Sweet sound of success

Oregon car audio company chooses Vancouver for second location

Scott Strayhan and Erich Nitz were looking to expand their car audio business from Sandy, Ore., to the Vancouver/Portland metro market. In September, the two opened Elite Car Audio on Mill Plain in Vancouver where there was less competition from “all the big guys with a store on every other block” in Portland, said Strayhan.

Less competition also allowed the store to be more flexible in its product offerings, as manufacturers require retailers to maintain a certain distance from each other.

Strayhan and Nitz opened their Sandy location in 2002. They both gained experience working for “the big guys” prior to venturing out on their own.

“Cars and electronics have always been a passion of mine; we both have the same passion,” said Strayhan of Nitz and himself.

Elite Car Audio offers “anything related to car electonics,” said Strayhan, including audio, video, navigation and security products and installation.

New technology and automobile manufacturer innovation have dramatically changed the after market car audio and electronic industry, said Strayhan.

Satellite radio, iPods and wireless Bluetooth technology are finding their ways into cars, and manufacturers have become more sophisticated at integrating electronics and speakers into dashboards and throughout the car.
“The days of a standard deck and two speakers are gone,” said Strayhan.

Customers are requiring more custom service and are looking for ways to upgrade their stock equipment with more power and better quality speakers.

The store’s demographics are changing as well. Strayhan said the industry used to cater primarily to men, but the number of women customers is closely approaching that of men. Elite Car Audio’s work ranges from less than $100 to jobs of more than $10,000. The company is completing work on its own show car with products and labor equaling $25,000, said Strayhan.

Elite Car Audio chose its 2,700-square-foot Mill Plain location because of several nearby complementary automotive business. But business has been slower than expected at the off-street location with little foot traffic. Strayhan said the Sandy store grew by referrals and word-of-mouth exposure, which he said was easy to come by in a small town. That has been harder to come by in the larger area, but repeat business is starting to pick up here. The company has been spreading the word through local advertising and partnering with neighboring businesses. The company also attends area car shows and events.

The Vancouver site is staffed mainly by Strayhan and store manager Jeff Nicklas. The company is considering hiring a mobile installer to work between locations. Annual revenue at the Sandy store is between $250,000 and $275,000. Strayhan said the Vancouver store is below that mark and couldn’t speculate how the store will fare its first year. The company’s plan is to eventually have four locations in the region.

“We have to make this one work first before we consider where to go next,” said Strayhan.

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