermarket brands) are marketing these systems.  They pitch the systems as plug and play, so their marketing may be telling consumers they can install these on their own.

This is a slippery slope for our industry. So, you as a retailer have to decide if you want to partner with one of these companies. I will say, in our store we have done well with two brands that would fit into this category, but we are careful not to become synonymous with those brands so as to not lose our identity. We also offer step-up packages with increased performance that we created in-house that go above and beyond these two brands.  

A third type of vehicle specific system are very good for retailers in my opinion. There is no downside to them, assuming you trust that vendor. We sell a Bronco audio upgrade from Systems by MSC for $6,000 installed that we can install in six hours. It sounds fantastic, and makes us great money per hour.   

We could not match that profit dollar per hour ratio by doing our own complete system. The engineering of the system also allows for a level 2 technician to do a quality install in our bay. We are open for 44 hours in a week, so one technician could install six of these at a minimum, meaning $36,000 per week in one bay. Two technicians would be $72,000, or 3.7 million dollars per year! We all know I won’t see 624 Broncos come through my bay in one year, but the numbers show the profitability.

Many of us also do really well selling Harley upgrades from brands making kits specifically designed for them. Again, you have to decide if that particular brand has your own best interest at heart.

 In closing, I suggest you not simply put your head in the sand and wait for this category to pass. It is here to stay and with some vendors, it is a breath of fresh air. Now, you have to go decide who is a valued partner to you, and who has your best interest at heart. I wish you well in your journey.

Mark Miller

(Mr Retail)

Mark Miller Westminster Speed & Sound, Mr Retail

Mark  is the CEO of Westminster Speed & Sound, an award-winning retailer in Westminster, Maryland. The company was founded in 1969, and Mark took it over in 1990 at the age of 23. He first started in the industry in 1986, so he has been at it for a while. He has served on the board of MERA, taught seminars in over a dozen different cities, and served on the SEMA New Product Awards judging team.

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  1. There will always be a DIY customer. Many of us started as DIY customers. I don’t see how selling to DIY customers has much of a negative. I don’t see how offering DIY capable products has much of a negative.
    DIY customers can, with the help of adapters from companies like Crutchfield and many others, install universal car audio themselves.
    They can also do so with the help of Brick and Mortar retailers.
    Embracing these consumers is good for your bottom line.

    Why? Because installers aren’t growing on trees, bay space is limited, and these customers are going to buy from somewhere. Why would you not want it to be you?

    You get an extra sale without tying up your bay. You get a chance to sell the customer additional products they may not have known about.
    You get a chance to have that customer walk through your door to begin with.
    You get a chance to become your customers go to shop by giving them a few minutes of your time.
    You get a chance for a non-diy sale down the line.

    I get to talk to a lot of consumers as a support person, and the most painful thing I hear is this: I went to XYZ, and they didn’t want to help me because I said I want to put it in myself.

    These dealers are often the same guys complaining there’s a lack of new young installers, and sales people.

    Where do you think those installers and sales people come from?

    I watched a former coworker complain that he couldn’t buy speaker wire anywhere on a Sunday in NC. He highlighted, radio shack is closed, big boxes are closed other than Best Buy, and they didn’t have what he wanted in stock. Mom and pops didn’t want to give him the time of day for speaker wire. He’s a former retailer, and can’t support a brick and mortar store, because there aren’t any to support.
    This is a guy that wants a place to buy speakers, buy gear, at a brick and mortar store, and he can’t find one to deal with because he wants cable for DIY.

    Is anyone else seeing a problem with all of this?

  2. Mark I do miss our spirited discussions. And on this topic we are only partially in agreement, so let me present an alternative view.

    First up: anything that brings a customer into your store is a positive. Many years ago that new upstart called Crutchfield started mailing out catalogs with discount priced car stereo. Retailers were up in arms. I was over joyed. Nothing was more promising than a customer with a folded up Crutchfield catalog in his back pocket: he had already decided to buy! The hard part was already done and as a professional I was ready willing and able to help him decide what to buy. These plug and play systems are doing the same thing: they are finding the customer and getting them right to the edge of a buying decision.

    Never forget to consider the buyers point of view. The major benefit of plug and play is the confidence the customer has in it fitting correctly, not damaging the car, and being completed with out any surprises. I conducted focus groups to evaluate an audio system targeted at the classic car market. It was instructive as the biggest objection wasn’t price, it was the fear of leaving the car with an installer. The second objection was the fear of having to deal with a salesperson that wanted to “oversell” what they wanted. Now these were typically older customers and many of them could remember having big holes cut in the door panels to mount speakers, and some of the other sins of our industry back in the day.

    Plug and play answers both objections. Sometimes the best answer is YES. What happens after you win the customers confidence is up to you. We are in complete agreement about optimizing revenue per hour. We are in complete agreement that everything your store touches MUST include your distinctive brand of service. It’s not so much what you do as how you do it.

    The cost of finding the next customer is high and our ability to even locate, much less touch those customers, is limited. Let the plug and play guys do the heavy lifting finding those customers and let your store make the sale.

  3. Any vehicle specific category will be profitable if done right. Few things to note:
    1. Make sure to understand how the vehicle specific kit works and all its limitations/benefits. Vehicles are complicated these days.
    2. Make a direct contact with the manufacturer to get the best dealer price and order the proper SKUs directly. Make, model and year is very important, make sure to provide that !
    3. Even though the kit is for specific vehicle it does not imply that an average person can install it, professional tools are still required. Use them, make the installation look good, not only from the outside
    4. Provide feedback to the manufacturer if things are not going well or need “customization”, it will help us to improve the design. We get very decent feedback from the regular customers and never from the installers. The only feedback we got from installers: “it does not work”.

    And please please please, check the manufacturer’s installation instructions, videos and follow them. If unsure, do not hesitate to reach out for a specific question on a specific vehicle. Not all information is available to the public, we have more to share.

    Vehicle specific kits are the future. You won’t be able to upgrade amps/speakers/infotainment with only the generic components.

  4. As a manufacturer of both “Vehicle Spec” subwoofer systems and enclosures, which offer unique, ‘best of breed, made in America subwoofer solutions, we are at the vanguard of providing retailers with an ideal ‘hybrid’ scenario, to allow them to sell fully ‘tailored’ subwoofer solutions, combined with “ala carte” custom speaker and amp solutions. This is at the core ‘value proposition’ of the specialist “retailer experience.” These type of ‘turn-key’ systems are largely targeted at the growing DIY market, which is clearly an angle some vendors are now deploying, in an attempt to become more relevant, and to reduce retailers potential GP revenue. No one is ‘asking’ for these expensive packages.
    No ‘one box’ / prefab solution package can hope to match the performance of a properly selected (installed + tuned) component system, as NO one company has true “core competency” in every category. So while these package systems are certainly good for the supplier, they all represent compromises on some level, and serve to dilute the “custom” integration element, which boutique retailers depend upon. With the proliferation of ‘speaker adaptor kits’ (and 3D printing), to facilitate ‘drop-in’ speaker installation, plus lower-cost DSP options, there can be little argument that most upscale retailers can now deliver superior results, plus realized greater obtainable margins, vs. buying some ‘turn-key’ package. Naturally, there are some differences between these trending solutions, and while traditional ‘bolt-on’ bike kits make sense, the value of that type of architecture, applied in other vehicle platforms, does not necessarily lead to increased overall efficiency, but to reduced bottom-line results.

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