TNT Audio & Security owner transforms passion for audio into business
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From its checkerboard floor to audio displays and busy garage, TNT Audio & Security looks much like any other business.
But owner Mark Talley knows otherwise.
The endeavor, he says, is a simply a hobby gone out of control.
It's difficult to say when the business got its true start, said Talley, a Victoria native.
"I loved working with car audio in high school," the Victoria High School grad said. "I always tinkered with it."
That love continued, and in 1991, he took on projects from his garage while holding down other jobs. Six years later, in April 1997, Talley opened TNT Audio & Security on John Stockbauer Drive.
Although he said he enjoyed transforming his passion into a career, Talley ran into an unexpected problem.
"If you like what you're doing, you don't just sit around, watching the clock," he said. "But, on the flip side, when you make your hobby your job, what's your hobby?"
Regardless, Talley said he loved his work, and the business grew. In June 2000 it moved to its current location, 4803 N. Navarro St.
While car audio remains the business' main thrust, accessories and customization also play their role.
"Most anything you want to do, we will," Talley said, noting the business doesn't have a paint booth. "In town, there aren't many who do this."
On Wednesday, Victoria resident Ruben Aguinaga holed himself up inside TNT's side room, testing out speakers. A 13-year customer, he said he hoped to update the sound in his truck.
"I've always been pleased with their service here," said Aguinaga, who picked up a $299.99 combo that included subs, amps and box.
Hi-Pro Audio, another heavy hitter in Victoria's audio industry, has called the city home for 24 years, said Henry Hosek, the store's manager.
He said Hi-Pro and TNT maintain a friendly competition. It's good for the customer, he said, explaining it gives them a better chance to learn about car audio.
"It's just like going shopping from one store to the next," he said. "You might get information one place you didn't get from the other store. It helps."
The industry itself has changed over time, Hosek said, noting that cars are more difficult to work on since computer data systems became the norm.
Talley agreed that technology continues moving forward.
In-car video didn't exist when he started, he said, while now a cardboard cut-out in his lobby even advertises a PS2 entertainment system for the road. Music systems changed, too, from cassette players to CD players and later to systems that accommodate MP3 players and satellite radio.
"You just keep growing," he said, explaining it takes work to stay on top of industry trends and do the work right. "It's a constant learning experience."
Marc "Mo" Ordonez has worked as an installer and salesman at TNT for about a year.
Speaker power is one of the biggest changes he's seen in his years working with audio, he said, explaining that 300- to 500-watt speakers were once considered "loud" but his car boasts 7,000 watts, while a friend's blares at 16,000 watts.
Ordonez said he enjoys working both at the shop and with Talley.
"If you need help with anything, he's more than willing to take care of you," he said. "He's an awesome boss."
Talley's work helped him hone in his mechanical skills, but he said he also learned plenty about small-business ownership. Oftentimes those lessons came through trial and error.
It's important not to underquote a job, he said, explaining that cuts into profits. When hiring, it helps to find people who fit just right. Someone can be great at what they do, but if they don't work well with others, it hurts the system.
More than anything, however, Talley said he learned business ownership takes time. Lots of it.
The owner fills in for others and oversees everything from which brands to stock to schedules and more. Work is on the brain night and day.
"Eventually the business owns you," he said. "It's always there. It's a lot of work that's going to occupy a lot of time."
Looking back, Talley said he isn't sure he would enter into business ownership if he'd known then what he does now. But, all in all, he's happy with the path he chose.
"I love what I do," he said. "Like any other business, it comes with tons of headaches. But it's great to help people get what they want."