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Worldwide Captures Independent Spirit

10/01/2005 01:05:00 PM Eastern

Hatfield, Pa. — "We’re the ‘Cheers’ of A/V retailing," says Bob Cole, the former psychologist and self-professed old hippie who founded Bob & Ron’s World Wide Stereo 27 years ago in the Philadelphia area. "Our sales guys build relationships with customers, and customers are always there hanging out."

Indeed, the two-store chain fosters a warm and fuzzy family feel for home theater aficionados thanks to its career employees and cozy showrooms where lounging is encouraged. "We want to make everyone who walks through the door happy," Cole explains. "Our mission statement is to do well by doing good. Be good to one another and the customer. And excite them over the joy that our products bring."

If the warmth and enthusiasm of its sales staff is contagious, it starts from the top down. Cole’s management philosophy stems from his days as executive director of a community mental health center and a private practitioner. "I believe in firing guys up rather than firing them. We give people chances that others won’t. And they return it with respect, loyalty and hard work."

In fact, World Wide Stereo boasts almost zero turnover and still employs its very first salesperson (the eponymous Ron), its first installer, and a one-time teenage typist who now serves as comptroller. Loyalty is also engendered by a no-layoff policy that held firm during the economic downturn in 2000. ("We sink or swim together," Cole said.)

Cole currently maintains two showrooms and 60 employees, including 15 full-time installers who are booked five weeks in advance. Jobs range from simple $2,000 installations to $1 million whole house automation, fueled by a surfeit of vacation homes, retrofits by baby boomers and empty nesters, and new home construction. "There’s more business than we can handle," he notes.


Best Independent Retailer


The Nominees

Abt Electronics

Bjorn’s Audio Video

Karl’s TV & Appliance

Vann’s
World Wide Stereo

On the product side, World Wide offers an expansive selection of premium A/V products, including Runco and Hitachi plasma displays and Integra, Klipsch, SpeakerCraft and Totem audio.

The $13 million business is posting significant gains in margins and profits this year, and is on track to do $15 million in 2006. Cole attributes his good fortune to "a good team, buying smarter and better, dealing fairly with vendors," and remaining true to his original business model, which places equal emphasis on the custom and retail sides of the business.

In addition, a now legendary series of wacky and risqué radio spots helped make World Wide as much a local fixture for Philly area residents as cheese steaks and the Liberty Bell.

When not minding the store, Cole also serves as president of Home Entertainment Source (HES), the 400-member

A/V specialty wing of the $4 billion Brand Source buying group.

"Dealers don’t feel so lonely anymore," he said.

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