Home Automation Podcast Episode #177: An Industry Q&A With Brett Ringeisen
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Brett Ringeisen, Director at Audiohouse shares how the family business and the electronics industry evolve over the decades.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Brett Ringeisen. Recorded live on Wednesday, July 7th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Brett Ringeisen
As a child, Brett Ringeisen’s father, Chet, moved the family from Lafayette, LA to Vero Beach, FL with the goal of establishing and running several businesses. Their family acquired a small business called Norris Record Center where Brett began working at the age of 14. Brett watched the industry grow over the last 50 years from the early days of records and cassette tapes to the 1st in-home televisions, to what we refer to today as "custom home electronics." As the industry changed, so did the business name and eventually Norris Record Center became The Audiohouse by the mid-’70s. Brett’s loyalty to both the industry and marketplaces needs over the decades helped him grow a once small-town record shop into an acclaimed, fixture of his Vero beach community.
- How the family business and electronics industry evolved over the decades
- The very first CEDIA event in 1990!
- Brett's windsurfing accident and how that affected him as well as the company
- Lessons learned from the hardship and how they made him a better leader
Ron: Hello. Ron Callis again is trying to go live in trying to get technology to behave. Today is Wednesday, July 7th. It is a little bit after 12:45 p.m. Eastern time. We are just coming off of the July 4th weekend or holiday. I know here at One Firefly, we were closed on Monday and yesterday as we were back in action, and it felt like I was drinking from a firehose. Life and business are coming at us fast and furious. Additionally, I've had a lower back issue most of my professional life, just on a personal note.
"It's all about the theory of relativity, and your situation is always relative to other situations."
Many of you at CEDIA has seen me depending on the year, buzzing around the show on a scooter because sometimes I can't walk very well because my back isn't cooperating. This past Sunday, I had probably the worst back spasm, or basically, you could call it your back giving out on you, maybe of my life. It was pretty terrifying and pretty awful. I think I'm sorry for myself. By the way, I'm very thankful that I'm back here in my office in this chair. This is the first day since all that went down. Brett Ringeisen sent me over the prep notes for this show. And he did a wonderful job of giving me a lot of his back story and kind of where he comes from and how he came to be where he is running the successful business he is. And I learned a lot about his challenges with his back. Let's just say they're dramatically more severe than mine. We'll talk about that here in just a few minutes. But it's all about the theory of relativity, and your situation is always relative to other situations. Whereas I was feeling sorry for myself on Monday and literally couldn't move, the reality is there are people out there right now, people listening. You'll hear Brett's story that their situations, their medical situations, are far more severe.
I was quickly humbled and realized that I would regain mobility under normal circumstances, which I have, and other people to varying degrees are never able to regain their mobility. I think Brett's story is going to be a Hallmark movie one day, maybe on the big screen when movie theaters come back. But it's really an amazing story of triumph. It's right here, born in our industry. Without further ado for show 177, I'm going to bring on Brett Ringeisen. He is the Director of The Audiohouse. Brett, how are you, sir?
Brett: Hey, Ron, I'm doing well. Thanks for having me.
Ron: You are welcome, sir. We survived the snafu.
Brett: Yes, we did. I'm glad you've learned the origin of the term here.
Ron: Were you in the military at some point, or how did you learn that term?
Brett: No, my dad was a Korean fighter pilot, and I'm surrounded. I can't turn the cameras on by some of his pilot medals and pictures. But no, he taught me the origin of snafu earlier.
Ron: I think everyone listening can relate to and accompanying varying levels of snafu, sometimes daily, weekly, monthly. It's not if you're going to have that. It's what do you do about it, right?
Brett: That's right. And the other thing I wanted to comment on, you're talking about your back and some of the physical challenges I've faced. And it all harkens back to Tom Petty's song. You don't know what it's like to be me. I hear the tune ringing in my ears right now.
Ron: That's so accurate. Alright. We're going to get into so many fun, interesting, challenging topics. I've known you for a long time. I want to say probably back to the early 2000s when I moved into Florida, and I called on you.
Brett: As a Crestron guy.
Ron: As a Crestron guy, that is accurate. Give us a quick understanding. What is The Audiohouse, maybe a brief synopsis of your business and your role within the business?
Brett: Sure. OK, well, I am the Director of the company and we are a one-store operation in Vero Beach, Florida, and we have 12 employees. We've been about that same size from day one, and that's been since 1970. Obviously, we've changed a lot over the years. Allow me to chat a little about that, but right now, we're doing what probably most everybody else is doing with. Integrating clients, beautiful homes, typically high-end homes, we're fortunate to live in a very wealthy winter home community, doing all the custom AV, integration, shades, lighting, etc., and got a good crew, good people here.
Ron: Your role personally, do you find yourself selling or interacting with clients in that capacity, or are you running the company day to day, or what are normal roles or responsibilities for you in a week or month look like?
Brett: That's a good question. While I'm Director of the company and since I've had an accident back in 1999, not so mobile. I've done a lot of the selling over the years and certainly the majority of the high-end selling. But I now run the company and run the operations and oversee things. I'm typically here every day. I love the business. I think it's challenging. It's one of the things that's made me super excited about being alive from day one all through the trying periods, and I am very involved in all the operations every day.
Ron: Mostly residential or one hundred percent in terms of the types of jobs?
Brett: In Vero Beach, there's really not much commercial business here. It's not a bedroom town or a large town. We don't have many, certainly anything industrial, not much commercial. It's almost all residential. Yes.
Ron: OK, well, let's go back in time. How long has The Audiohouse been around, and I'm just going to tell you what I think I know, which I know is that you and your family moved to Florida and your dad acquired several businesses, and one of them was this record store? But I'll let you tell the story. You have a lot more colorful details, and I'll maybe chime in along the way. But you've been at this game of audio, video, and technology and serving your customers for many decades.
Brett: Yeah, the company started in 1970 when my dad moved his family from Louisiana to Florida. My dad and my one brother drove up and down the coast, found the little town of Vero Beach in 1970, and said, "Yeah, this looks like a nice spot, not in a major metropolitan area, but a beautiful East Coast location." And he actually picked two businesses to buy. One was an orthotics store, and the other one was a record store. I'm glad he picked the record store because I wouldn't want to sell orthotics or prostheses or that kind of thing.
This is a lot more exciting industry. Yeah, we started it was selling records and tapes at that point. There were a few stereo components, and that's how we got into audio back in the early days of 1970. That was Scott's component. Some Advent speakers were in there. It was obviously the early days in the industry.
Ron: In those early record stores, let's just say that was it called The Audiohouse in the 70s?
Brett: No, it was the Norris Record Center. We upgraded to the Norris Record and Tape Center because eight tracks started coming out, and then we changed it to The Audiohouse probably two years later.
Ron: OK, you saw maybe more technologies coming out. We can't change our name every time a new format comes out.
Brett: That's right.
Ron: We'll be all things audio. At what point did the business go from just selling the tapes or eight tracks or records and whatnot to also selling the gear? Did it always sell the gear, or was that an evolution of the business now?
Brett: Good question. We had a couple of pieces of gear in there, but it really took off. There was a fellow named Jay Young who's since passed away. He was a young man, valedictorian of the high school, and he decided to take a year off from our two years off from college. He came to my dad and said, "Hey, I know a little bit about this kind of stuff, audio, and video." My dad hired him. My dad didn't know a thing about stereos, or he just knew he wanted to do something on his own. He hired Jay, who started to bring in audio and video equipment or no video. Actually, there were TV stores at the time, but they brought in some amplifiers and turntables and moved in that direction.
I was 14 at the time, and I hung out at the store. My two brothers are they hang out too. But neither of them was so interested in sticking around the store. But I was fascinated. I love talking to people and playing with the records, and playing with a guitar. I took to it like a fish takes to the water.
Ron: We have a comment here, and it's Jamie Harrison. Jamie actually, first of all, says he worked in The Audiohouse from '86 to 2000. And then he says, "Ask Brett about Dooley Underwood." Who is that or what is that?
Brett: Alright. Good question, Jamie. Good to talk to you. Yeah, Jamie was a big part of our business back in the early days. He did all of our installations. Dooley Underwood was our technician. My dad realized that back in those days, you need to do repairs. That's unheard of these days. It's basically a throwaway society, or you have something expensive, you ship it back to the factory, but back in those days, you'd have a service center. This fellow walked into the store, and he looked kind of like Doc from Back to the Future and said, "Hey, I know a little bit about stereos, and I can fix anything." He had his pipe in his mouth. Dooley actually started with Bill Leer, who invented the eight-track player, which most people don't know.
Bill Leer is more famous for the Leer jet, which obviously is made a lot more money on, but Dooley worked for Bill Leer back in the '60s and moved to Vero Beach to retire. My dad hired him, and that guy fixed just about anything and everything from probably the time Jamie was here, probably the early '70s to probably 1990 when he died. But yeah, Dooley was a trip.
Ron: Go back to the '70s. You said you were 14. Was this like, was this your job where you go into high school and then come into the record store to work it? Or do you just do weekends, or how did that work out?
Brett: Yeah, now it's a dream come true. I didn't know anyone in town, but I was a popular kid since I had access to forty-fives and thirty threes. I'd be invited to the parties, and I'd spin the discs. Back then, the records, forty-fives, sold for $0.99, and thirty-threes sold for $3.98. But I fell right into it, and I love talking to people. Back in the early 70s, the L.A. Dodgers used Vero Beach as their spring training facility, which they did from 1945 to I think 2003. We had a store downtown in the early days, and the Dodgers took all the famous Dodgers would come in and buy records and buy some equipment from us. We'd be talking to Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax and Maury Wills and Walter Alston and all these famous L.A. Dodgers and hanging out with those guys. We're also by the only movie theater in town.
It's called the Florida Theater. This was the hot spot to be so. But that was downtown, which eventually started dying. My dad, at that point, found a shopping center close to the beach that looked like it was going to be the new location for a lot of traffic coming across from the wealthy beach. He bought a lot there where we built the store, which I am currently on right now. I was back in 1976, and that's when I went to college and then came back and went full time, some kind of a one-trick pony run. Really the only thing I know is AV gear my whole life from an early age.
Ron: What did you study in college?
Brett: Advertising. Near and dear to your heart. It didn't work out for me.
Ron: I'm going to call you. I'm just saying keep your resume updated just in case.
Brett: Maybe the next 50 years or so. This is our fiftieth-anniversary last year—nineteen 1970 to 2020.
Ron: I'm afraid I won't be able to afford you. I'm just putting that out there. But yeah, just in case you're willing to take a step down or two or three.
Brett: We'll see here.
Ron: That's funny. When you joined the store, you came here right after college?
Brett: Yeah. Well, actually, I went to work the one pretty instrumental job and my development. I went to work, and you may have heard of this is a company called South-Western Book Sales. This is a company that sold Bible stories and reference books, and they recruit college kids. Right before I graduated, or actually right after I graduated before I came to work for my dad, I took a summer job through them and went up to Nashville and learned how to sell books. They sent us up to different airports and everybody in the different cities around the country. They sent me to Boone, Iowa, which was in the boondocks and still is.
But the current crop was good that year. The economy was great. It was fertile ground, figuratively and literally speaking, for a bookseller. We'd go up there. They'd tell you how not to spend any money and save some money. I found a cheap place to stay at a lady's home, and we worked 13.5 a day, six days a week, so it was seventy-eight hours a week. You talk about learning to deal with rejection and loneliness. Many no's before you get some yeses. That job will do you. Anybody out there, maybe their kids, have had a little bit of easy time growing up like we all want to do. We want our kids to have a simple way or a good life. Send them to Southwestern Company and make some book sales, and they'll learn rejection.
Ron: Was this your plan to do that? Was this your dad's plan or your mom and dad's plan, or how did the decision to do that? Or was it the cash? Did you see the opportunity to make some cash?
Brett: Cash, Ron. I didn't have any money at the time. I remember my dad told me after when I got here, he said, look, I'm going to pay you ten thousand bucks a year, which was a lot of money at the time. But I didn't have any money. I was making $2 an hour back then working for my dad, which was the going rate.
Ron: Was that minimum wage was $2 an hour minimum wage?
Brett: You got me. I don't even know if they had a minimum wage. But I didn't have any money. I went up there without any idea, but I came home with about $5000, which tripled the money that I had in my bank account. It was a lucrative summer of fun here.
Ron: I can imagine, and so how many summers did you just do that once, or you did that for multiple years?
Brett: One summer and then came into work and in 1970 and then, yeah, back in those days, we did a little bit of car stereo that was fledgling back then, and nobody was doing anything. We'd hang eight-track players under the dash, and the cassettes were just coming out. I remember getting underneath the dash, getting all cut up, taking a one-inch hole saw, and putting in FM antennas. That was a really interesting time back in the day. That was also the golden age of home stereo. You've been around long enough to know that in the '70s, it was two-channel. There was no such thing as quadraphonic.
At the time, there was no audio and video, nothing. Nobody tied a TV together because there was no VCR. I know they even had that inclination. Learning to sell stereos was a dream come true. And I remember we were one of the first Yamaha dealers in the state. AMI sales Keith Halpern's one of my mentors. He owns AMI, still runs it. But he came up, and he brought a member, a Yamaha receiver, and he said one of the first things people ask them to look at this Yamaha receiver, and they said, "Where is the Kickstarter on this thing?" Nobody knew of anything of them doing AV, of course, their musical instrument manufacturer. But anyway, so Keith taught me a lot about selling. We were PARA members back then. For some of you old-timers, PARA was called Professional Audio Retailers Association.
They taught us how to close that do demos. That was pre-CEDIA days, so we got ourselves educated, and we're pretty good at that. We a beautiful sound room, all the equipment. Back then, we sold reels and turntables, and we learned all the specs, how much total harmonic distortion that has because people care about that, and they are a certain speaker. We'd sit there, and we'd play one cut and play another cut. It was fun—a lot of fun selling stereo back then. Now people don't care so much about it. Macintosh dealer, and we sell high-end stuff, but not like back then.
Ron: When we say back then, that's just to help the audience. Are we talking back in the 80s?
Brett: Still the 70s until the 70s. That changed slightly when the VCR and I thought, I don't have a picture, I'll post it later on. I got a picture. It was really fascinating. The first big screen came out. We were an ad that we picked up. We were an Advent speaker dealer. Advent came out with a speaker or a TV called the video beam.
Ron: OK, so this was the big box with the projector, and it shot onto the screen?
Brett: Yes. There are two pieces. That was a screen, a separate screen, and then the big box. Yes. And I'll post that later on so you could see it. But I had scored one of those. Where have we had one of the first in the country? This was probably 1980. I called the newspaper, and I had them take a picture of me next to the Advent video beam and a VCR and the article described. This TV is ten times bigger than a 19-inch tv, which is standard at that time. A VCR is something that you can record your own movies or sometimes play movies. The point of that is nobody was tying audio and video together. That was the moment where they integrated audio and video. Surround sound receivers followed from there.
Ron: What would an Advent TV cost in maybe today's dollars, or how could you help our audience understand, like the price point you were selling that type of solution?
Brett: Well, it's a good question. I think it was $3995.
Ron: In the mid-nineteen seventies?
Brett: Yeah. This was probably 1980.
Ron: Alright, someone out there listening. Do some math for us. Use the interweb. Help us understand what $4,000 in 1980 would mean here in 2021 dollars. That'll be a fun bit of trivia. Now at your store, then, you were what percentage of the business car audio versus home audio or home technology was?
Brett: Well, through the '70s, it was just a little bit of car, but mostly home audio. We still did records and tapes, records and tapes. Once tapes started to come online, the record business started fading away, and we saw the writing on the wall. We devolved, or we just disassociated ourselves from records and tapes and went strictly to audio and video. Actually, we ended up bringing Sony TVs on. There are a couple of other TVs in store. But what was fascinating is that at the time is we sold anything electronics, right? We had a few TVs, but we would bring them in. Let's say we had cassette decks.
We had clock radios, we had answering machines, answering trivia, and answering machines. You don't have answering machines anymore, and then back in the latter days, answering machines sold for $29. An answering machine was $300-$400. We recorded calls. We made good money selling an answering machine. The clock radio was a big deal. We were the only store in town that sold any of these electronics. This is before the consumer electronics industry really exists.
Ron: Before Best Buy.
Brett: Yeah, no, Best Buy. No Circuit City. Well, Sound Advice started about the same time we did as an audio store, and they morphed into a little bit of a chain regional chain. But there's certainly no nationwide company. Yeah, we sold just about anything and everything. We're the only town you could buy a VCR tape or a cassette tape. Obviously, the world's changed. But that was a lot of fun being the go-to place for technology. The '80s came in. Actually, here's an interesting thing. In the 70s, you talked about going back is the CB radio craze, Ron.
Ron: Smokey and the Bandit.
Brett: Ron, you tell me you're 43. This happened in 1973 that there is an oil embargo that was placed, and I've read about it in the history books, and the speed limit was nationwide. Fifty-five miles an hour. That was a problem because everybody had lead feet. I was going off to college, and this was '73. It started. I don't remember how many years the speed limit was capped at. Three or four or five years that you couldn't go over 55 legally. Obviously, for law-abiding citizens, things under the laws into their own, and everybody put these CB radios in their car, which created a booming market for us.
In addition to our car stereo, we were selling these everybody's trying to get away from. Smokey and the Bandit were huge, which further cemented this into the psyche of the nation. I was the beach boy and Barbara Bush at the time. She was called "the first mama." She had a handle. Everybody got into this praise. It was a lot of fun. We showed a lot.
Ron: I got the first car I want to say when I was 16. It was a Dodge Daytona Turbo that the turbo would randomly kick in. I bought the car for $600. I sold the car three years later for $600, and the car came with a CB radio. I would be cruising around talking on the CB radio, not knowing the right protocols. That would have been the super early days of the Internet and bulletin boards, BBSes and I would go out and look up the right handles because there's a whole lexicon of how to talk on a CB radio.
Brett: What's your location?
Ron: What your location? Anyway, I can't even pretend to do it now. It's so many decades from my memory banks, 30 years. But I relate to that. I played around with one of those when I was a kid.
Brett: The '70s morphed into obviously it's the next decade but in the '80s and for our store. Most of our business was car audio, so that started to come on strong. The car audio companies or the car companies didn't put good radios in the car—very good speakers. Detroit and Japan didn't really see the need for that yet. That opened up the heyday for car stereo.
Ron: It was all about the Alpine radio with their removable faceplate.
Brett: That's exactly right.
Ron: I bought those. Every extra dollar I made from cutting grass went into my Alpine stereo.
Brett: Absolutely. This was when the high-tech stuff came into play, and cars were put in multiple amps, and people's cars are we saw the writing on the wall, and we started to do just a ton of business. We built an add-on garage in the back of our store. We hired more installers, and we picked up the best lines. We finagled Alpine's away from one of our competitors. Keith Halpern Tweek is a buddy of mine, and the rep and Keith liked us. He marched into the other dealer in town who's no longer in business. I'm not fearful of retribution by saying this right now, and here why you guys aren't doing enough business and give us the line, which was great.
We did a lot of Alpine. Rockford Fosgate, back in those days, we were doing Jeanson and the six-by-nine speakers and pile subwoofers. I'll tell you. I've been doing the work inside of a car. When you're upside down, you're hot and sweaty. Ten years later, when we got out of car audio and moved into the stuff we do now, working in an attic is a luxury.
Ron: A piece of cake. Look at all that elbow room you have in that attic.
Brett: Yeah. The big thing back in the car-audio days that really spurred more adoption and more energetic buying by these testosterone-fueled kids that were probably your age sixteen to twenty-five and spending every bit of disposable income on the cardio competitions. Alpine had a competition called Car Audio Nationals, which they held around the world, around me. They've been around the world, certainly around the country, but we bought into that, and we have some competitions here, and we did it for probably seven or eight years. That was at the peak of that run. We probably had a hundred cars lined up, and we had to sell hot dogs out there, basically. There's a band out there. We somehow finagled the superintendent of schools to let us use the school next door, their grounds to hold one of these, and so we had a lot of fun judging and selling karate, and people would spend their just last dollar.
As a matter of fact, I remember this one guy came in with a bag full of dollar bills, and we found out this guy was a crack dealer. But you know what? He bought that amplifier and stereo and ended up. I think it was five thousand one-dollar bills that we had to take over to the bank to get.
Ron: Nothing sketchy about that.
Brett: No. You talk about a fun part of the business. I was probably twenty-five, single at the time, and I was pretty cool back when I was fourteen selling thirty-threes and forty-fives, but I was really cool when I was the car audio guy, and I was twenty-five and having a lot of fun with it. I got some free trips to Hawaii, too, out of it. Alpine, if you did 20 grand in sales a year, they'd send you to their national sales convention every year. I got to go to Maui and Kauai, and I had some great trips on Alpine's dime.
Ron: Bring us into the 90s. What changed in the business?
Brett: OK, well, car audio had its day, and that was kind of fading now, and we realized that we needed to change. Right about that time. Our town grew, Florida started growing, and the custom audio business, as you well know, started to come into its own. We had been doing home installations for many years. We buy commercial products, pile speakers, and Atlas Sound earlier. There was no customer business at the time, early in the 70s and really the early 80s. And clients would want speakers in different areas of their homes. We'd contact the commercial reps, which were the only guys at the time to make those products. Then, of course, Sonance came into play. I think those guys were the first. Speakercraft followed shortly afterward. Companies started to make the products for the custom home industry, and CEDIA formed back in 1989. We got excited about that, and we went to the first CEDIA convention, and I was there in Amelia Island. Back in 1990, a buddy of mine, Mike McCurry, owns a company called Automotive Audio.
Now it's called Digital Systems up in Jackson, Mississippi. Mike and I met him back in one of the conferences, the Alpine conferences, and I went to that first CEDIA conference in 1990, and we brought our big camcorders with us and set them up in the back of the room. We recorded every session. I was just enthralled at what to learn and how much information was available, and how exciting this new market was for custom home audio. I still have those tapes and the backroom somewhere in the archives, in the vault.
Brett: And it's probably worth something.
"So often, when I interview guests about the origin, they talk about CEDIA. The first CEDIA and they attended the show. It's funny, like in your story, that's only in the middle of the story. So much of your business and your experience precede that by so many decades."
Ron: That's probably worth something to somebody. Heck, I've heard so many stories about the beginning days of CEDIA. I would also add just funny enough, so often, when I interview guests like the origin, they talk about CEDIA. The first CEDIA and they attended the show. It's funny, like in your story, that's only in the middle of the story. So much of your business and your experience precede that by so many decades. It's 1993. That sounds like almost yesterday. That's looking at how much you've already gone through in life and business. Yeah. I have to give my brother a shout-out. My brother's tuned in, Matt Callis, and he says, "Never forget jamming out to Metallica with your big old subwoofers." He's talking about me because I made some home speakers. I had a little SUV, a Suzuki, something another. I forget what it was. I think I'd have like an 80 horsepower engine. But man, I have some big speakers in that sucker that I had made in my garage. I remember they had Jensen something and others in them.
Brett: We went to Rockford RTTI, which is Rockford Technical Training Institute. I remember that they teach you how to build fourth-order, third-order boxes and subwoofers and tune right and all that stuff. That was a lot of fun. And I'll tell you what else you're talking about. These shows we had, we all know, Jeff Hoover and his company back then were audio advisors. Jeff, I think he's still doing car audio, Ron, is that right?
Ron: I believe so, yeah. I haven't talked to Jeff in a while.
Brett: That was his mainstay back then. I think what he first cut his teeth on. During the Car, Audio Nationals with Jeff would give me a call and say, "Hey, you mind if I bring some cars up ?" He could come up and bring an armada of vehicles and line them up one after the other. And he did some pretty interesting installs.
Ron: Did he like to bring home the hardware?
Ron: If that's the Jeff Hoover that I know, I would imagine he would be up there and compete.
Brett: Now, Jeff's not a loss for having a lot of charisma and a lot of self-confidence.
Ron: Yeah, a lot of it well earned.
Brett: Yeah, absolutely. That was the 90s—custom audio. Obviously, car audio died. The home audio was still going. Multi-room had just come into play, the VCR. Alright. There's history. We take it for granted. That thing's been around. But yeah, that was just developed in the early '90s and VCR rentals Blockbuster. That ushered in the surround sound systems for the home.
Ron: Was that really the infancy of what I today, or you would call an integrator the birth of the integrator, bringing audio and video together?
Brett: Absolutely. The CD basically came out of that same time too. The CD was the early 80s, and then they had video discs. I don't know if you remember those.
Ron: I remember going to Best Buy in Virginia with my brother watching, and my dad would go to the Best Buy store or not the Best Buy. It was called Best, which was like a Circuit City knockoff. I'm from Virginia. Circuit City was born in Richmond, and it was a predecessor. I want to say to Circuit City. It was a store called Best. And I remember seeing the big old laserdisc, and they had Star Wars on the laserdisc. I remember sitting there with my brother and dad, and I think we sat there for an hour and a half and watched Star Wars in the store, on the big screen. That was the highlight of our youth, was going to the electronic store with my dad.
Brett: Yeah, well, we use that. We used ABA. I remember the ABA was the demo of Dancing Queen. Absolutely. That was the first thing that brought audio and video together. That was a big impetus for home audio or upgrading people's systems in their homes and multichannel sound. That was a big deal. Audio Access was one of the first companies to make a multi-room sound. Luxman did a multi-zone receiver at the time. Bill Coffield, at Zantac, was one of the early engineers who designed all the multi-room switching systems and Dinkie Lancs. That was a fun time of piecing that stuff together and making it work in people's homes.
Ron: Bring us up to the late 90s when you had obviously your life was in cruise control, your business was rocking. Your family was rock, and you were forty-three years old. The same age I am right now.
Brett: Yeah, we were just talking about that. You're talking about your bad back at 43. Knock on wood here. Yeah, life was great. I just got married in 1990. I had my son Robbie and my daughter Ali in '92 and '94, built a new house. Jamie Harrison is listening. Jamie actually wired and did all the electricity in there. Jamie, I think that house is still standing. It didn't burn down.
Ron: Good job, Jamie. You didn't burn the house down.
Brett: Yeah, he was our installer. And I think one of the reasons why I hired him. He said: "Hey man, I can wire your house too." And I was like, alright, you're hired. '99 as I was, I've always been an athlete Tennyson's. Basketball and baseball, but moving to Florida, I learned to surf and huge surf. I really love that I surfed all around the world and got into windsurfing. One day in '99, I told the people at work, and I'm going to go out for a board meeting, which is code for "Alright, I'm stepping out early because the wind is right." The waves are right. It was a 30 mile an hour wind, and the waves were big.
I jumped in the car, met a friend of mine down in Fort Pierce Inlet, met a fella in the parking lot, a first-time guy named Steve Boyle, and went out there. At the time, I was learning tricks. I had done back loops and riding waves and jumped in waves, and we wouldn't go out until it's just howling out in the more extreme conditions, the better. It wasn't flat water stuff where I've done this since the '80s and learned to sail pretty well. I was kind of an adrenaline junkie at times. I was trying a new trick. I tried a front move, and I remember nothing other than laying on my back in the water. I couldn't move a muscle.
Ron: You were awake. You were conscious?
Brett: I was totally conscious, like sitting there, laying there is like, oh, this is a problem. I can't move anything. And was right in between. Those huge waves began, and the fellow I met in the parking lot, Steve Boyle, he just out of sheer luck because sometimes you're out there, the 15 minutes before anybody comes by, the ocean's a pretty big place and came up to me and said, "Are you alright?" I said, "No, I'm paralyzed."
Ron: You knew it?
Brett: Yeah. Nothing was working. Yeah, this is a problem, and he's like, "OK, we're going to get you in." Another buddy of mine named Russ Mett was out there. He is a doctor, anesthesiologist. I'd sailed with him a bunch, and he knew that you don't want to do any more damage. He's trying to get me in through the waves was a real task. Huge waves, huge surf, literally. They were out there for half an hour. They even call the Coast Guard. They are having a Coast Guard cutter come around the inlet. We're down in Fort Pierce, kind of far away from everything. Conditions were tough. I don't know how long it took, Ron, but probably half an hour. Forty-five minutes. They finally got me in through the surf and onto a stretcher. They put me in the ambulance. They wanted to medevac me down to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, a top-notch spinal surgeon spinal cord area with the Miami project. But it was too windy. It was a tornado warning. They put me in an ambulance and whisked me down there. I think two days later, three days later the swelling goes down. I had broken my neck and C5, which is the fifth vertebrae down.
Ron: Severed spinal cord or no?
Brett: Well, luckily incomplete. It was damaged but not Christopher Reeve, but pretty close to that same area, the upper-level spinal cord, the higher you go, the higher level, the worse or, the more parts of your body it affects. I was fortunate enough that it didn't completely disassociate or tear the spinal cord, but it bent it enough, so it was damaged. I was in the hospital down there for three months and did learn. I wasn't walking at the time. I couldn't really move either my arms or my legs anything. I had to be fed completely, and I remember to this day being in the hospital, and they brought in a piece of paper, and they said, are you going to need to put an X with your teeth or whatever on here?
It was a piece of paper. It said, "Alright, you are completely and permanently disabled." Whoa, that's heavy. I've always had a positive attitude about things, and that was a little tough. After being down there three months, they got me in a loaded me up in an ambulance, and brought me back to Vero Beach and back home again, which was really nice. But it was just a start. I was in a wheelchair. I remember, they set me up on a couch, and I'm sitting there, and I'm like, what do I do next?
Ron: At what point after the accident did you know that some parts of your body were going to cooperate and come back or your synapses or whatnot were going to reconnect, and you were going to have some mobility? When did you? How long did it take for that to happen?
Brett: Yeah, good question. Well, they kept telling me. The first year is where you get what they call a return. Most of the return to not move anything at the time. Otherwise, I could set up, and I could move my right hand like that. I knew that the first year is important. They said it's really important to have a great attitude. You want to eat right. You don't want to do anything crazy, like don't smoke any pot or anything. It's like, OK, well, no worries. I will make sure.
Ron: I would think pot would help, actually.
Brett: Well, and I don't know if it did or would or not, but anyway, I wasn't going to test them on that. But, over the course of a year, I ended up being able to stand up at least, walk a few steps and use my right hand again. I started working my way back. I went to rehab for another year and Vero Beach and at the time. My business was booming at the time. This was 2000, which, if you guys recall, was a boom time, right? The Internet, current technology companies were going through the roof. The building was going great. We had a job, and Vero Beach was a million-dollar job. To this day, it's still the biggest job we did. I had a really strong company here and a good organization in place. We were able to withstand me being pretty well out of the loop for the course of the first year. And then I was able to get back into it and get back to work and do everything I needed to do, which was smart. Actually, it was a blessing in disguise because it ended up teaching me delegation and learning other parts of the business that I didn't do. I was making all the sales before that, but delegating responsibility to others was a good thing.
Ron: This is a high-level question, and I vaguely remember different movies I've watched over time about paralysis. How did you keep your spirits up when you were laying in bed, and you didn't know, and they asked you to sign that with your teeth? Is the honest answer that you weren't always able to keep your spirits up, or what was your state of mind, and what did you take away from that you still have with you today in terms of mental toughness?
Brett: Now, that's a good question, Ron. You know, I've always been a positive person. I think having that innate solidarity has really helped, but I had had some strong friends around, once again, the good employees at work, which are also very close friends of mine, just having the attitude of realizing looking forward and not back. This was tough to do. I remember I end up getting a van, I had one of those and adaptive, and I could get up in the van with my wheelchair. It was a van that you'd roll the chair up into, and I could slide around and work myself to the seat. The van had a little tiny steering wheel.
It was a fly-by-wire van that it had. It was eighty thousand dollars for modification that got rid of the big steering wheel, did a little tiny fly-by-wire steering wheel. I was able to drive that way and get to work and whatnot. I remember driving down the road to answer your question and seeing people riding their bikes and jogging and just getting angry. That's like, wow, you're feeling. Maybe not so angry so much, but I feel really sorry for myself. Then you end up saying, look, that's a loser's game. You got to look forward. I remember George Westinghouse has a great quote. He says, "I always look forward. I never look back. I'm always thinking about the future. I planted that in my head. It wasn't easy. You lay awake at night and start all these thoughts would come through your head. But looking forward is so key to get past any difficult situation like that.
Ron: How did that state of mind, just to bring it fully to the present and when you are you and everyone listening, myself included, we're entering into 2020, and with all the unknowns of COVID and a lot of the fear and anxiety that we were all certainly faced within, let's call it February, March, maybe April. Is anything come to mind or resonate with you in terms of just how you looked at that situation? Here in North America, we know that most integrators and technology businesses that serve residential customers are doing pretty well right now. But we didn't know that at the beginning of the year last year. Do you recall kind of how you were approaching going in into that situation?
Brett: Yeah, it's like, wow, here we go again, is something that. We have no idea what's going to happen. I thought right off from the front, we all ended up, as you say, Ron, being one of the lucky industries that have benefited from COVID. So many people and businesses have not been so lucky. But I remember thinking, wow, we're going to really benefit from this as long as we're allowed to continue to work. We got together, and we talked about it as a company. Everybody just keeps clean and keep a positive attitude and work hard. Let's educate ourselves. Let's go through all the strict protocols of safety. And I think we're going to be fine. We were lucky, and I didn't particularly see that as a negative.
Ron: Tell us, how is the business doing today?
"Having to morph to service businesses, I think, is in the works for everybody."
Brett: It's good. Good like everybody else. Business is booming. It's a challenge now. Every year everything's a little different. You've got the Internet. The products are so difficult to make any money on products. Now people are buying their own stuff. You have the automation products where we used to make a lot of money now. Clients are buying themselves and asking you to piece it together, so that's a challenge, making money on products. Having to morph to service businesses, I think, is in the works for everybody. Don't you agree with that, Ron? You're the poster child for that, that you're not selling anything but knowledge and bits, and you've got 60 people working for you and you're uber-successful, and you don't you really don't have any products. I think our industry's going to end up going that way. It is already pretty strong right now.
Ron: Yeah. I mean, conceptually, and I'm not picking on any manufacturer by saying this, but how many Control4 dealers are there? How many Crestron dealers are there? How many dealers Savant? How many people sell Sony? How many people sell Samsung? Everybody, the answer to all the above is everybody. And so what's different? It's your expertise, your experience, your ability to serve your client uniquely. I think the successful businesses today and into the future are the ones that learn how to how to successfully convert that to a growing, scalable business that's profitable and positioned for success. Many businesses are points at points of transition right now, trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. It's tough.
"My vision is that I want our brand to stand for something, and the whole business is morphing and has become more service-oriented. I want our company to be known where service is a differentiator."
Brett: Yeah. My vision is that I want our brand to stand for something, and the whole business is morphing and has become more service-oriented. I want our company to be known where service is a differentiator. We want to be known as a service company that happens to sell home electronics. That's my goal. That's going to be tough. But if we cross-trained our guys in all different areas, I think that's really the only way to go about that. We really want to be the highest customer satisfaction company and the most profitable company. By cross-training our employees and reducing excess inventory, and reducing options, I think we can get there. But that's really the goal. That's my vision of doing where things are headed.
Ron: Brett, I'm mindful of time. But I want to get I know we both want to get one additional person named and story end. Maybe tell me about this fateful interview in 2013 where you will be interviewed for a technology story in the newspaper.
Brett: Alright. Thank you, Ron, for leading me to that. Or I'd be remiss not mentioning Bunny. I was sitting in my office one day and actually had been calling the local newspaper to get them. We've done some advertising. I can get some free publicity out of this. Let's have those guys do an article on our company. We did some really cool stuff, and we know all of our readers would love to hear about it. In walked Bunny McDonough, and she was just a vision. She's a beautiful girl, and she was working for 32963, which is the local newspaper, and it's like, wow, OK, I wasn't dating anybody at the time. Alright. Well, can you come back later this afternoon? I walked back in and came back that afternoon.
Ron: You had your cologne on for that next meeting.
Brett: I did. We sat in the conference room. I basically walked her all around the store. We talked about technology and ended up later that night and then the next night calling her and helping her write the article because she's a phenomenal writer. She's written for AP, and she came from Alexandria, Virginia. She's a Virginia folk like you are, I guess, a little bit Northern Virginia. You're from the Richmond area. She was down here helping her mom at the time and just down to summer break. So she and I started dating. At the time, and this is eight years later, we're now engaged to be married, and it's the love of my life, and she's done a phenomenal job. She helped us remodel the store and want to get you up here one day. And I'd love to do that. We'll do it.
Ron: We'll do a live show from the store.
Brett: There you go. That'd be great.
Ron: That would be awesome. Well, Brett, it has been a pleasure. I could talk to you for hours. The stories you have and the experiences and the lessons that you have learned and demonstrated, I think, are impressive. I know everyone listening has enjoyed this because it'd be hard not to see your multi-decade success story. For all our Hallmark movie producers out there, let's just say I'm Brett's agent so that you can contact me at onefirefly.com, and we'll work out the details. Brett, how can the folks watching or listening who want to get in touch with you do that? What do you recommend?
Ron: Awesome. We'll put all that down on the show notes both on the social platforms. We'll also get that up on our website, on our automation page. Brett, I want to thank you, sir. I know you, and I have been talking for several months to get you scheduled and coordinated to be on the show. Thank you for taking time with us today, as it was a lot of fun.
Brett: It was a lot of fun. And thank you for having me. Appreciate the opportunity.
Ron: Awesome. Thank you, Brett. Alright, folks, there you have it, the one and only Brett Ringeisen, and he informed me that Ringeisen is German, and it stands for a ring of iron. If Brett's fortitude is not iron-like, I don't know what is. You just think about it, and I can think about it because this was me on Monday of this week. Today's Wednesday, I was laid up in my bed, and I couldn't move like physically I couldn't move. I was in a very bad spot. For only a strike of an instant, I felt what Brett talked about, taking him several years of recovery before he regained mobility and feeling. Just think about how you would react under similar circumstances. Would you have been able to keep such a positive attitude? Would you have been able to jump back?
Would your business have been able to run successfully with you away from the business for a year? Think of that. I know I challenge myself and think about my business, and I actually think One Firefly would. I don't want to test it out, but would your business run without you in that seat and just think about the positive attitude and the impact of attitude on your success in life and business? A lot of fun and a lot of these stories that we heard here, I had not actually heard. I'm going to say shame on me because I've known Brett for many years, and I really enjoyed this conversation. To get into the normal show stuff, if you have not already, make sure to follow us on Instagram; we try to keep our content updated pretty regularly there. Additionally, I love you to follow us on your favorite podcast platform. If you're watching here on video, this is an audio-only format. In fact, when Brett came on, Brett thought this was only audio because that's how he listens to the show. We were talking, and we're like, yeah, we're live-streamed as well.
Inversely, if you watch it live but want to be able to listen to all the different guests and interviews, definitely just go to your favorite app and subscribe. If you feel so compelled to leave us a review, and on that note, I'm going to sign off. I hope you all have a strong rest of your week. I will see you next week for the next show. Show 178. Thanks so much, everyone. Be well.
Brett's family acquired a small business called Norris Record Center where he began working at the age of 14. Brett has watched the industry grow over the last 50 years from the early days of records and cassette tapes to the 1st in-home televisions, to what we refer to today as "custom home electronics." As the industry changed, so did the business name and eventually Norris Record Center became The Audiohouse by the mid-’70s. Brett’s loyalty to both the industry and marketplaces needs over the decades helped him grow a once small-town record shop into an acclaimed, fixture of his Vero beach community.
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security. The One Firefly team works hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution Mercury Pro.
Resources and links from the interview:
- Rockford Technical Training Institute
- 32963 local Vero Beach newspaper
- Digital Systems of Jackson, Mississippi