Owners Tom Priola and Eric Brostrom, along with Dirk Dutton and Keegan West. (Samantha Ryan photo)

Milestones: PrimeTime Audio/Video Celebrates 20 Years

Forget those big-box electronics stores. For nearly two decades, this homegrown retailer has simplified the process of buying electronics, in a world run amok with gizmos.

Owners Tom Priola and Eric Brostrom, along with Dirk Dutton and Keegan West. (Samantha Ryan photo)
Owners Tom Priola and Eric Brostrom, along with Dirk Dutton and Keegan West. (Samantha Ryan photo)

As it marks its 20th anniversary this year, PrimeTime Audio/Video, 6917 E. State St. in Rockford, is well-positioned as a driving force that’s keeping the Rockford region on pace with what’s new in technology.
Its story is one of growth – in space and sales, in customer education, and in always keeping up with the latest.
Most of all, it’s the personalized service that sets the store apart from competitors, says Tom Priola, co-owner with Eric Brostrom.
“We spend time talking to people, finding out exactly what they want, and educating them on what their options are, for what they want to accomplish,” Priola says. “Our returns are almost non-existent because people are so confident they bought the right products at the right price.”
The store is a member of the Pro Source buying group, which arms local businesses with the buying power of a 500-store chain, making it competitive with every major electronics retailer in the United States, Priola explains.
In 2008, PrimeTime Audio/Video was named the Dealer of the Year for Pro Source, which recognized the local retailer as a business of great integrity and helpfulness to other independent dealers throughout the country. In this retail category, leaders of independent stores communicate with one another about the struggles and challenges they face in the market and how to work more effectively with manufacturers of products.
Education is PrimeTime’s niche because the best technology is only good if you’re able to use it.
“When we talk with people, this is their main frustration,” says Priola. “They say there are too many pieces and too much information. Our goal is to educate and to make operating a system so simple that the customer experience is great. That’s how we’ve grown our business, by focusing on offering solutions to help customers actually be able to enjoy what they’re buying.”
And today’s customers are more educated than ever about what’s available.
“As new services and options become available, people yearn for more. They want more quality and less cost,” Priola says. A major mistake people sometimes make is to base their decisions only on size, price and value, when shopping.
“People do a lot of their own research and we know that, but we also want to open their eyes to what capabilities exist with products,” says Priola. “Customers are looking for solutions, not options.
“People have a good understanding of what they want to do and the space in which they have to do it,” he adds. “We make a couple of recommendations, rather than overwhelming them with choices.”
And the lowest price is always guaranteed.
PrimeTime can do this because of its relationship with cutting-edge manufacturers not commonly represented in large chain stores. As a general rule, chain stores tend to be more concerned with making sales than with dealing in specialized products, says Priola.
For example, one of the latest features in television viewing is the curved flat-screen. “We can explain that technology and show how it’s different,” he says.
PrimeTime opened in 1994, under the name Stateline Satellite, in a 1,500-square-foot building in Belvidere. Five years later, it moved to Rockford, changed its name and expanded several times to occupy 10,000 square feet.
Stateline Satellite originally provided equipment and concerned itself with getting people signed up for DBS satellite services. PrimeTime still offers services for both DIRECTV and Dish Network, but its products and services have expanded, along with rapid advances in technology, to help people accomplish a wide range of goals in their homes and businesses. PrimeTime works with many vendors and manufacturers to do this.
As it grew, PrimeTime began devoting individual rooms to showcasing what can be accomplished through improved technology.
For example, one room is devoted to a full product line of Bose sound equipment for home and commercial use. As of the past year, customers have been able to purchase Bose Wave radios, Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones and the new Bose Sound Touch systems.
“We’re different here, because we’re set up so that customers can actually see and experience how equipment will look and sound in their homes,” says Priola. “Unlike most stores that focus on selling products of the same brand, we help people to pair up the best of each brand, and help them to stay within their budgets. We’re all about quality products at the guaranteed best price possible.”
A home theater addition was constructed in 2006, to showcase the impact of Surround Sound, with speakers at the front, back and sides of the room. Another space shows the look and sound of a ceiling sound system that can be installed in existing homes.
When homebuilding was booming, an addition was built to show how lighting, sound, climate controls and closed-circuit systems could be pre-wired into a home to work together. Now that homebuilding is picking up again, that showroom continues to be helpful to customers.
Other areas of the store demonstrate “wow factor” home technologies, such as a bathroom mirror that incorporates a television screen.
The ultimate theater room brings to life an amazing movie theater experience for the home. Another room is filled with speakers and shows the wide variety of systems available, whether used on the floor, wall or elsewhere. Still another room reveals technologies that enhance commercial settings, such as professional offices and conference rooms. Video conferencing options are on display here, among other things.
Charts throughout the store explain, in great detail, the features of products available from various manufacturers, allowing customers to make comparisons easily.
Flat-screen TVs get 5 to 10 inches larger every year, says Priola, and the biggest one on display at PrimeTime is 133 inches. When it comes to placement of large screens in homes, there’s no right or wrong these days, because high-quality resolution has come such a long way.
“With the advances in high definition (Full HD) and 4k UHD technology, people can sit closer and closer to the screen and have good picture quality. The number of pixels has quadrupled in recent history, making what you already thought was a good picture look even better, with a natural 3-D effect,” he says.
Even in an age when impersonal big-box stores seem to hold an edge over local retailers, there are exceptions. PrimeTime Audio/Video is one of them. By offering a wide variety of the best equipment and services, and by taking time to stay up on the latest technology and share that knowledge with customers, this retailer is well positioned to begin its third decade as the leader of quality products and services in its field, offered at the best possible price.