An Inside Look: Where It All Began

Innovative Audio/Visual Solutions (IAVS) has been in business providing exceptional service to clients since 2000. But to get a better understanding on the development, we need to go back quite a few years ago…

Around 1989-1990, Gordon Sauck (that’s me) started experimenting with stereo set-ups that were slightly different to what people up to that point were used to. Not radical things mind you, but simply showing people ways of getting various sound sources through their systems. This included VCR’s, (beta and VHS), musical keyboards and a host of other fun things. In today’s world this sounds like child’s play but this was some cutting edge stuff back then. I specifically chose this as the official starting point because this was the time I started to put into works the dream I had as a kid.

I spent quite a bit of time building dedicated rooms for people that started to combine audio and video together. No, I didn’t invent ‘home theater’ nor do I believe that I had a hand in progressing what is considered today as movie rooms. What I did was simply show people that stereos and home video equipment were not scary monsters and can actually work quite well together. Once properly set up, they can be fun and entertaining for both the family and the audio nut. Although this little foray into the audio realm lasted only a few short years (I then did other work that is too horrible to mention), it was always in the back of my mind. In 1998, I took a more serious stab at it and it started, ever so slowly to build and evolve…

“In the beginning, it was my dad’s fault”

In 1972, my father, John, brought home a Pioneer receiver, a record player, and two speakers. My dad was a painter/ decorator ‘extraordinaire’ and although not an audio nut he certainly knew what sounded good. He was however a very shrewd customer and usually checked things out very carefully before buying anything. Nonetheless, the sales guy loaded him up and out the door with $1,277.85 worth of equipment. Pretty steep considering what he bought – Pioneer SX-1500TD Receiver (with mic), Dual 1225 Turntable, two KLH Fifteen speakers and the weirdest record I ever heard. The record is a key plot point because I really do not believe I would be writing this today without it. From the first time I heard this new ‘system’ I was impressed. Well, about as impressed as a nine year old kid could be over sound, but I liked it.

It was a real upgrade from the 1958 Nordmende Elektra radio we were used to. Mom simply loved it! Elvis had never sounded better and since she worked at Quality Records in Scarborough, Ontario, she got great deals on the newest vinyl off the press. Needless to say, we kids were never allowed to touch it. But by then, after really hearing it, I got the bug. It didn’t make a difference what was playing, I was there. As soon as I heard that distinctive ‘thump’ when the stereo was turned on, I stopped what I was doing and ran downstairs to listen. The first Christmas was simply magical. It was like I was listening to carols all over again for the first time!

Oh yeah, the record…if you have never heard of it I understand, but my father made a big deal out of having to put this record in with the deal when he bought the stereo because that was what the salesperson used to demo it. It was called “Everything You Always Wanted to Hear on the Moog * (but were afraid to ask)”.

**Note** I found a few great websites dedicated to this obscure record and one actually has some decent MP3 files that are free to download and listen to. Please note that these recordings play a bit fast (in my humble opinion) but nonetheless give a decent overall feel to the quality of this great record. To see check this out further click here.

So where did the store idea come from?

The idea of me owning a stereo store can be traced back to when I was 12 years old. At that age I was living in Calgary, and there were a ton of stores like Kelly’s Stereo Mart, Don’s Stereo and many, many others. Whenever dad and I went out to these stores (which was often) I would always grab a stack of sales brochures. The sales guys thought it was cute but hey, I made out like a bandit. At home these would be carefully taped to the walls of my room because the pictures looked soooo cool! I mean, the Pioneer blue ‘fluoroscan’ series’? Wow!

I simply had no idea about the technical jargon (specs and such) I only cared what these things looked like! Years later things changed and I slowly put the audio world on the back burner. I moved to BC, went into the Armed Forces for a bit, got married and helped bring my son into the world on December 31st, 1985. Along the way I went back into the electrical field for a bit and even tried my hand at a business or two but my heart was never really in it. I did however still have fun going through the Radio Shack catalogs and walking through the odd store that was still around at that time. For those around the Vancouver area in the late 1980’s you may remember stores like A&B Sound, Westminster Stereo, Pacific Stereo, The Sound Gallery and of course Kelly’s Stereo Mart. There were others like Big Bird Sound and Commercial Electronics but I didn’t know them that well.

In the early 90’s I was startled to see a change in the audio world and it was huge! The new buzz words were ‘surround sound’ and I started to see literally tons of older stereo gear suddenly being sold at garage sales and flea markets for pennies! This was astounding! Equipment I would have easily sold my right leg and left lung for all those years ago was basking in the summer sun for $40.00! FOR ALL OF IT! Why? Well my friend, the answer I heard almost 99% of the time was; ‘it’s simply too old, big, and we already bought new stuff’. Needless to say, I started ‘collecting’ a few pieces here and there and bringing them home. Soon these started numbering into the hundreds, and more. It seems I was not alone as quite a few others realized the same thing and it was quite common to bump into the same people over and over at garage and yard sales throughout Vancouver. It was great talking with some of these guys and I learned more and more about older stereo gear through their experiences. I started to streamline what I was looking for, kinda like sorting the wheat from the chaff so to speak and became selective on my purchases. I even took the time to sort through the mountains of gear piling up at home and select only the ‘good stuff’. This was where my first of many observations developed and the one that has stood the test of time; “If it’s heavy it must be good”.

Another gold mine for gear was doing installations. People at this time realized that simply placing a stereo in their home was not as simple as it once was. With ‘surround sound’, space was needed to get the full effect of what the equipment was capable of. As a result, people like me were asked to help out and I was only too happy to oblige. Yep, I realized that once the new stuff was in, the old stuff had to go somewhere and the back of my van was usually that place. I have to admit that there was a certain degree of excitement, even anticipation when you walked into a home to do a ‘re & re’. You simply had no idea what you were going to see, or find. I can tell you that on a few occasions my heart almost stopped when I walked into a room and saw a rack of Pioneer Spec gear, or shelving units bending under the weight of Marantz tube equipment and speakers of every size, shape and design. Mind you, this was still in the mid to late 90’s and ‘Home Theater’ was the end all, beat all for your entertainment dollar. There were those times where taking out the heavy older stuff was harder than putting in the newer more complicated stuff! Yeah, I got the bug back big time but it felt good, right even. I was in my element and I thought that this was what I wanted all those years ago but still, something was missing…

Over time I discovered I needed more room. My downstairs was now filled and the garage was fast becoming an obstacle course, and a dangerous one at that. Installation work was great, but it was long hours and too much traveling. Then a funny thing happened…in the early years of the new millennium I started to find this gear less and less, and also found that the same people I met at garage sales were starting to buy this equipment for more and more money. The bubble burst when eBay really started to catch on, and the rest you can say, is history.

So where does that leave me? Rather frustrated, thank you. It looked like life was changing again and even though I had a good install business going, plus doing seasonal work for the Vancouver Giants, things slowly started to slow down, but not for long. Remember all that gear piling up in the basement and garage? Well, it took some time and with the help of simply too many people to mention, Innovative Audio was conceived. This was probably the most exciting part of my life next to my son being born as I was watching and helping the birth of something I only dreamed about as a kid. Over several months plans were made, changed, scrapped and made again as the business model slowly started to take shape. There was a thousand questions to answer and for each answer that was decided on, new questions arose.

From the start, we have strived to lay out what would be the very foundation of our store; to provide our clients with the best equipment, combined with the best service, every time. This would be the heart of the business, to provide what we felt was ‘good old fashioned quality service’. I was still working out of my home and had only my van, some business cards and good old word of mouth to get clients. Mind you, this was mainly doing installations in new houses now being built with dedicated ‘Theater Rooms’. Having a great electrical background made things easier, and I found that running cables was actual a fun challenge especially in older homes. Over this time we gained a solid reputation for reliability, value and commitment to insure that all our clients and customers get their monies worth. But even then, more equipment was still coming in…

Our store officially opened on November 14th, 2005 in Delta, British Columbia, Canada, (ironically on my dad’s birthday!). We had about 70% of the store dedicated to new home theater stuff including all the latest toys for multi room audio and video. The other 30% was for our ‘vintage Audio’ section and used gear. We agreed that taking trades was essential to our business and although we were still learning about buying and trading, things started to mature a few months after opening. My garage actually saw a car parked in it for the first time in years as we moved a good chunk of gear into and onto the shelves of the new store. I had hired a repair tech many months before hand to get literally hundreds of items ready in preparation for our grand opening. There were some nights I was just too tired to sleep and actually wondered if this whole crazy thing was worth it!

I have to admit that at first, I thought this was going to be easy, it was just a matter of throwing stuff on the shelves, put some prices up, throw the doors open and wait for the throngs of customers stampeding through the store. I mean, if there was one thing I learned from doing garage sales is that there was people out there wanting to buy good used stereo gear!

Well, I was a tad off. Susan, the accounting genius behind Innovative Audio from day 1, took me off to the side and gave me the cold hard facts of what I was up against. Needless to say, I was taken aback. Hurt even. It was like being doused with a bucket of cold water with sand paper to dry you off. Susan was ruthless, and simply would not budge on what she felt were the absolute essentials on running a successful business. In the end, she was right and I realized that sometimes you needed someone who was emotionally disconnected from this stuff to set the record straight. This however, was a whole new world of work. How can there be so much crap to deal with just to sell stuff? I mean, installs were one thing as you had pretty basic things to contend with but this? Okay, I knew about taxes, licenses and what I wanted the store to represent but it was the countless hours at night going over reams of legal paperwork and dealer’s lists and credit applications and on and on and on that had me thinking maybe I was over my head here. Again, it was Susan to the rescue. Not only did she understand this stuff perfectly, but she knew almost every route to take to get things on track and on time. As much as older stereo gear was my element, this was hers. I could now go back to what I knew best – buying stuff!

When we turned on that ‘Open’ on the morning of November 14th, 2005, it was a great moment. We did not have a single customer in our store the entire day (except for about a dozen people looking for the beer and wine store that used to be here). But you know what, it did not matter. Leading up to that day I saw a great many people banding together to make my dream as a kid a reality, and to all of you I say thanks. Every one of you helped create the most unique store of its kind in British Columbia. Kinda brings a tear to your eye, eh? Even my dad said it was one of the best birthday presents he had – to see his son live his dream.

So there ya have it – My story.

I have to add a few things here now that the store has been open – and moved – since we opened…

It’s now September 2011 and things have certainly changed quite a bit. We first started off Innovative Audio with the full name; Innovative Audio/Visual Solutions Ltd as we were dealing with new audio video products (home theater gear, DVD players etc.) and also installations. During this time I was also with the Vancouver Giants and did side work for the Vancouver Canadians baseball league. I dropped out of the installation game as I felt that too many ‘trunk slammers’ were popping up over the past few years and simply giving licensed installers a bad reputation. Unfortunately, I was right. There really is no governing body to regulate this and aside from the very basics needed to get a ‘low voltage ticket’, even 16 year olds that had access to a car and tools scrounged from garage sales were now ‘installers’. The money these guys were charging bordered on criminal, and people found that between the gouging they were getting from the ‘big box stores’ and adding the incredibly stupid amount ‘installers’ were charging there was simply no money left to rent a movie! Over time, the horror stories of TV’s falling off walls and equipment being damaged was becoming way too common. Sadly, we opted to get out of this game before we were painted with the same brush.

We made the bold move to switch our store over to ‘vintage only’ in late 2007 as it was becoming apparent that we, as a small business simply could not compete with the likes of Future Shop or Visions Electronics. Although we sold the same things they did we simply could not order the volume they did. If we bought 10 Pioneer such and such receivers they bought 5000. As a result, they had better buying power than we did and often their products were sold for much, much less than our cost! Hey, all is fair in business but we realized that we needed to change a few things to survive. We took some time and went over the numbers, and found a pattern that was sort of surprising. It seemed that the two elements that we agreed upon in the very beginning were the two things that were being crowded by all that home theater junk – used gear and repairs.

Our repair area (not really a department yet) received some attention after we acquired the status of being accepted as a McIntosh Authorized Repair depot. This was largely due to Gary Taylor, of Taylor Marketing who saw something in our shop that convinced him that we had the makings of something needed here in the Delta / Fraser Valley area. Soon after McIntosh, other companies came on board and we knew that our repairs – for everything – needed to be taken to a higher level. This was clearly evident with our used gear. The used gear did surprisingly well, with ‘vintage audio’ dominating the sales over the newer plastic stuff. What we found though, is that some gear was being put on our shelves without being checked over properly, and things were coming back. This was really frustrating and although sales were slowly climbing, people were not happy about bringing stuff back for stupid minor things. I have to say though that our customers are the best; they knew we were still a young shop and quite a few gave us the opportunity for a second (and sometimes third) chance to make things right. The repair area had to be re-vamped as it was going to be the heart of the new direction we wanted to point the business. This was crucial, and a huge amount of money had to be spent to get the best testing equipment we could. This was the big move, the one that would make or break us.

We truly felt that by moving sideways, we could in essence carve out our own niche by doing something no one has done before. We decided to dedicate the entire store to only repairs and vintage audio. We sold off all the new and used video and home theater gear at insane prices, sometimes with customers looking at us like we were crazy but it had to be done. The website was taken down and completely re-built from scratch, and we discontinued selling almost everything to do with home theater, multi room audio / video and integration systems.

Difficult is not a word I would use to describe the apprehension to this decision. Everyone – including me – felt that we may have just launched the Titanic knowing full well its fate. Well, we were surprised. Very, very surprised…

This was going to be a daunting task, not only to redesign the store (yet again) but to also switch and dedicate the entire store to products that for the past couple of years had only seen us dedicate a few shelves to. We had the stock, but it was the aforementioned mountain of untested gear still collecting dust back at the house. In addition, we bought quite a number of large estates over the past few years and all of this gear was piling up in every space available in the store itself! Ever get butterflies in your stomach? This was a million times worse…We knew that there are those that make a ‘living’ selling stuff like this on eBay but not a brick and mortar shop. The only thing that came even close was pawn shops and even they had the brains not to deal with old stereo gear. This was the time to take everything that I learned up to this point and make it work…

In fact, the store did so well that in 2008 we had to move to a larger location. This was just a few months after hosting our first ‘Vintage Audio and Record Swap Meet’ with Neptoon Records. You have got to see the pictures under ‘Fun Stuff’ to get an idea of what that was like! By this time we had already dropped the “Visual Solutions Ltd.” verbage from our name and was using just Innovative Audio. Even our new sign was changed to reflect this. Oddly enough, our old huge signs at our old location are still there – 4 years later and are doing a great job confusing people! We opted to choose more of a warehouse facility, with a sales floor in the front and tons of storage in the back. We custom built a tech repair area and, after a colossal move (with the help of many, many friends including Marc & Deb Carriere) we re-opened in November of 2008. The sales floor was a lot smaller – and boy did we get complaints! We supplemented the lack of sales floor by moving into the on-line auction realm and did great. Susan again proved that her talents seemed boundless and moved the whole eBay department under her jurisdiction. In fact, we were selling more items through our website and auctions than the retail side seemed to be…

Well, in late 2010 we made another bold move. We decided to shut down our retail side of things and go entirely on-line. Yeah, that did not go over too well…

We had quite a few positive comments supporting our choice but nothing compared to the bitching and moaning we got from the locals… We were literally caught between a rock and a hard place. So, living up to the nickname of ‘Renovative Audio’ we did what we do best and changed the store yet again! This time it was ‘go big or go home’ and we did exactly that. We gutted the top mezzanine area and completely re-built a whole new floor including a new larger, better record room. This took so long to do that we did not open again until February of 2011 and it has been a blast ever since.

Over the years we have gained one of the best repair reputations in Vancouver and in addition made Innovative Audio the place to get the ‘must have’ vintage audio items. We currently ship products the world over and have been featured in newspapers, magazines and in on-line articles as well as radio programs. Our annual Vintage Audio Garage Sale event, now going into its 5th year has drawn people from all over western Canada and the United States and continues to grow with each event. Over the years we have learned that it takes time and dedication to do what you love, and everyone here has proven that every day. Innovative Audio has been built up by great customers, great friends, incredible staff members and from people all over the world looking to enjoy a bit of their musical past and we are proud to have played a small part in bringing wonderful sound back in their lives.

Gordon Sauck, General Manager and Proud Owner