Interview with Allan Stevens (InstallerParts)
InstallerParts provides a vast catalogue of cables and accessories for home systems.
I interviewed Allan Stevens, InstallerParts co-founder to find out more. This interview is the fourth in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to Allan!
Give us the elevator pitch for InstallerParts.
Nearly everyone today has a TV, computer, or ten of each. We recently launched a website, InstallerParts.com, that sells virtually every cable, adapter, connector, TV wall mount, and accessory you could ever need to properly setup your equipment.
Our pitch is that we, the guys who founded InstallerParts.com, have spent the last 15 years, hooking these devices up for you in your homes and business. We’ve used our experience and knowledge to source over 5,000 products we know you’ll like, at prices that make Wal-Mart look like Neiman Marcus.
Additionally, we’re here to help you with your audio/video project questions, and as experienced industry professionals, we’re confident we can.
What are your most popular products?
We have incredible prices on Cat5 & Cat6 patch cables and sell a ton every month as a result. TV/monitor arm mounts of all sizes, and oddly enough a DC power plug that apparently everyone loses or cat chews through.
Where are you based?
What is your background? What made you and your cousin, Denny, decide to set up InstallerParts?
I started installing car stereos in 1995 then switched to home system installations a few years later, eventually ended up starting and building a home automation company, which was acquired by a larger company in 2005. The housing market was booming back then and we were fortunate to have some very good clients. Some of the projects we worked on would blow your mind. One house had a man-made river running through the hallway and another had a 50-car garage packed full of American muscle cars in flawless condition.
I left the audio video world to pursue a social network startup, but unfortunately it wasn’t the next Facebook. The audio video mafia lured me back in and this time I partnered with my cousin Denny to once again run an integration company. When we got together, this was after the 2008 crash. This was not the same market I once knew. The big whole-home new construction projects were few and far between and now customers were going online to shop our bids against Amazon prices. Ask any audio/video installer how they feel about this and you’ll get an ear full of fun words.
When we started finding cheaper prices online then at our wholesale distributors, it became ultimately clear that times were changing and rather than fighting them we decided to take our specialized knowledge and join them.
What’s it like working with family?
I’ve advocated against working with family and friends to anyone who says they plan to do it, then, started this venture with both. When everything is going great, it’s fantastic. Who better to share the successes with than your family and friends. The problems come when something isn’t going great. No sane person wants to fire a family member or lose a friend over some pointless dispute. Fortunately for us, business is good and we make a great team. Ultimately, I’m extremely thankful that I’m able to work with them, even if I’m a hypocrite.
What has been the most insane moment of running your own business?
In 2005 I had just finished a pretty massive audio/video system for a new sports bar in Seattle, and was invited to attend a small private grand opening party for the investors. There were 48 HDTVs scattered throughout the place and a custom programmed touchscreen that operated them all. The real reason I was invited was to show everyone how to use the equipment! One of the notable investors attending this party was the King himself, LeBron James. He was there with his family and half of the Cleveland Cavilers who had just played a game and lost to the Sonics across the street at Key Arena. After spending some time showing him how the touchscreen controlled everything, we hit it off and decided to go hit a couple local nightclubs together.
The stars had aligned; we had just completed some work for another club owner where the SuperSonic’s frequented after games. I called him up and was able to get the whole place setup for us before we even got there. We left the sports bar to head that direction and I had Lebron in my car with half the Cavs following closely behind. As a huge NBA fan at the time, this was just a surreal moment for me. I ended up flying to Cleveland and doing some work for Lebron in his first house later that year.
Where do you see InstallerParts in 5 years time?
I heard a comment recently that we’ve reached a time in history where technology is advancing so quickly that it’s virtually impossible to imagine even 5 years out. Selling technology products on a technology platform makes this a real tough question to address seriously. Our plan is to continue to identify the needs of our customers, source out products that provide great value, and make our purchasing experience as positive and efficient as humanly and technologically possible. And we’d like to have a private space program.
Has InstallerParts got the demand and growth you expected?
Yes and no. Initially, we thought it would be easier to convince Installers to visit our website simply by mentioning our insanely low prices and incredible selection. Turns out people are so busy and numb to solicitation, even if you truly have a unique and valuable offer, a very low number of customers will actually follow through and end up making a purchase as a result. The good news is that our online marketing efforts are working very well and we have an incredible number of repeat customers with compounding sales growth.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
When we were first developing our website we had it hosted on a basic, cheap hosting plan so we could save some money until we launched. The hosting company advertised nightly backups with a money back guarantee plus all the usual promises. We assumed that because it was nicely designed and advertised on their site with a big green check by it — it was a matter of fact. Turns out it wasn’t, and yep; their database server crashed. We had local copies of our application files but two and half months of product data entry was instantly vaporized on their database machine. We got our money back for that month of hosting as promised, $15. The hard lesson learned; even if you trust your hosting company, you should always make your own provisions for a backup of their backup.
Name the toughest challenge of starting your own business.
I’d say the toughest challenge when starting up would be making time for everything that your business will require of you if you really want to be competitive and successful. It’s best if you can build it when you’re single without kids because you need to put in the time or your competition will simply outpace you.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting an e-commerce business?
Tell your ambitions to wait or you’ll find yourself spread too thin to be really good at any one thing. It’s easy to convince yourself you need to spend time & money on all sorts of must haves, but most of the time in retrospect they’re not absolutely necessary. Start thinking in absolute terms early on, focus on the one thing you’re really good at and grow up instead of out.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Right now, our value proposition to customers is basically three things; we have really good pricing on parts that virtually everyone uses, we have a much wider selection of audio video parts than you’ll typically find at other retailers, and finally, we are installers ourselves, so we really understand the products and their application better than most.
Price and selection are important, but only really matter if you’re making a purchase. A lot of people are just looking for information to help them plan a project, which we have plenty of. The problem is it’s in our heads and you have to call or email us if you want it. What we’re most excited to be working on is our solution to this problem. We’re in the process of adding some features to our site that we believe installers and do-it-yourselfers will greatly benefit from.
Can you convince the reader to check out InstallerParts in under 50 words?
If you own a TV, computer, or both; InstallerParts.com can help. We have over 5,000 cables, adapters, connectors, TV mounts and accessories, at prices that make Wal-Mart look like Neiman Marcus. Check us out and see why companies like Red Bull, Nissan, and UPS shop with InstallerParts!
Finished reading? Check out InstallerParts!