A store visit with Aaron Sholtis, President, HiDEF Lifestyle

INTERVIEW BY PHILIP SCHMALZL
How and when did your retail store start? How many stores do you have? You also have an online store. What is the main difference between your online shop and your local showroom?
Aaron Sholtis Founder & President, HiDEF Lifestyle, Harrisburg, PA
Aaron Sholtis: The first store was started in 2004 as an online store. Then we started the retail showroom. The online store has the exact type of client as the showroom client: one who appreciates and has knowledge about audio. In the retail store, we have various clients, and over the years we have cultivated a staff trained to develop and maintain customer relationships and answer their every need. What makes your retail business unique from others? Sholtis: One asset is our showroom size and location. We are two-and-a-half hours from D.C. and three hours from Pittsburgh. We are a relatively short driving distance from the Mid-Atlantic metropolitan cities. And, as you have seen from the size of our showroom, if we were within these cities, there would be no way for us to have a 26,000-square-foot building. So we are able to showcase many more brands and technologies vs. some of our competitors. We call it a destination showroom, because we pull from all these metropolitan areas and we are able to attract customers to make the trip and drive to us to see everything in our location. One of our biggest benefits has always been our online business. We have been a serious player in the online world for almost 17 years now. We started online vs. most of our competitors, who started in the reverse order. Outside of that, we have developed a social media presence, and we produce content for YouTube. All these things drive traffic due to our website, but also locally in the market as well. What are the top three things that you have done that have contributed most to your success? Sholtis: We started in a reverse way from most of our competitors; we started online before breaking into customer retailing, and that’s certainly unique. It always made us more integrated than some of our competitors. Secondarily, I think the biggest triumph for us has been the relationships that we cultivated over the last 17 years. Relationships and your reputation are the most valuable things a company can have. We treat those with the upmost importance, whether it is a customer or a vendor or even our shipping suppliers. And then, one of my favorite sayings is that the minute you stop growing, the minute you start dying. You cannot plan that somebody else is not going to come along and do what you do better than yourself. We never, ever are satisfied with how we go to market, or with what we offer to customers – we are always looking to do what is next. What are your goals this year? Sholtis: COVID has certainly changed how we are thinking about retail. We are looking to redesign to be more service- and technology-showcasing vs. product showcasing. We are looking to set up a system where our showrooms are event-based, meaning every 30 to 60 days we will have a new event to promote to clients so they can see new technology from one of our vendors or from many of our vendors. We want there to be a reason for recurring traffic to come in. I think this is going to be important for us and for others in the future – to do more education-based selling. On top of that, we have invested in opening our West Coast shipping location, where hopefully a retail showroom will open as well. Getting products quickly, when customers are shopping online – having access quickly – is extremely important. For us, expanding our capabilities this way is extremely important.
Are you looking to expand in any way or sell other categories? Which categories? Sholtis: We are also looking to continue our growth in our Canadian online operations. It has been very healthy and growing for us there. In addition, we are always looking for new categories – you know, all the new healthcare and air quality control systems are very interesting to us, and something we might look into, as well as continuing to explore lighting categories as well.
Is there anything in the building of your business that might have not gone the way you liked, and you learned from? Sholtis: We spent 2019 recovering from a theft from a financial controller that I hired and not only was there a theft; there was a total disruption of our financial records. So, you know, every day, you learn lessons in business and life, and that was a huge lesson for us to learn from. So we have been able to get everything back in line, and have checks and balances to better protect ourselves. That, on top of COVID, made 2020 a very challenging year for us. But with that, we have grown as a team and as a company, and our abilities have grown. So we are looking at 2021 to be a very, very big year for us.
What is your favorite corner of the store? Can you show me? Sholtis: Well, honestly no – look, we sell product categories for cars, to audio, to TVs, to other technology. It is all so much fun, and changing so fast, I think that the rate of change is really what drives me, whether it is in the cars we build out, or the audio we design; constantly reinventing those things is really what our passion is about.
What have you done to overcome the obstacles of the pandemic in the customer experience? The store is closed, and available by appointment only. Sholtis: It has been difficult and challenging, with the showroom being affected. We have all seen over the last year that demand from customers has increased, with everyone staying at home, in home office, work from home, things like networking – new audio products have been extremely hard to keep in stock and to deliver. So while people do not want to go out and spend time in a showroom as much as they did, they do want the technology and they do want the knowledge. It increased the importance of social media and it increased the drive for installation and design services as well. And we are starting to see the showrooms start to turn around as well. We expect that will continue in 2021.
How does Dealerscope help you in your everyday business? Sholtis: Well obviously, we need to stay abreast of what is going on in the industry, and we have lots of great relationships with manufacturers. But there are lots of things that happen that we do not know about, so staying in touch with all that is key, and our relationship with Dealerscope, for many, many years now, has been wonderful, and helps keep our name out there in the industry as well.
"I think the biggest triumph for us has been the relationships that we cultivated over the last 17 years. Relationships and your reputation are the most valuable things a company can have.”
Aaron Sholtis
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