Tuesday, December 11, 2012

VACEOS Member Eric Sundberg, President Southern Electronics: Leader, Futurist.


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Eric Sundberg is a self-proclaimed futurist with an astute “fix it gene” and a fondness for travel. He is tall, thin, and is as equally intense about his work as he is about his love for his giant german shepherd, King, who lounges causally in his office. His business is conducted primarily with others outside of the state, yet he is committed to the development of the Richmond area’s youth.


As a member of the VACEOS, he often shares his experience during confidential roundtable discussions with his peers. Today, we find out about his business vision, how he gives back to the community, and what one piece of advice he has for young entrepreneurs.


About Virginia CEO, Eric Sundberg

Eric proved at an early age to be a hard worker and a leader, not a follower. By 14 he was recruiting kids for his newspaper route and acting as the crew chief for a local swimming pool installation company.


He worked his way through college at a Richmond audio repair shop. By 25 he was ready to be the boss.  In that year,1989, he started his own car radio repair business — Southern Autotronics. His company quickly morphed into a $9M, 8-store chain servicing warranties for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler until 2001.


Eric says, “I always had the fix it gene. I took things apart like most kids, but I could put things back together. As I matured I was drawn to the complexity and volume of the auto radio repair work.”


Eric Sundberg QuoteWhen the warranty work for the major auto manufacturers moved to Mexico, Eric shifted focus and saw a future in GPS systems. About his second business venture, Navtronix, he says, “I’ve always been a futurist, good at anticipating technology advances and opportunities. I am often though, 10 years ahead of my time. Like with navigation. I had to wait for market acceptance of the products, and the price dropped out — not so much with repair which has always been strong.”


Eric went back to his repair roots and started another company, Southern Electronics, Inc. Southern Auto Electronics focuses on dashboard and radio repairs. Its commercial clients include various government and school systems, garages and car dealerships around the world. He also has a solid base of end users who rely on his services.


He reports 80% of his business comes from the web; no doubt a testament to his foresight to start a domain business, and while he was at it, secure names like CarRadio.com, SpeedometerRemoval.com and InstrumentClusterRepair.com for himself.


Live and Die by the Web… and UPS

Eric reports, “One of the secrets to my success is that I found a high-priced, high-value electronics products with a long life for repair. My lifeblood is the web and UPS.”


He has a total of six websites that drive business to his doorstep, and while the complexity of a car’s electronic system has increased, it has also has become self-contained and modular.


Eric explains, “Over the years I often worried that the car radio would one day be a throw away item and the factory would try to replace it. Luckily I was wrong. One reason was the fact that the complexity of the radio has increased over time. What started as simply AM, became an AM/FM, then an 8-track, then a radio cassette, CD and now, a navigation system. The complexity of the content of the radio system has gone up. It justifies the expense of repairing it.”


These days, the car’s radio and navigation system is specifically fitted inside the center console and it’s modular, making it very shippable. As such, Eric’s business has evolved to complete dashboard and instrument cluster repair. He explains, “I also started repairing instrument clusters and speedometers because they are essential components to keep the car or truck on the road. They must be in working order.”


His work is not based on factory manuals or warranty guides, but on his will to fix it and his research skills. He says, “Everything we do here is reverse engineering. My job here is to locate repair parts or techniques to repair components that are failing in high value and/or high volume cars. Like for example, figuring out where to find parts for an unreadable displays on a Mercedes or Audi.” (Answer: Japan.)


Eric points out that his business is based on trust, and even without his strong web presence and business model, it’s his companies hands-on approach to customer service and his 100% satisfaction motto that are the real foundation of his success.


Giving Back

Eric Sundberg has a multi-million dollar electronics business, a thriving domain name business, six websites to manage and a strong desire to travel around the world. To keep up, he’s an early riser and a reader. (Up at 4am; over 30 science and technology publications.)


In his spare time he mentors young adults who show an interest in electronics as well as those who compete in the FIRST® Robotics Competitions. Of the national competition, he says, “Robots are a vehicle to teach kids about teamwork and how to work, experiment, use hand tools and solve problems and interact with adults — the type of skills they will need when they enter into the workforce.”


His next venture is not business-related, but focused toward the community. By this time next year he hopes to pilot an elementary school, after hours science discovery program for underprivileged, gifted students.


One Piece of Advice for Entrepreneurs

Eric has been involved in repairing automobile electronics for over 44 years. When asked what one piece of advice he would offer a startup, he doesn’t hesitate. “Locate a problem that needs solved. Find a niche business that others can’t do easily… [something] that is going to be ongoing and sustainable.”


Eric Sundberg has been an active member of the Virginia Council of CEOs since 2007. He is one of over 160 members who welcome the opportunity to share their business knowledge and concerns each month during member roundtable discussions. To learn more, visit the Virginia Council of CEOS YouTube page or  VACEOS website today.

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