Slumping Economy Softens Interest In Mobile Soundoffs

By Amy Gilroy On Sep 3 2001 - 6:00am

With the economy cutting into retailer promotional budgets, soundoff organizations are shouldering more of the burden of attracting new competitors. Several say they are launching new programs aimed at novices and high school students.

Some organizations also told TWICE that attendance is down at events, partially because there are more events being held, and also as a general result of the economy. The organizations vary, however, on their approaches to solve the problem.

Wayne Harris, president of dB Drag Racing, says his organization plans to offer new classes for very basic car audio systems to attract more competitors. Harris claims that some dealers, feeling the pinch of a down economy, are cutting back on advertising their competition events, which is in turn causing a drop in attendance.

"The only way we're going to kick this is to have new people getting involved in the competitions. We're looking at adding four new classes that specifically address novice competitors to hopefully give them the bug. We already have an entry level of competition but now we're really going to the 6-by-9s." Harris gave no specifics on the new classes noting, "It's still in the discussion stage, but we want to ensure that we are bringing in new blood."

IASCA agrees that attendance is slightly down but puts it as less than a five percent drop in competitors, according to president Tom Walker. IASCA is also looking to spread the bug for competition by a high school judging contest to take place at its world finals in Charlotte, N.C.

North Carolina retailers, including Freeman's Car Audio and Car Audio Masters, will be working with local high schools that will perform car stereo installations and be judged during the IASCA finals. The program will involve all the vocational high school wings so that the drafting department will design a speaker box, the wood shop will build it, the body shop will do the fiberglass work and painting, and the electronics department will install the car audio equipment. Even the cheerleaders are expected to get involved in photographing the final product, said Rick Wright, CEO for Car Audio Masters, Pineville, N.C.

David Richardson, president of Freeman's in Charlotte, N.C., said each of his stores will deliver a car to the closest high schools and give the students guidelines for which car audio equipment to use. "If they ask for assistance, we'll give it to them, but they will actually do the work. We're effectively just sponsoring the cars." Richardson says he plans to go to car auctions and purchase $4,000 to $5,000 vehicles. "The cars will still belong to us. We might take them back to the high schools to let them continue the project and add more accessories and then display them in our stores."

Students will be able to pick the car audio equipment within a specified class, "and then we'll go to the manufacturer and hopefully they will help us out," Richardson explained.

USAC says the attendance problem is not a lack of competitors, but too many events. "I don't know that attendance is really down that much. The actual number of people competing has risen, but the problem is that there are so many shows," said president Ralph Randall. "A large number of retailers are doing their own unsanctioned shows because the price of an SPL meter has gotten so low; and there are so many new local competition organizations cropping up. We've seen about a 500 percent increase in the number of shows going on out there. So the days of 100 competitor car shows are gone."

Randall said that some of the newer competing organizations include MECA, Two Dudes, Clash of the Titans, Street Pounder, SLAP and SLAM.

"Where there used to be one show within a four-hour drive there are now five shows within a two-hour drive," Randall said. The result, he said, is that at some events there are only a handful of competitors for each class, which is discouraging to both the competitors and the retailers. "Everyone agrees we're going to burn these dealers out and the competitors complain they don't want two or three cars in a class," he added.

USAC is planning to lower the number of competitors required for a dealer to receive a discount on USAC event fees. At present, the dealer must have 60 competitors for a free show, where typically USAC charges $500 to $1,500. While Randall said the organization will require fewer competitors for a full discount, he did not say what the new requirements would be.

Randall noted that USAC has talked about limiting the number of shows, "but the problem is the other associations aren't willing to do it."

DB Drag expects to sanction 1,000 to 1,100 shows this year. President Wayne Harris disagrees with USAC's call to reduce the number of events. "The competitors are always complaining that there's not enough shows, because the fewer the shows, the further they have to drive. So they want more shows in their home state. We get complaints like 'Why aren't there any shows in New Jersey?' On the other hand, when you have a lot of shows, there's the likelihood there will be less competitors at any given show. In the past there were two or three big shows, but now there are a lot of big shows and the competitors have more choice."

Harris also pointed out that capitalize on the events, a dealer should hold several. "You do an event, then two weeks later you have a tweak-and-tune for free, helping the competitors to tune their systems, and you get [them] to a point where they start spending money. So you need to keep people competing. So I don't know if it's good for the industry or bad."

Terry Miller marketing VP for, which manages about half of the IASCA events, said he has actually seen an increase in the number of competitors due to IASCA's new SQ street format. Miller notes, "The biggest issue this year is with the economy. Some retailers have chosen not to promote, while others are smart enough to know you have to promote, and manufacturers have been tightening their belts a little."

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