The author's father, Tom Laski.
This week Southtown Audio Video (my company, for those of you not paying attention) celebrated 30 years of business, and this is not something to be taken lightly in the world of technology. The pace of change is rapid and has only increased over the years. It was my father who started the company in 1984, and as his daughter my first memories of his first location have more to do with the ice cream shop next door (Carvel), than the business itself. It wasn’t until almost 13 years ago that I decided to make the leap into the family business myself and then to eventually (this year) purchase the company from my father. I sat down with Tom Laski, the founder of SAV, to ask him a few questions on how he has endured all the storms through the past three decades.
Thirty years ago you opened your doors as Southtown Electronics, Inc. What made you do it?
I had a friend who was encouraging me and then my boss at the time found out. He called me into the office, told me he heard I was going out on my own, and fired me on the spot. This was after I had been with the company for over a dozen years. The guy had the police escort me out, so I went downstairs, collected my personal things, and left. I had to call for a ride home since I had driven into work in the company van. (Heather’s note: That company went out of business, so we had the last laugh!)
How did those first few years go?
I was lucky to build a strong following. We were one of the only companies doing in-home installation at the time, which only included TVs, stereos, and big dishes. Video was still considered a new enterprise.
You started out has a Hi-Fi shop, then rented Beta and VHS tapes (before Blockbusters existed), then went on to be a satellite install professional with a service component (before home theater) and then eventually a full custom integration business. How did you know which path to take?
A. In the beginning years a guy named Ed came in with 1000 tapes and rented space from me. This lasted for about five years. I did buy the tapes from him and did it on my own for about a year. How did I survive? I didn’t know anything else.
Do you remember your first sale?
A. Bobby Beltz. He came in the store, and he purchased a big satellite dish (9-foot Paraclipse dish), and we became lifelong friends. I gathered a friend, and we did the install. I had a partner the first few years, and he stayed open while I did the installs. Not too long after I opened, I suffered a massive heart attack, and my partner became unsure about the company. My wife went to the shop while I was in the hospital, and he was packing it in. After I had recovered I bought him out. He doubled his money in those two years.
When you started, did you think you would still have a company 30 years later?
I thought I would have sold it for a lot of money and have been out of it. I did, however, always think I would be in the business in some fashion.
What is your favorite thing about your job today? What was it when you began?
Then? Meeting new people. Today? Seeing those familiar faces.
Living through the blood, sweat, and tears of 30 years entrepreneurship, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Pace yourself (as I feel the aches and pains today). Everyone is going to make a bad decision, but hopefully you make more good ones than bad ones. Oh and, don’t extend people credit!
Have a good install story?
We installed a 12-foot satellite dish on top of a college campus building in the middle of the city during a Buffalo winter.
What amazes you most about today’s world?
How technology has changed.
How did you do it? What made you go on?
I had a family, and as I said, it was all I knew. There were years I didn’t even take a paycheck. I did not close because I would not be defeated.
And he never was…
Heather L. Sidorowicz is the president of Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.