Northwest Business Magazine

Business Milestones: Primetime Audio Video at 25

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When it comes to physics, opposites attract – and it turns out they can work well in business, too. After a quarter-century, this Rockford business is still a powerful attraction for area consumers.

Co-owner Tom Priola, General Manager Dirk Dutton and co-owner Eric Brostrom together create a synergy that’s made Primetime Audio Video a local success for nearly 25 years.

Co-owner Tom Priola, General Manager Dirk Dutton and co-owner Eric Brostrom together create a synergy that’s made Primetime Audio Video a local success for nearly 25 years.

Electromagnetism is a type of physics involving synergy that develops between electrically charged particles. A set of speakers creates sound through electromagnetic waves, generated by positive and negative parts of an atom. Though they’re pushing against each other, in actuality, they’re working together to create an amplified sound. Opposites attract in physics, but they can also be helpful in personal relationships.

Eric Brostrom and Tom Priola, the owners of Primetime Audio Video at 6917 E. State St., Rockford, are great friends, business partners and “polar opposites,” according to the store’s general manager, Dirk Dutton.

Before the two came together in 1994, Brostrom was working as a master satellite technician in the Rockford area. One of his clients was local bar owner, Priola.

Priola decided to try something new when Brostrom proposed that they go into the satellite industry together. They opened Stateline Satellite, one of Rockford’s premiere satellite companies at the time. Priola’s corporate acumen and Brostrom’s technical skills complement each other like a leather recliner completes a home theater. Next year will mark the company’s 25th year in business, making Primetime an elder in consumer technology.

“When we started,” Priola recalls, “we were interested in this booming new satellite dish business.” However, in an industry that changes so fast, Priola and Brostrom knew customer education was going to be the key to success.

“If you educate the customer, instead of trying to sell the customer, they almost always choose the right path,” Priola says.

When the business was called Stateline Satellite, people assumed the store only sold and installed satellites, Dutton says. Once Priola and Brostrom noticed that customers were having satellites installed, but buying televisions elsewhere, they changed the name to Primetime Audio Video, to let the public know they did it all.

“Everything is in-house,” Dutton explains. “We don’t contract anything out to a third-party contractor, so everything is very personal.”

The Primetime owners take pride in offering a great value for their inventory and installing products correctly, teaching the customer how to use a product to its fullest capacity. Another fundamental principle in their success is Primetime’s “state-of-the-art after-sale services,” Priola says. This practice has proven to build lasting relationships with customers who return to Primetime again and again.

“We’re creating enjoyable moments for peoples’ lives one home theater at a time,” Dutton adds.

Not that Primetime only sells and installs home theaters. They offer a selection of electronics, security cameras, furniture, grills – anything you need to entertain in your home. The 10,000 square-foot showroom is set up with various vignettes. There are several small enclosures set up to look like a home theater, a man cave, or an outdoor entertainment space. The scenes are a way to put the customer into the experience of what’s possible in their home, and the creative minds at Primetime are continually coming up with new ways to showcase and utilize their products.

“We change them out frequently, more for ourselves than the customers,” Dutton chuckles. “It’s exciting for us, and it lets us remember what we have.”

The employees are trained to ask questions, like: how do the customers plan to use the product, and in what type of room will it be used? Does the customer watch sports or listen to classical music? Who’s going to use the system? This approach allows employees to hone in on the right products for their customer.

It’s essential to the team at Primetime to give that one-on-one, personal attention.

“Outsourcing doesn’t save the customer money,” Dutton says. “The experience is inferior because the installer doesn’t know the designer or the salesperson who helps you. They don’t have a relationship, so the information they share crosses multiple channels.”

“We get a lot of special support from our vendors like Samsung, Bose and Sony,” Priola adds. “We also get a lot of special support where a box store doesn’t.”

Primetime technicians are paid hourly, instead of per job, so they’re not rushing through installations to get to the next customer.

“They take the time to do everything right,” Dutton says. “The employees at Primetime do what they do because they love it, not just for a paycheck. Everyone puts a lot of passion into everything they do, whether it’s on the sale side or the installation side.”

While Dutton may describe Brostrom and Priola as “opposites,” he finds himself falling smack dab in the middle. Brostrom is laid-back and easy-going, with a relaxed approach to life. Priola is a go-getter, organized and analytical. Together, they create the perfect working duo, each compensating for what the other may lack and highlighting the other’s many assets.

According to Dutton, their philosophy is that a company is only as good as the people in front of it. They find the right people and put their trust in them to help build their brand. Placing faith in the employees garners trust in return.

“Everyone here feels like they’re part owner of the business,” Dutton says. “We all rise together, and we all fall together.”

Besides being a co-founder, Brostrom is someone who prioritizes his core values of honesty, integrity and trust. Since he began working in cable and satellite after high school, he found himself drawn to creating the “ultimate customer experience.” Working for people who weren’t interested in improving the customer experience, but rather only cared about the profit of a sale, pushed him to venture out on his own.

Priola took a risk when he left the bar business to join Brostrom on this adventure. Despite his success in business, he had no formal training with satellites, though he had always been intrigued by technology. The entrepreneurial drive he’s had since he was a kid motivated him to go for it, regardless.

It’s crucial to Priola that Primetime is on the cutting edge of technology. It’s a marker of the brand they’ve built. He’s always seeking new ways to take things to the next level.

“Thinking back to 25 years ago, we had a plan,” Priola says. “We understood what it was, put it into place, and stayed the course. It’s easy to get distracted, but we persevered. The core part of our business has never really changed.”

Part of that core is collaborating with employees. “We treat our employees as if they are business partners,” Priola says. For instance, when he comes back from one of the many trade shows he visits throughout the year, armed with new information and big ideas, he gets all the employees together to talk about how it might work for Primetime.

“Sometimes it works, and other times we try, and it’s not a success,” Priola admits.

However, being flexible and able to make decisions on a local level has proven effective.

It’s this trust within the team that creates the synergy making Primetime a success. They sustain each other, and they support other local businesses as well.

“Like any local business, the main struggle is that people think they’re going to pay more shopping here, and that’s not the case,” Dutton notes. Prices are comparable to the larger corporate stores, and not only is the service more attentive, but supporting local businesses keeps things symbiotic in Rockford.

For Dutton, it’s a no-brainer.

“Why wouldn’t you want to support someone’s family whose kids go to school with your kids? We eat at local restaurants, drink at local bars. We have a really strong local presence, and we try to share that.”

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