Business

'Cruising right along:' Automotive Electronics owner got his start with a hobby

My Biz: Aftermarket accessories shop stays current with new technologies

Kaleb Schlee checks a foldout, touchscreen stereo receiver as he installs a stereo system into the vehicle at Automotive Electronics, 1928 51st St. NE, in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. The business installs custom electronics including remote starters, backup cameras, stereo systems, USB connections, amplifiers and speakers and spray-in bed liners into vehicles. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Kaleb Schlee checks a foldout, touchscreen stereo receiver as he installs a stereo system into the vehicle at Automotive Electronics, 1928 51st St. NE, in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. The business installs custom electronics including remote starters, backup cameras, stereo systems, USB connections, amplifiers and speakers and spray-in bed liners into vehicles. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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The computing power in the average new car long ago exceeded that of the systems that took men to the moon and back. More recently, automotive technology has delivered advanced cruise control, audio and video entertainment systems, and hybrid and pure-electric propulsion.

And developers assure us true autonomous cars aren’t far off.

“It’s always changing, for sure,” said Kaleb Schlee. “We’ve had to adapt with these new very computer-controlled, data-controlled cars.”

Schlee, now 32, began working with automotive technology when he was a teenager in Cedar Rapids and Anamosa.

“It was just a hobby,” Schlee said. “Every 16-year-old kid likes to play around with their car, their stereo.

“I had a friend who was in the business at the time. He hooked me up with a job and that’s the way it started.”

Schlee supervised car stereo installations for a big-box electronics store when he left to work for Automotive Electronics in northeast Cedar Rapids in 2007. He bought the business, which opened in the early 2000s, two years ago.

New technology lives in more than just the cars themselves.

“People are very attached to their phones and that’s coming into play in a lot of these things,” Schlee said. “We’re definitely going more digital in everything. Apple Car Play and Android Auto are getting very popular, where it mirrors your phone.”

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Still, makers of cars, phones and aftermarket accessories manage to keep pace with each other while keeping independent installers such as Schlee in the loop.

“Support’s great, and we’ve got a couple companies we work with that provide us with software that works with these new cars,” he said. “We get updates all the time. Even after we’ve worked on a car there may be updates for a year or two to keep them running smooth.”

Schlee has three full-time employees. He adds one for his busy season: “Winter, for sure. With the remote starts.”

Remote-start systems allow a car to idle and warm up on a cold morning before the driver gets in. New systems are controlled from a smartphone, which also can stream audio to stereo systems or navigation and traffic information to a dash-mounted monitor.

“There’s always compatibility issues to deal with,” said Schlee. “The manufacturers are pretty good about keeping up with that, doing updates as the new phone comes out.”

Remote starters are big share of Schlee’s business, along with audio-video entertainment systems, alarms and such non-electrical truck accessories as bed liners, floor mats, mud flaps and running boards.

The Specialty Equipment Market Association said owners of full-sized trucks spent an average $1,831 on accessories in 2016.

“Cars gave gotten so expensive that a lot of people will opt for more of a base model than have to buy a loaded-out vehicle to get that one feature they want,” Schlee said. “In the long run they can potentially save a few thousand dollars by getting it aftermarket.”

A few high-end pure electric cars have made their way to Schlee’s shop.

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“We’ve had a few Teslas in here, to do little things to them — window tinting, radar detectors, that kind of thing,” he said.

“But at this moment there’s not a lot you can do with a car like that. You can upgrade the stereo, I suppose, if somebody wanted to, but it’s a pretty touchy car.”

But for about everything else, Schlee and his staff can make it work.

“We’re cruising right along,” he said.

AT A GLANCE

  • Owner: Kaleb Schlee
  • Business: Automotive Electronics
  • Address: 1928 51st St. NE, Cedar Rapids
  • Phone: (319) 247-2277
  • Website: http://aestereo.com

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