Polished Prose

March 26, 2010

Good Vibrations

Filed under: Adventure,Magazine Article — jasonbaltis @ 4:09 pm
Tags: , , ,

Photo By Jason Baltis

The reinforced metal mesh door at Auto Sound Labs is a gateway to another place. Speakers, stereo receivers, alarms and amplifiers are bathed in neon light as they sit in custom-made display enclosures. The smell of freshly bound metallic wire, magnets and circuit boards fills the air.

Auto Sound Lab, recently named one of the top 50 retailers in the U.S. in Mobile Electronics Magazine, is an elite car audio business located on Blackstone Avenue in the industrial district of Fresno, Calif. They pride themselves on having high-quality products at reasonable prices.

Photo By Jason Baltis

Behind the counter at Auto Sound Lab you will find something atypical. This testosterone-fueled industry is filled with customers constantly attempting to become the loudest person on the block, and this attitude sometimes finds its way into the shop. The owner of Auto Sound Lab not only has different ethics, she provides an excellent environment for her employees and customers. This excellence has kept Auto Sound Lab in Business for 30 years.

Lee Ann Ellis, a native of Fresno, was trying to find her path back in 1978 while taking part-time classes at California State University, Fresno. She had a factory radio in her Ford that kept breaking down, and at that time there was only one business that provided the service to fix it. Her radio kept breaking, and she became very familiar with the procedures of the store, including the 90-day warranty they offered.

“I was there probably 20 minutes and nobody came back. A gentleman came in with his home receiver, a big home Sansui receiver that he wanted repaired. So I walked around the counter and I took a repair tag just like I had seen them do a thousand times before,” said Ellis.

The manager eventually came back and she questioned him about no one being at the counter. After the technician explained to the manager that working the counter was not in his job description, Lee Ann found herself a job.

A little over a year later, the owners of that business decided that they wanted to shut the business down. Lee Ann noticed the potential for success, and opened up Auto Sound Lab with another technician she had been working with.

Since there was no one else in the area that provided this service, word spread quickly about the business, opening up more opportunity. Sometimes people who had car radios that could no longer be fixed started asking for recommendations for new units and later asked why they could not buy them from Lee Ann directly. Auto Sound Lab became retail oriented shortly thereafter.

“At that time, in the infancy of Auto Sound, it was just about the time when they were switching over from 8-tracks to cassettes. We were actually using the speakers that came out of home speakers because there were no car manufacturers that offered them,” said Ellis.

Click on the Photo for an audio description. Photo By Jason Baltis

It was during this time that Lee Ann recognized how important good customer service is. Richard Vasquez, a technician who has worked for Auto Sound Lab for three years, described her attitude by saying, “She is very productive in what she does and she knows her stuff as far as car audio goes.”

Surviving in this economy requires good leadership. When talking about leadership, Lee Ann has a unique approach.

“I actually think being a leader is being a servant too,” said Ellis.

She explained that placing yourself over other people is not the right attitude to have in a business. Lee Ann strives to assist her employees and considers them the strength behind the business. Most of her employees stick around 10 years or more.

Click on Photo for an audio description. Photo By Jason Baltis

The dedication to manage a business requires something special, but it turns out that she did not choose the industry but the industry chose her. Lee Ann would be satisfied running any business that involved the public.

“I don’t so much think of it as a business of what it is that you’re doing, as far as what widget it is that you are selling. You have to like people and you have to serve people,” said Ellis with a smile.

Lee Ann serves her customers and employees, and does not value competition with other car audio businesses. She describes that there are plenty of people in Fresno and there could be a successful stereo shop on every corner.

“I think competition has a lot to do with ego and I think that it is a big waste of time,” said Ellis.

Of course, it is not always easy. There have been a few phone calls and situations when being a woman in a male-dominated business was not so fun. Once a guy came in and rushed past her to get to a technician in the back to ask a question. The technician laughed and told him that the person to ask was the person he brushed off. He quickly apologized when Lee Ann was able to find exactly what he needed.

“There is no business that does not have challenges,” said Ellis.

Auto Sound Lab has participated in some community events as well. They installed a custom stereo system in a D.A.R.E. car for the Fresno Police Department, participated in an auction for Channel 18 and have supported local car clubs.

As she described the community involvement of Auto Sound Lab, Lee Ann spoke about what she is most proud of.

“I would have to say our country. Where else are you going to be able to start something from nothing? Where else can you have a success story where if you work hard, you can make a good living for yourself and other people?” said Ellis.

There are many reasons to visit Lee Ann Ellis at Auto Sound Lab in Fresno, but customer service seems to be the secret to the longevity of her business. The way she answers the phone says it all.

“Thank you for calling Auto Sound Lab. This is Lee Ann. How can I help?”



  1. Very entertaining version of the truth.

    Comment by Dan Jobin — November 16, 2011 @ 10:09 am | Reply

    • Thank you. How did you find my blog? It is quite old and outdated.

      Comment by jasonbaltis — November 16, 2011 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Jason,
    Great story about a great Fresno business. Autosound Lab is the best Auto Stereo place in Fresno. Everyone should go there first. http://www.autosoundlabinc.com
    Rod Castello

    Comment by Rod Castello — August 22, 2015 @ 8:53 am | Reply

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