Out of the (literal) ashes from a fire that destroyed everything before his company turned two years old, Brad Elbrader has grown Brad’s Home Entertainment into an all-around thriving business — one he says he could’ve never dreamed up nearly 25 years ago.
Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and excited right now, diving out into Mountain Home, Arkansas, to talk with Brad’s Home Entertainment and owner over there at Brad’s entertainment. Brad Elbrader. So, Brad, I appreciate you taking the time and checking in this morning and peeling back the covers and letting us see a little bit more about you and your business.
Brad Elbrader: Thanks for the opportunity,
Rob Stott: Not a problem. And let’s start right there. I know you started in, correct me if I’m wrong, 1997. So a little over 24ish years ago.
Brad Elbrader: Yeah. 1997 is when I started my own business. I actually started in this field in 1985. I went straight out of high school and went into a Vo-Tech for electronics and took a two-year schooling. But I did it in a year and a half because I crunched the summers too, instead of everybody out having fun, I was actually doing schoolwork. But I worked for another company for several years and there was a divorce in that situation, as far as the people who owned it, kind of turned that business upside down. So I decided, this is a good time for me to do this on my own.
Rob Stott: Obviously pick up on a good opportunity. But I want to go back a little further. Because not too long ago, we had a podcast on here with another HTSN member, and I always love asking, because you mentioned you went to Vo-Tech school, there had to be some bug that bit you with electronics that got you really excited or invested in it and interested in it. Can you pinpoint the time when you realized that you thought this could be more than a hobby or maybe when you caught the bug from that hobby?
Brad Elbrader: Actually it was just one of those things out of school. I thought, what am I going to do with the rest of my life? And I thought, I like tinkering with electronics. I love the electronics school of technology. I just love the technology industry. Of course technology was kind of boring back then. Because you had a picture tube TV or a picture tube TV or a picture tube TV. There was none of this exciting stuff. And so I just decided I was going to go to school and learn it. And I actually got into the repair end of it’s where I really started at it.
So I learned to repair TVs and I did that for years and I still do it somewhat versus nothing like the old days. But after I got out of school and got into it, the bug really hit me of, I like this, I love it. To be honest with you, several years ago, before flat panel came out, I started getting bored with it because nothing’s changed. And then when LED flat panel or LC, back then, hit the flat panel industry, it got exciting again. And just started rolling.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And we’ll talk about that path. Starting at, in service, did you ever imagine out of a Vo Tech school that you’d end up owning your own business, and part two to that is what was that path like to get from doing just repairs to owning?
Brad Elbrader: Well, living in a small town, I kind of had in the back of my mind, I wanted to have my own business someday. I love the area I live in. It’s that smaller town, like 13,000 people or so, and it’s rolling mountains and lakes and rivers around here. It’s kind of a slow pace. And I just love the area I live in and I didn’t want to have to move off or travel a lot on the road. So when I was repairing TVs and then started my own business repairing TVs and doing satellite and antenna work, one day I just woke up and thought, you know what, I’m just going to start sticking a few TVs in the little tiny showroom I had back then. I think I had a thousand square foot building. So that’s where I started selling TVs also. And then I kind of went from that to expanding on it and bringing in more and more product and having to move of course.
Rob Stott: Right. And let’s talk about that evolution, because when you guys started it was just, you mentioned the antennas and TVs, was that it before you started expanding and following up on that. How do you know what to expand into? What things are you keeping an eye on as you look to add more categories and products to what you’re doing.
Brad Elbrader: Yeah, we did antenna work and satellite work and I did some pre-wiring of homes for audio, which back then it was kind of basic. It wasn’t like today. But it just started evolving more and more. And it got to the point that, I was working through the day and then I closed the store at three or four o’clock in the afternoon and then I’d go out and do service calls, pull wire, antenna work. And then when I moved into a new location and started selling a lot more TVs, I started hiring people and started getting other guys involved in pulling the wires and going out and doing the labor work. And it just kept evolving more and more and more.
And the buying group Nationwide helped me through this a lot, especially in the last several years, since they kind of changed things up and made the HTSN Group and Hank took over that part and it’s really evolved since then with him and with the Advisory Boards he group has, they allow me to be on the Advisory Board.
I remember when Dave Robinson started these CE Advisory Boards in our group, years ago, he walked up to me one day and he said, “I got an idea. I want to start an Advisory Board.” I was like, “Well, that sounds cool.” He goes, “We’re going to do for each division electronics appliances.” And I said, “That sounds like a really good idea.” And he goes, “I’m glad you like it because you’re on it.” So that’s how I kind of got pulled into that one. The industry just kept moving on and on, and we started doing so much outdoor, well we got into Control4, and that really started taking off for us, the home automation world, especially the last several years.
But after we got involved with that, we started doing so many outdoor living areas as far as putting in TV, putting in audio systems. I can remember several years, we did a complete home, I mean, gigantic home and they had this swimming pool. We actually put subwoofers in the ground, of course, and we made this system to where, when you crank it up, if it’s a nice calm day, you can see the ripples in their swimming pool. I thought this is cool. This is what it’s all about. And I have an awesome tech named Chris Fairchild, who is… If you put a problem in front of him, people having a problem of we want to do this, but we don’t know how to do it. He loves that kind of situation as he thrives in making things work and making it more awesome. He just loves the industry like that. So, we have fun.
Rob Stott: You talk about all those things. And the thing my mind goes back to is that a lot of it was early on just pulling wires. How much has that changed and how much have you had to educate yourself on all these new technologies? And does it all still relate back to that, or is it a lot different today then… It is a lot different with all the different technologies and home automation and things like that, but the core of what you do, how much of that has changed?
Brad Elbrader: The basics, of course you don’t pull any cables. That’s still basic, but what’s really changed is when you talk about the basics of pulling cable and back then it was a coax and the speaker wire. Now it’s Cat 5, Cat 6. And you have to know about Zigbee technology and Wi-Fi technology, and you’ve got to know about networking and it’s just expanded so much now that… You don’t know this little pinpoint thing that you’re doing, you got to know the whole realm around it, that you have to know how to take that pinpoint and make it work with all of this.
And I’ll even say there’s some weird things that we started doing that really took off because like I said, we were doing the outdoor systems so much and the control systems even for outside. That one day, I got to sit there looking on the guy’s back deck, and I thought, well, he has a grill. So I decided to bring in Traeger Grills and people started saying, “Well, I thought you was an electronics store. Now you’re bringing in grills,” and I’m like, “Well, we’re doing so much outdoor technology that everybody has a grill on their back deck. Why not try it?” And since then that that business has blowed up too. It’s gigantic.
Rob Stott: The thing that struck me was your store’s name is Home Entertainment. That kind of encompasses everything, yes your core business might’ve been years ago TVs and antennas and things like that, and still today, it’s the audio and networking and things like that, but it’s home entertainment. That kind of opens the door for you in so many ways to do things like you mentioned, adding outdoor grills and other outdoor… It is electronics, but other outdoor experiences to kind of what you do. Is that sort of the way you think about it too?
Brad Elbrader: Yeah. It was kind of funny how it happened that way. When we started the business in 1997, I thought, I don’t know what to call a business then. And my mother, she just said, “Well, why don’t you just call it Brad’s Home entertainment?” Or she said, “Brad’s TVs.” Then I said, “Well, Brad’s Home Entertainment, because we’re actually putting entertainment in people’s houses.” Well, I never dreamed of all of this, that’s going on now.
You think of a grill, like I said, Traeger Grills was are number one selling grill. But even they are technology driven now to where they’re wifi connected and their headquarters can push software down into their system. So to make that work on a back deck, do you have good internet on your back deck? Do you have an awesome network? So we can actually make that happen for people. So we can even expand on just the grill.
Rob Stott: It’s funny how everything kind of falls back to the tech category in one way or another. Even furniture today. I know you guys have a small selection of home entertainment and home theater furniture, but you’re seeing USB cables pop up into the… just waiting for the Wi-Fi recliner that you can hit a button on your phone and it kind of, like cars, you have the memory settings for who driver one, driver two is, hit a button and you get your favorite reclined position. I’m sure it’s coming.
Brad Elbrader: You dream it, it’s going to happen.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. So talk about the importance of that… Obviously their your number one selling grill, but I know that especially within the last year and a half Traeger has kind of meant a lot to you and what you were able to do as a business, kind of working through this pandemic. Can you talk about that a little bit and just what they brought to the table for you?
Brad Elbrader: Oh yeah. Between Traeger and Samsung, our business since the pandemic just skyrocketed. Several years ago, we were actually struggling. It was bad times. I had to pull money from different places just to keep this business going. And then out of the blue, a bunch of these bids I had done years before started popping in. You think of Brad’s Home Entertainment and you think of residential, but we even started expanding more into the business realm of it, the commercial end of it, and everything hit at once. I hate this. I hate to say the pandemic was a good thing, because it’s horrible. I don’t wish it on nobody, and I’ve actually got a tech right now that’s in pretty bad shape from it. But it was a boost for us.
Our business since the pandemic took off, and we had a record year last year, and most of that was driven by Traeger and Samsung. And when I looked at last year, I thought, wow, that was a better year. Surely it’s going to slow down. Well, every month, so far, this year has broke last year’s record for the same month. So now it just keeps going on and on and on. And Traeger, in a few weeks, well, six, eight weeks, I will be either flying out to Utah or by Zoom, we’ll be going over what the new products are that they’re going to announce here for next year.
So Samsung this year, they came out with their Neo QLED. So they’ve done an awesome job of creating another buzz. 8K to me is not that big of a buzz. Because there’s just not that much pushing 8K yet. Like we’re talking about 4k several years ago now, but that’s just the way it is. We sell a few 8K TVs, but we sell more of, hey, here’s the new product, the Neo QLED and people are wanting, what is new in the market?
Rob Stott: Have there been challenges to that, sounds crazy because you’re doing so well and you’re seeing the boost of the business. Has it been a struggle? Because I know a lot of retailers right now talk about the product and supply chain issues that they’re facing. Are you having those same challenges? And, and if so, what’s it like to manage them or what are you doing to manage them?
Brad Elbrader: Used to we’d order TVs and we would get the products in two or three days. Now it might take a week, sometimes, but Samsung has done a pretty good job of keeping us with product. This Platinum Program that Hank and Jim Mayo designed between the two of them. It’s an awesome program for everybody. And it’s really been beneficial for us. And the only drawbacks I see is we have some issue with have some product, now there’s some other manufacturers out there that they take two weeks to get us a product. And they say, what you need to do is order now and knowing what you’re going to do in two weeks, Well, nobody has a clue what they’re going to be doing in two weeks. And the fluctuation of pricing goes up and down so much on these products that you could end upside down if you stock a bunch of this stuff.
So we just try to rely on Samsung because they’ve been really good at getting us what we need when we need it. That Traeger’s been good since we’re Platinum Dealer with them. They’ve been very good at getting me product as I need it.
So the furniture industry, our TV cabinets, I will say that is the hardest industry right now. I usually have a showroom full of furniture. And right now I’ve got like five or six pieces and it looks empty, kind of weird looking in here, but that’s just the way of the world right now. And we’re thinking and hoping that by the end of this year, a lot of that will turned around too.
Rob Stott: As they come in, do customers understand that? Are they, I don’t want to say accepting of that fact, but do they kind of sympathize with the fact that they know what’s going on? And so it’s not something that catches them off guard. Like why are your furniture pieces so few?
Brad Elbrader: Most definitely people are hearing it all over, a matter of fact, a lot of people when they come in and they kind of look around, it’s kind of funny, because it’s to the point of they’ll kind of look around and the wife says, “Well, I kind of liked that one.” And he says, “Well that’s good, because you can find nothing else.” They are understanding to it. They know what’s going on out there. They’ve heard it before. So most people are understanding. There are a couple, you always have one or two people that want to show theirself and try to make you feel like, I’m the jerk, because I don’t have everything they need, but most people were understanding.
Rob Stott: Gotcha. Well, I want to shift a little bit, because we’ve been talking about, just inherently the install business that you have. How important was that to you prior to the pandemic, and did that shift at all, did it become more important or less important over the past 18 months?
Brad Elbrader: Yeah. Over the last 18 months, the way I do my scheduling, we might be two or three days out when people walk in here. After the pandemic hit, It’s like we had a constant pipeline that never shut off. It just kept going and going and going. And it’s a good thing, but also it’s a bad thing. Unfortunately now it’s to the point of people come in and, we got several houseboats, which I’d never dreamed we’d be doing control systems on houseboats, but we do have a lot of houseboats control systems. We’ve got several people out there that we’ve told, we’re two months before we’re every going to get to you. And they’re understanding, the most of them are understanding of that because they’re, again, they know they may be building a house somewhere and the builders are getting delayed. And so when we say we’re this far out on doing service, they understand what, why, it’s weird.
It’s a different world right now. People are wanting to spend more time… If they have to spend more time sitting in their house, they want the best products. They want it to work the best way it can, the easiest way. And it’s great for people who will actually put the time in, and if you have a business out there and you have technicians, it’s super important to keep them up to date, to get into the class schooling. Hank and his team have these classes you can do online. The CEDIA program we’ve started now. That’s a great program. So there’s avenues out there for trainings right now, which is very important.
Rob Stott: And for sure. And we’ve heard a lot of great things, I think early on even just the potential, because I know everyone in this space knows CEDIA and knows what they bring to the table, but getting to partner up with them, I know has done some things. And given some people opportunities that maybe they hadn’t thought about or didn’t want to consider the investment over there. But the partnership and getting that membership I know is… There’s been a lot of positive, really returns on that. So definitely excited to hear that you guys are thinking about that as well. And I want to go back to almost the beginning of your business, because there was a time where, you’re two years old as a company and you had such a crazy situation, How close during, let’s just put it out there, there was a fire at Brad’s Home Entertainment. You guys were located in a strip mall at that time
Brad Elbrader: Yeah. We were in a small strip center and yeah, we was only a couple, I was still on the bottle back then… bottle fed about a business, learning the ins and outs.
Rob Stott: I don’t know if you could get into the what’s and why’s, but as that’s happening what’s the thought going through your head? What is that time like when you find out that your business is on fire?
Brad Elbrader: Well, actually I found out by, it was like 4:30, 5 o’clock in the morning, my phone rings. And it’s a call that, you know this thing isn’t good when your phone rings then, but all I heard was this is so-and-so with the Mountain Home Fire Department and your business is on fire.
Rob Stott: Oh, man.
Brad Elbrader: And so I jumped out of bed and by the time, I was about 10 minutes from my store back then, and by the time I got to the store, they pretty much had it out, but I can tell there was nothing there inside. It was gutted.
Rob Stott: Did they know at that point-
Brad Elbrader: At that point in time, they knew where it started, but they did not know why. And they first thought it might’ve been a, I had a surge protector there and they thought it might’ve failed. Well, come to find out, months later after they did a investigation that whoever did the actual electrical work in that building forgot to ground my building. So there was no ground to the building, and that caused the issue.
Rob Stott: Like we said, a year and a half, almost two years old, what was… Do you think this is it, do you think that’s it for the business or what’s kind of going through your head?
Brad Elbrader: Well, as I walked up there, of course my world was falling around me, you know? And I could remember, because on my way to it, I actually called and who answered the phone at that time in the morning was my insurance agent, which, he’s actually a buddy of mine, and I’ve never had to use insurance. So I’m freaking out and tells me, he says, “Oh, I’ll be there. Don’t worry.” And I wasn’t there too long, and he shows up and he just walked up, put his arm on my shoulder and he said, “Buddy, don’t worry. You’re taken care of. Everything will be okay.”
And after the firemen got everything put out and the sun started coming up, and I’ve walked in, kind of looked around. He says, “Here, let me take you to breakfast.” So we went and sat down and he says, “I just want you to know, hey, we’re going to get you taken care of. By this time tomorrow, I will have you a check for half of your claim because I know this is a total loss. And we’ll get you back up and going.”
And immediately, I found in the strip center, there was another place open. And so I moved immediately in it. And a few days later, I was actually up and running again.
Rob Stott: That is crazy to think about somebody… I mean you weren’t obviously up and running in the same spot. You found a new spot, but like to pick up, uproot and move a business to a new spot and be up in about a week. Were you working around the clock? Did you sleep at all that week?
Brad Elbrader: I had a little sleep. Yeah. I think most of the most sleep was actually as I sit there trying to think about things, I’d just fall asleep. But no, honestly, it wasn’t that bad. You know, to be honest with you, I just said, “Lord, if you want me to keep doing this, you’re going to fix it. Everything’s going to be okay.” And I actually had people from the church I went to that morning showing up with shovels in their hand saying, “Hey, you want us to help you? Is there anything we can do?” And I had customers that were showing up saying, “What do we need to do to help you?” Of course, there’s nothing you can do at that point in time, because they have to do the investigation before you can start cleaning things out. But it was just awesome. The community around here, my church and everybody who offered the help. And it made me feel better about knowing, I’m doing the right thing by going forward with this.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And that kind of speaks to just how cool it is to be in a small community. I can’t speak too closely to it because I’m sitting here just a stone’s throw from Center City, Philadelphia, but I can imagine having that kind of reaction and support just really, I mean, you said it kind of shows what it means to be in a small community, in a small town, and being a business owner in a small town, and just how tight knit the community is and how they can really rally around you in a time of need.
Brad Elbrader: Yeah. It made me really realize way back then how important it is to be involved in the community. Yes, you own a business and yes, you’re here to make money, but you’re not here to make your retirement off of one sale. You want to help people. It is fun to help people. I still have fun doing this. There are times I get wore down, but it’s still fun to me. But like I say, back then it made me realize that how important it was to be involved in the community.
And even today, when we do the fair every year at a big event for our county and I will have floods of people that come through there and they just smile and look at me and say, “Hey, we remember when you first started?” And those people are telling people who are moving into the area, “Hey, you need stuff done. Here’s who you need to go see.”
So it’s all about networking. It’s all about taking care of… You may sell one customer a 32 inch TV and make 10, 15 bucks on the stinking TV, but years down the road, you’re making a lot more, because you took care of what they needed at that point in time.
Rob Stott: Is there, aside from benefiting from the fact you got to move into a new spot, is there any lessons you carried forward from that you still think about today? That you could still apply to what you do today?
Brad Elbrader: Well, the biggest lesson I did learn is, it’s super important that you know your insurance company is going to be behind you. I hate to say it that way, but that is why I use my buddy that was in insurance. That’s why I used him, because I knew that if I had something, which I never dreamed I would do it, but I thought, if I ever need something, he’s local, he’s here. He’ll be able to help me through things. And my gosh, did I need him? And he came through in flying colors.
Rob Stott: Not to mention you also, I’m sure, checking to make sure wires are grounded.
Brad Elbrader: Yeah, actually I’m in a complex now. That’s out by a Walmart. It’s the new part of town, we call it. It’s outside of Mountain Home around the outskirts, but everything’s moving out this way. And it’s funny, because when we moved into this complex, I made the comment to my wife, “Well, the first thing I’m going to do is hire the electrician to check the wiring in that place out.
But no, it’s been a roller coaster over the last 24 years. There’s been bad times, but there’s been some awesome times. And it’s in those valleys that makes us stronger. Especially as an independent retailer, let’s face it, it’s hard to be an independent. And when you go through those valleys, you want to just stay strong and keep your beliefs, and keep moving forward. When you come out the other end, you’re going to be a lot stronger, and you look back and you think, wow, I made it through that storm and you’re ready for the next one. Hey, listen, just enjoy the good times…
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. I think a perfect way to kind of put a bow on it. So I appreciate, Brad, you taking the time this morning and checking in with us and sharing your story. A lot of great things to learn and take out of this. So I appreciate you sharing it and having the availability and interest in coming on. And hopefully, we’ll catch up soon. I know we’ve got Nashville here in a couple of weeks. Maybe we’ll see you there. We’ll see what it’s like. And I just appreciate it and hope to catch up down the line and obviously continue to wish you continued success in what you guys are doing.
Brad Elbrader: Well, thank you very much. And I do look so forward to seeing everybody at PrimeTime because that personal contact with the vendors, and the folks that we meet, it’s so awesome. And it’s been so horrible this last year and a half, not to be able to be face-to-face. Here we are talking to each other on a box. I hate that. I don’t hate it, but in person’s a lot better.
Rob Stott: It is not the same for sure. And I will tell people that when you do get to the PrimeTime, talk to these people, talk to the vendors, because you get that personal relationships going with the different vendors. And it helps so much. Jim Mayo with Samsung. Man, after I sit down with him. I was anti Samsung, and after sitting down with him and hearing all the new stuff he was doing, that’s what started my Samsung trail right now. So I will tell people, show up for PrimeTime, talk to those vendors, get to know them, get relationships going and just enjoy it.
That’s awesome. Well, look forward to seeing you there then and making some new connections. So I appreciate it. And I look forward to talking again soon.
Brad Elbrader: Thank you.