KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - When Lawrence Hudson landed his first job in the car-stereo business in 1976, he was installing 8-track-tape players on dashboards inside cars from the 1950s and 60s.
Fast forward 41 years, and Hudson is still installing stereo systems. Today’s digital and wireless technology may be light years away from the clunky 8-track players of his youth, but the improved radio equipment hasn’t changed Hudson’s mission.
“I tell you what,” he said. “Doctors can help some people, but music is best for the soul. It’s all about the music.”
Hudson has carried out that mission for the last 30 years inside his low-key shop called Lawrence’s Stereo at the corner of Washington Street and Park Avenue. In that time, he’s never had an employee. For three decades, his business has been a one-man show.
And that’s just the way the 60-year-old Maconaquah High School graduate wants it. He said he hasn’t aimed to grow his store much in the last 30 years. His goal has been to simply make a decent living doing what he loves.
“I’m not getting rich, but I stay afloat,” Hudson said. “This is a passion store, not a greed store. I have passion for what I do, and I love what I do. If you hate what you do, you’re going to end up hating yourself.”
And what Hudson loves is giving people an audio system that makes the music as real and immediate as possible. He wants people to hear the nuances and harmonic subtleties in a song. If you’re listening to a flute solo from a Jethro Tull album, he wants you to hear the spit going through the pipe.
“We want to feel the music, and a good audio system can do that,” Hudson said. “It adds special flavor to your music. I’m really selling the sound.”
That’s why he got into the car-audio business in the first place, he said. After graduating from Maconaquah in 1974, Hudson worked a slew of odd jobs, none of which he liked.
It wasn’t until he was hired on at the House of Sound in Peru installing audio equipment that he finally found his niche. As Hudson began to master the basics of troubleshooting a stereo system and installing car speakers, he discovered he loved it.
“I just got to liking it more and more,” he said.
Hudson worked that job for nine years until he decided to venture off on his own. He opened his first store in Peru in 1985. Two years later, Hudson decided to relocate to Kokomo to expand his customer base.
At the time, he said, Sound Expo was the big dog when it came to selling audio equipment in Kokomo. He said people thought he was crazy to move his business to a city with such stiff competition.
“He kind of ruled everything at the time,” Hudson said. “But that first month I did really well. Next thing we knew, he had closed and was out of it.”
The same story played out time and time again. Bigger, flashier stores came to town, but Lawrence’s Stereo outlasted them all.
“People tell you another store is going to put you out of business, but nobody puts anybody else of business,” he said. “You put yourself out of business. If you don’t sell quality products and don’t treat your customers right, don’t expect to stay open. It’s not rocket science. You don’t need a college degree to stay in business.”
Hudson credits that kind of down-to-earth philosophy with his store’s longevity. He said he has always aimed to run a business where his customers feel like friends coming over to hang out.
And his shop does feel homey. One room has a table and a TV where people come over to talk shop or shoot the breeze while jamming out to some tunes or watching concert footage from one of Hudson’s favorite rock bands.
Another room in the back that serves as his work area is decorated with deer heads that Hudson bagged while hunting in Howard County. He said besides music, hunting and fishing are his other big passions, and his décor reflects that.
“I’m just an old country boy who’s trying to make a living,” he said. “I try to make people feel at home. This is not a place to be tensed up.”
Hudson said he keeps a laid-back atmosphere at the shop, but when it comes helping customers, he’s dead serious. That’s why he often fixes burned-out fuses or other small radio problems for free. If someone comes into the store with a $1,000 tax refund and wants to spend it all on speakers, Hudson cautions them to save some of the cash for a rainy day.
“I’m kind of a dad like that,” he said with a laugh.
And like a dad, Hudson is concerned about customers’ safety. He said he’s become alarmed by all the accidents that are caused by distracted drivers looking at their phones or screens. He said he’s all about installing quality speaker equipment, but he won’t hook up any in-vehicle DVD players. They’re too dangerous for drivers, he said.
“I don’t want to be liable for someone getting in an accident and killing somebody,” Hudson said. “People are texting today and hitting people, so we don’t need people watching movies in their car.”
He said when it comes down to it, running a successful car-audio business boils down to two simple tenets. First, treat customers like human beings.
“We all breathe the same air and stand on the same soil,” he said. “Not everything is about money. It’s about being honest with people.”
And the second rule? Keep the music pumping.
“I’m the doctor of music,” Hudson said. “It’s all about the music. It’s not about me.”
Source: Kokomo Tribune, https://bit.ly/2oykNiR
Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com
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