i3 | October 10, 2018

2018 CT Hall of Fame: Mike Romagnolo

CTA Staff

The Consumer Technology Hall of Fame honors visionaries who have made a significant impact on the consumer technology industry. These leaders and entrepreneurs have laid the foundation for the technologies, products, services and apps that are improving lives around the world.

Mike Romagnolo will be inducted along with 13 other industry leaders at an awards dinner on Wednesday evening, November 7, at Capitale in New York City. Over the next several months, i3 will highlight this prestigious class. Please join us for the awards dinner as we celebrate this extraordinary group of honorees. Register now!

Michael Romagnolo, Founder, DOW Stereo/Video

When CE companies had new technologies to introduce, the first person they'd call was Mike Romagnolo at San Diego's DOW Stereo/Video, which, over 30 years, were the first to sell more than two dozen new products.

Soon after he was born in Jersey City, NJ, in 1944, Michael's family moved to San Diego. After graduating high school, the young Romagnolo found work on sports and commercial fishing boats.

He soon discovered there was no future in fishing. In 1968, after getting married to Sandy, Romagnolo answered an ad for a salesman at Mr. TV, a local three-store chain. After a successful initial six months, his boss asked him to run a failing location. After building up the store's business by expanding into stereo consoles, Romagnolo and his wife realized they could accomplish the same thing on their own.

In spring 1969, Romagnolo bought four stereos with his $1,000 tax return and got four more stereos on consignment. Since San Diego was a Navy town, Romagnolo called his rented 1,000-square-foot North Park store Anchor Stereo. After the eight stereos quickly sold, he ordered more, all the while developing relationships with manufacturers. Romagnolo expanded both his inventory and locations, adding a 2,500- and then a 3,500-square-foot store in the area around San Diego State University.

Romagnolo's success was built on finding and developing talented and loyal individuals, and recognizing the need for financing, especially for college students, in the days before ubiquitous credit cards. Romagnolo soon set up his own financing department, advertising payments plans for as little as $10 a month.

A retailer called DOW Sound City, a seller of higher-end audio systems, was the area's dominant seller of component stereos. But when Dow went bankrupt inn1971, Romagnolo bought the retailer's inventory, its name and the lease for its main store at 37th and El Cajon Boulevard, right down the street from Anchor, and, most importantly, contacts with higher-end brands he couldn't get. After a few months, Romagnolo closed his other three locations and focused on DOW's 7,000-foot store.

Romagnolo not only picked up the lines he needed, he opened a car stereo equipment location, an on-premise installation subsidiary up the street. In 1981, he added video and TV, and he consolidated all his operations into a single 15,000-square-foot, two-story building 10 blocks away. In 1983, he added a 9,000-square-foot location by the San Diego Sports Arena in a shopping center anchored with a Target.

Over the next 14 years, Romagnolo expanded to a total of 10 DOW Stereo/Video stores, including locations in Chula Vista, east El Cajon, Vista, La Jolla and Clairemont. Other than financing, Romagnolo attributed his success to being nimbler than his larger competitors, shifting quickly when Romagnolo recognized a promising technology was being introduced instead of conservatively waiting for market acceptability. DOW's penchant for showcasing new tech created both a cool-factor bond with tech-savvy customers, as well as a trusting bond with manufacturers looking for high-profile national retail exposure for their as-yet unknown next-gen technologies.

Over the years, DOW became known as a "launching pad." Consumers lined up for hours for a chance to be the first to buy more than two dozen new technologies first sold at DOW including 8mm camcorders, large screen direct view TVs, Super VHS, DAT, CD-R, digital cell phones, DVD, satellite TV and HDTV. Highly-promoted first-day availability of new gear by "D-O-W DOW" attracted thousands of early adopters, along with national, and often international, media coverage, most featuring DOW spokesperson Tom Campbell.

In April 1999, DOW was awarded the Smithsonian Award for Heroic Achievement in information technology. Once having reached this height, Romagnolo sold DOW Stereo/Video and retired.

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