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Tom CapoThe California Gold Rush of 1848 seduced nearly a half million people to seek their fame and fortune. A handful of “49ers” did strike it rich, however, mining merchants like Levi Strauss made far more money than the miners did. Tom Capo of Hopatcong, New Jersey struck gold when this mobile DJ decided to “mine” the DJ industry at the young age of 14! He started an e-commerce store in 2002 and named it KPODJ, a play on his last name. Tom says starting KPODJ as a high school freshman was a huge advantage.
“My overhead was almost nothing,” he recalls. “I worked out of my parent’s garage and had no expenses other than my cell phone bill and web hosting. I didn’t even have an advertising budget. All sales were made thru word of mouth. I reinvested almost everything I made back into the business. I was lucky enough to start when online competition was quite low. I believed that online sales were the way of the future but I certainly didn’t anticipate or expect this type of success! I just tried to make my website like what I thought that I would want to shop at. Fortunately enough people out there had similar shopping expectations.
“Being in the trenches (as a DJ) myself I had the advantages of hearing firsthand the unedited opinions and experiences of hundreds of other DJs. (Plus) I always liked to try new gear. My DJ setup was constantly changing and I especially liked trying less known brands that I thought were better than the popular stuff.”
Tom’s father Joe, a retired Meineke dealership owner in northern New Jersey, wasn’t quite ready to retire so he decided to help out his son, a move that proved to be invaluable
“I was having trouble juggling college classes, booking DJ events, and running the e- commerce site, so my parents offered to help out,” says Capo. “Now, instead of running into the hallway to answer calls during classes, they were able to take care of customers and help grow the business dramatically. Within a few months, my father had a new full time job answering calls, doing accounting and taxes. I’m 100 percent confident that the business would not be where it is now if he hadn’t joined. His phenomenal business sense made a huge difference. Not only did he help develop better relationships with our suppliers, but he is great with customers.”
Joe remembers huge tractor trailers showing up in front of their house, located in a residential neighborhood, filling their home to capacity with Pro Audio products.
After graduating from engineering school Tom decided to continue building KPODJ. Along with his family’s support Tom says being a working DJ was another unique advantage over store owners who haven’t been in the trenches:
“Yes! Absolutely, all working DJs talk to each other so I have both the benefit of being in the trenches, myself, and the benefit of hearing firsthand the unedited opinions and experiences of hundreds of other DJs. I’ve found this to be very helpful in both purchasing inventory and recommending products to customers. It’s easy to say, would I buy this for my DJ rig before placing an order with a supplier. I can recommend a product because I’ve tried it and this is the one that I use. Fortunately, the products in this industry are ‘cool’ and I like playing with new toys. Putting together large trussing systems with audio and lighting is like high stakes Legos. I think that’s why we’re all in this industry. Most of us think its fun.”
KPODJ eventually moved into a “brick-and-mortar” location but Capo says it’s not a traditional store in a true retail sense.
“We don’t even have a sign out front,” he notes. “Our office looks more like a venue than a store and that’s how we use it when we have customer appreciation parties. Customers can schedule appointments for demos, pick up orders, and come by to chat... but we aren’t set up for a ton of foot traffic. At our main showroom (connected to our office), local customers come in to buy every day, but we don’t get many that wander in off the street. Almost all customers have already spoken to a sales rep by phone and either want to demo something before buying or simply want to pick it up same day. The majority of our sales come from our online site and from local installs. Our sales team consists of DJs and musicians with no previous sales experience whatsoever. We just want guys that know the products.
We do have a second showroom, but it is more of a partnership with another pro audio store in northern New Jersey. They have a much more traditional showroom but since they weren’t familiar with Pro Audio we created a small DJ/Lighting section inside their store and sell products that way.
“Fortunately we started slow and grew somewhat slowly. We’ve never rented, borrowed, or wasted much of anything. We own our office/warehouse and we pre-pay for every piece of equipment in our inventory. We’ve even paid off the mortgage on our property. Our overhead is way lower than any of our competitors. So we never have an issue with pricing.”
True or false: customers visit retail brick and mortar to look at products up close and then search the internet for the best deal. How do you deal with this tire-kicking?
“We have found that to be very true. That’s why we didn’t try to make our main office into a traditional retail store. We want customers to research the best deal before they come to our store because we’re confident that our pricing is the best they’ll find. Then when they come in, we can talk about the best product for their needs instead of wasting time negotiating prices.”
Being in business is tough on the best days. Other than time management Tom says their biggest hurdle has been credit card fraud.
“New retail stores are a prime target for fraudulent credit cards. Fraudsters know that most new e-commerce sites don’t pay for the expensive fraud detection software. We were fortunate enough to catch the majority of them, but we had some potentially devastating close calls. “
A 2016 the British Retail Consortium report that concluded “To be a success, stores must be accessible, authentic, diverse, and economically strong. They must be relevant and engaging. and most of all, they must be convenient.”
“I agree. Convenience is very important. We are always trying to make the customer’s buying experience easier and more convenient. We love customer feedback. Any customer that has given us a suggestion or recommendation will tell you that we take it very seriously. Requested features and changes are often implemented within days of the suggestion. I believe that simplicity is an important part of the buying experience, so we try to keep that in mind when doing any type of update.
KPODJ carries the top selling brands. I know from my limited retail experiences to pick up lines like these often you have to prove you have a successful business. It can be the cart before the horse – without these brands it can be difficult to attract customers.
“It’s a constant balancing act to avoid overwhelming customers with too many options. This is very tricky and we certainly haven’t perfected it. But we are trying. As a shopper myself, I’d prefer to have the experts show me a “good”, “better”, and “best” option. Or in some instances, a “good”, “a little better”, “even better”, “better than that”, and “best” option. But I don’t want to see a couple hundred random products thrown on a page, and then try to pick one. That is why we are working towards a simpler buying experience. But at the same time, we’d love to be a one-stop-shop for any pro audio, DJ, or lighting gear. We’re working on it.
“I’m personally starting to get in to the whole ‘smart home’ trend. It’s pretty cool what you can do with a router these days. I’m hoping that the pro audio industry starts doing more with “smart” technology. Maybe a way to tie in lighting affects, atmospheric effects, and video walls with audience member’s cell phones?”
You started your mobile DJ business as a teenager... that’s not that unusual these days but before you were an adult you had a thriving retail business going! So how and why did you go from mobile DJing to selling DJ products?
“Since I was constantly buying new gear for myself, I was always selling my old gear. I sold most to other local DJ’s that I knew, but when they didn’t need the gear I was selling, I started posting products online. Eventually, I traded someone two Numark turntables for the original KPODJ logo and basic framework of a very simple e- commerce website. It slowly grew from there.”
I know a few former DJs who have branch off into other side jobs like operating a party donut business, running photo booths and even wedding officiating. Are we getting bored with DJing or is that just our nature of our personality?
“That’s a good question. I’m not sure. Personally, I wouldn’t say I was bored with DJing when my e-commerce business took over; I just went with what was working best. I think most DJs out there love music just as much as they love business. And if you’re in business, you need to adapt and do what works.”
Now that you are successful in retail do you sill DJ and why?
“Although our DJ services end of the business is much smaller than it used to be, we are still booking gigs regularly. I personally only do a couple per year, though. My favorite events to DJ are young weddings. Everyone comes to have fun and everyone has a lot of energy. They are usually enjoyable to DJ. Plus, using the gear helps dramatically on the retail side of the business.”
You have a college degree in engineering, is that your backup plan? Are you interested in designing new DJ products?
“I went to school for mechanical engineering. I almost dropped out halfway thru to focus on KPODJ, but my parents and I thought it would be a good idea to have a backup in case things didn’t work out. Plus, college was fun and some classes were related to the DJ world. I made a subwoofer in my acoustics class that rattled the whole building. I’d love to help design new DJ products today, but I know that side of the industry can be very tricky.”
Other DJs may be envious of your transition from DJing into retail – do you agree with the statement that if you have to ask how to start a similar business then you probably won’t be successful? The idea is that you have to be a self starter?
“I disagree. I think there are many different ways people become successful in business. Many, including myself, accredit the bulk of it to luck and timing. But I’ve seen Shark Tank and when they get involved, they seem to do a great job teaching entrepreneurs how to be successful.”
As someone who sells DJ products, without naming products – what is your opinion of quality of current Pro Audio products and the companies behind them? We have heard certain companies have been “racing to the bottom” with junk they sell.
“I’m not sure if this is a “DJ only” trait or a trait that all shoppers have, but many of our customers swear off an entire brand after just one or two bad experiences. I don’t believe any of the manufacturers that compete in the ‘race to the bottom’ will succeed, especially in the professional entertainment business (where) reliability is extremely important. And DJs talk, so word spreads fast.“


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