Mobile Edge in Lehighton, PA, is celebrating its 25th anniversary in business! Owner Mitch Schaffer opened his “car stereo shop” on September 6, 1994, as Schaffer’s Safe & Sound. He built the shop in what used to be a service center attached to a Texaco gas station. Schaffer and the teams he assembled throughout the years have provided clients with audio system upgrades, remote car starters, security systems, pagers, window tint, mobile phones and much more. Schaffer’s Safe and Sound changed its name to Mobile Edge in 2001.
My name is David MacKinnon. I work for one of Mitch’s other companies — 1sixty8 media. Mitch asked me to write a series of articles about the history of Mobile Edge and the people who helped to make this 25th anniversary a reality. Join us as we recount the history of this world-class mobile enhancement facility and provide some insight into the products, highlights and — most importantly — the people that made it the success that it is.
How Mobile Edge Got its Start
Mitch unofficially got started in the car audio industry when he was in junior high school. His father Carl was a well-known electronics repairman in the area. People would bring CBs, VCRs and stereos to the family home and Carl would repair the items in his basement workshop. When someone had issues with their car radio, Carl would remove the radio from the dash, fix it and reinstall it. When Mitch was in seventh grade, Carl had a serious heart attack and was no longer able to crawl around under dashboards. After watching his dad turn away a few customers, he asked if he could try to remove the radios and put them back in. Carl agreed and a “business” was born.
Years later, in the fall of 1993, Schaffer and his cousin Mark were in the process of rewiring a DJ booth and realized they needed to purchase a few cables. The two visited a local hi-fi shop that was going out of business. The owner told them that they could rummage around in the basement and if they found what they needed, they could have it. The pair stumbled across a 10×10-foot room filled with car audio equipment from Alpine, Impact, Infinity and others. They hatched a plan to buy all the equipment. The shop owner gave them a great price, and Mitch and Mark moved all the gear into his parents’ garage that Thanksgiving morning. Thanks to word of mouth and a small advertisement in the local newspaper, all of the gear was sold by January 17 of 1994. Schaffer realized that there was a demand for car audio in the area and he started thinking about opening a shop.
Fast-forward to the spring of ’94, when Mitch had been looking for a location for a store. He found a space on the busiest road in the county and the landlord agreed to remodel to suit his needs for a showroom and installation bay, with the condition that he also had to take over the existing Texaco gas station. Mitch refused, because he didn’t know anything about the gas business, but a series of events at his job at a local newspaper caused him to reconsider. He began the arduous task of convincing a bank to loan money to a 23-year-old wanting to open a car stereo shop! After he had been turned down by more than a dozen banks, Melva McArdle, loan officer at Mauch Chunk Trust Company, agreed to lend him the money he needed. The next day, he signed the lease and gave his two week notice at the local newspaper to follow his dream of owning a car stereo shop.
After several months of renovating the shop and building display boards with the help of his cousin Mark, Mitch officially opened for business on September 6, 1994, with Alpine, Pioneer Premiere, Infinity, Clif Designs and Orion as his main suppliers. Among the keys to the early success of the business were the support and help he received from Orion sales representatives Dale Gutillo and Kenny Gibba. These guys generously trained Mitch in audio system design, installation and — very importantly — how to sell products to consumers.
Products and Services
In addition to being an Orion rep, Dale also owned a stereo shop in Buffalo, NY, called Custom Radio. Dale’s shop sold hundreds (maybe thousands) of remote car starters each winter and he taught Mitch how to market them as well. Car starters quickly became a key component in the business and helped keep traffic flowing through the shop in the winter when audio sales slowed down.
Pagers were also a hot item in the late ’90s. Mitch bought pagers and service packages in bulk and resold them to clients. The company had more than 1,000 pager clients at one point. “It was a very profitable time for my company, but it lead to one of my biggest failures in business. I missed a great opportunity to sell my entire pager subscription base to a local technology company,” he reflected recently. “They made a great offer, but I declined. Two years later, the pager business started to shift to cellular phones and I found myself with fewer than 100 subscribers.” Not one to dwell on a missed opportunity, Mitch jumped on the mobile phone business and started selling car phones from Cellular One, Cingular, AT&T and Nextel. Hands-free kits, extra batteries and phone upgrades remained a key part of the business until the late 2000’s, when phone sales shifted toward corporate-run stores like AT&T and Verizon.
Through the late ’90s, Russ DePillis, the sales representative at the time for Eclipse Car Audio, made a consistent effort to to get his product in the store. Time and time again, Schaffer declined the offer, saying that having Alpine, Pioneer and Clarion was more than adequate. Russ’s persistence eventually paid off, though, when Mitch realized that he visited the store more often than some of the reps he was doing business with. He brought in Eclipse to replace Clarion. A few years later, the store won the Eclipse Car Audio Eastern Retailer of the Year award. Ray Windsor, head of the Eclipse at the time, handed the award to Mitch at the CES show in Las Vegas. Today, Russ DePillis is still a loyal rep for his vendors and for Mobile Edge.
The Importance of Great People
After running the store alone for the first year, Mitch realized that he needed help if he was going to grow the business. As luck would have it, a young man by the name of Mike Tarud wandered into the store one day. Mike had completed the mobile electronics course at Luzerne County Community College and was looking for work. Mitch initially told Mike he wasn’t hiring, but ended up calling him a few weeks later and offered him a trial run at being his installer. He hired Mike and the two set to work on learning about the ins and outs of running a business and installing car audio and remote starter systems. In 1998, Mike’s family moved away and he left the shop for an opportunity at Tweeter, a national chain of electronics retailers.
During the ’90s, Brad Nevenglosky had been a regular client at Schaffer’s Safe and Sound. Mitch found out that Brad had completed an electronics engineering program at school and, knowing that he had a solid background in audio, offered him a job as his installer. Mitch taught Brad how to sell and after a few years, Brad was promoted to the position of store manager.
Around 2004, Bob Mickonis came to work for Mobile Edge as an installation technician. Bob was responsible for bringing window tinting services and truck accessories to the company, and he eventually became the general manager. In 2009, Mitch and Bob decided they want to vie for the Mobile Electronics magazine Retailer of the Year award. This award goes to the shop in North America that exemplifies customer service, expertise and professionalism. Mobile Edge was the runner-up to JC Audio in Jackson, TN, that year. After Mitch and Bob refocused their efforts and revised their processes, Mobile Edge won the 2010 Retailer of the Year award. “This is one of the highlights of my career,” he says today.
Another highlight for Mobile Edge that evolved during Bob’s tenure was the Coats for Kids program that Mitch started in 2008. During remote starter season, clients are invited to bring in a kid’s winter coat in exchange for a discount off the cost of a remote car start purchase. Over the years, other mobile enhancement retailers around the country have joined the Coats for Kids program and leading remote starter manufacturer Compustar now provides marketing materials to support those efforts. As a company based on selling products that people want, being able to give kids something they need is a great way to give back to the community that has supported Mobile Edge.
Bob was with Mobile Edge until 2018, when he accepted a job with a company in Virginia Beach, VA. He and his family had always wanted to live near the beach, and this was a great opportunity.
(Over the next couple of weeks, we will publish a series of articles profiling these fine colleagues, their experiences at Mobile Edge and where life took some of them after they moved on. You can find the first of this series here)
How did Mobile Edge Succeed?
Lehighton, PA, has a population of fewer than 6,000 people and is 77 miles north of Philadelphia. With the car audio boom of the ’90s and 2000s long behind us, how could a small shop with a limited clientele not only survive, but thrive, in such a challenging market? Mitch attributes his success to four factors: customer service, the ability to adapt, marketing and having the right people.
“Mobile Edge has developed a reputation for doing things right, the first time,” Mitch said. “A promise to deliver world-class attention to detail, customer service and quality comes with every sale. From the products we offer to how we care for vehicles when in our possession, everything is engineered to ensure the client is thrilled with the end result.”
Mitch’s ability to evolve and adapt to changes in the industry has served him well. While nobody likes to change routines, he knows that staying stagnant can lead to complacency. He regularly analyzes his processes and makes changes to ensure that the services Mobile Edge offers are the best they can be.
“Having a plan is good, but unless you have the right people to execute those plans, you are destined to fail,” Mitch says. His ability to find amazing employees has been a key part of the store’s success. Not only has the business survived a recession and the rise of online retailers like Amazon, but it has flourished and continues to grow. “I attribute much of that to the great people who work here,” he says.
Every successful business has a marketing plan. Mobile Edge has been a leader in online marketing for more than a decade. Mitch set to work in the mid-2000s to learn everything he could about how people shop on the Internet and put a huge focus on developing and growing his website to deliver the information and content people wanted. With a limited local clientele, his commitment to his online marketing plan brings clients from New York, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey every week. He even has a client who has brought two new vehicles to him all the way from Indiana because they believe in the service Mobile Edge offers.
This focus on understanding the Internet led Mitch to start a second company called 1sixty8 media. “Large companies like Coke and McDonalds advertise on a global scale with astronomical budgets. Small businesses need a predictable and controllable way to promote their goods and services to potential consumers in a much smaller market with a much smaller budget,” he says. “1sixty8 media delivers that service to dozens of mobile enhancement retailers all over North America.”
The Present and the Future of Mobile Edge
Running a business has its up and downs. Sharing his time between Mobile Edge and 1sixty8 media over the past few years was demanding, and Mitch had considered selling the store when he learned that Bob was going to leave last year. After some research and thought, Mitch met with Mike Oechsner to discuss the future of the company. Their open and honest discussion resulted in a plan for Mike to take the position of general manager. The two revamped the company’s policies, procedures, inventory management system and compensation packages. They agreed to revisit this again in six months, evaluate the results and decide their future. “Once I learned to let Mike execute the plan in his style, the changes paid off quickly.” Led by Mike and with support from Ben, 2019 has seen tremendous growth, with six of the eight months so far shattering all records. There seems to be no end in sight!
The Plant at the Front Door
Anyone who has been to Mobile Edge has walked past a potted plant immediately upon entering. That plant has been at the entrance since September 6, 1994. Melva McArdle and the folks at Mauch Chunk Trust Company had it delivered as a sort of “business warming” gift hours after the store first opened for business. The plant has survived many traumas throughout the years. It was kidnapped but later discovered and returned. It was vandalized by a very insensitive “customer.” It has been nearly dead on no fewer than three occasions. Several times, it became too big for its confines and was moved to bigger quarters. It continues to thrive and is a daily reminder to the Mobile Edge team that some days are better than others; change is good; never give up; and if you persevere, you will come out the other side better and stronger.
25th Anniversary of Mobile Edge in Lehighton
Mitch Schaffer is justifiably pleased that he was able to take a passion for something he enjoyed in his teenage years and grow it into a successful business. With the support of his wife Marcia (who works as the office manager), Mobile Edge in Lehighton proudly celebrates this 25th anniversary. We do not doubt that Mitch, Marcia, Mike and Ben will continue to manage and expand the business for many more years. Congratulations to the team!