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They take the high maintenance out of high tech

Consumers who want a tech fix know this much: high-definition televisions, surround-sound audio systems and wireless technology have never been more accessible, more affordable, or more difficult to operate.

Which is why 33-year-old Mathieu Billarant and 64-year-old David Stollmack, a serial entrepreneur and local home-entertainment retail veteran, combined their expertise this year to open Tecknos, a new Charlotte-based small business created on the idea that buying, installing and using home-entertainment technology should be as simple and intuitive as possible.

“So many people ... say, ‘I’ve got five remotes at home and I can’t do this or that,’ ” says Billarant, who previously worked for H.H. Gregg and Tweeter Home Entertainment. “When somebody comes in here, we talk to them, understand enough of their needs that we can offer a solution that’s simple to operate.”

At Tecknos, they sell and install everything from a $250 speaker to a $15,000 entertainment system connected to every room in the house.

Stollmack, who used to own and manage AudioVideo Systems, a multi-million dollar Charlotte electronics business, says it’s important to offer what big-box and online retailers don’t: personalized service.

That means house calls for consultations, free installations and calibrating all the equipment to operate on one remote. It also means free at-home repair.

Drawing on their half-century of combined experience with home electronics, Stollmack and Billarant talk about why their business can hold its own in a big-box dominated industry:

Equal partners: Long before they opened their doors, Stollmack and Billarant, who each own 50 percent of the business, worked out what Stollmack says is one of the most important but most neglected pieces of documentation: a buy-sell agreement. The contract outlines exactly what will happen should one of the two want out.

Too many business partners never discuss it upfront, Stollmack said, because it’s awkward to talk about. But after more than 40 years of entrepreneurship, he’s realized how important it is. “It’s like a divorce,” he says, and it’s too difficult to make key decisions in the heat of it all.

Low overhead: In 2008 -- just before the economy crashed -- Stollmack opened Experience Home Entertainment in Morrison Center on Sharon Road, a 3,500-square-foot “imagination center” that helped shoppers visualize the entertainment experience they’d have at home.

At the time, rent was more than $15,000 a month, he says. Combine that with the cost of filling a showroom with equipment and the result was “stifling.” The business failed soon after.

This time, Stollmack and Billarant decided to ditch that model. They now rent a 1,000-square-foot space on South Kings Drive, and pay only $1,100 a month. To keep overhead low, they maintain only a small showroom that has three complete home systems as demos at three different price points. Now, rather than push existing inventory that may or may not meet the customer’s needs exactly, they order the electronics. They’re usually installed within two days, Billarant says.

A strategic location: By renting space at 601 South Kings Drive, the Tecknos owners hope to attract customers who commute to uptown or live in the nearby upscale neighborhoods of Myers Park, Eastover, Dilworth and Elizabeth.

Another perk of their Kings Drive location? They’re not far from the interstate and in the same shopping center as a landmark on the local restaurant scene: Mama Ricotta’s. That’s all they have to say to prospective customers, Stollmack says, and most immediately know where they are.

Caroline McMillan: 704-358-6045 or cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com.
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