Founder & PrinCIpal | Roberta Lewis & Associates, LLC
Shattering the CE Glass Ceiling
For Dealerscope Hall of Fame honoree Roberta Lewis, founder and principal of the PR, marketing and consulting firm Roberta Lewis & Associates, LLC, her current position represents the latest career achievement in of a four-decades-long string of successes in the consumer electronics trade. During that stretch of time, she has made a mark in so many ways and in so many areas, helping to redefine and shape the industry from the inside as a powerful woman in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field.
She grew up in Houston, and her first job in the industry was at three-store Houston-based Home Entertainment of Texas, regarded as one of the dominant regional consumer electronics (CE) retailers, and whose owner was the audio retailing entrepreneur, the late Joseph (Joe) Brown. “Joe was at the forefront of advancing a woman to the helm,” she recalls, citing him as a career mentor. “He was followed and loved by many in the business, the city – and his staff as well. We worked hard for Joe, and for one another… Joe nurtured my passion and helped me grow my talents,” she recalls. “He pushed and challenged me every day for 19 years… If it were not for him, I might not be in the CE industry.”
She rose through the ranks to eventually become Home Entertainment’s president, and was invited to join the PRO buying group “before other retailers of our size,” she points out – and so, Lewis became a PRO Group board of director member.
Breaking Ground at PARA & Elsewhere
She was also invited to become a board member for PARA (the Professional Audio Video Retailers Association), one of the earliest national organizations of like-minded A/V retailers that took specialty dealers’ needs to heart, offering them the chance for collegiality, idea-sharing and networking. There, she served as such, prior to being elected VP of the group and then, serving as its president in the late ’90s. “I was the first and only female president of PARA, and [member] of the PRO Group board… It was a fun time.”
At about that time, Home Entertainment, which had grown into a $25 million seven-store chain, was sold to Tweeter Home Entertainment Group, and Lewis was appointed VP for the Texas region and National Custom Installation Manager.
It was at the ’99 PARA Conference that Lewis was approached by ex-Harman executive and Knowledgelinks Founder Sunil Mehrotra, the creator of the GetPlugged.com Internet portal, designed to enable independent retailers to join forces in a collaborative model to compete, market and sell online. “Most retailers were afraid of the future of online business,” she says – adding, “I was intrigued.” Then came the offer – accepted – to join Knowledgelinks as Executive VP/Chief Marketing Officer. Lewis moved to Southern California and “together with a great team of people, we set off to pioneer CE Internet marketing and retailing.” The enterprise made it through two funding rounds before being stymied by the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. “The business model was perfect,” she reflects. “The dilemma was that consumers were not quite ready to hit the ‘buy’ button online yet… If Knowledgelinks could have sustained a decade longer, it could have saved many A/V dealerships and brands that closed.”
The Vendor Perspective
Lewis then segued into the stage of her career where she would get to see CE life from the perspective of a vendor, joining United Speaker Systems/Phase Technology as Executive VP/VP of Sales; working for a speaker manufacturer and traveling the country providing her with what she terms “an invaluable experience.” She says she highly regarded her time working with principals Bill and Ken Hecht: “We built some great products, grew sales, and enjoyed business every day with an incredible group of the best dealers in the country. It was a great time in our industry, as custom installation was in full bloom.” When the business was sold in 2005, Lewis decided “to take a shot on my own.” She parlayed her strengths in “marketing, sales, and growing people” into what others deemed a risky proposition, founding her current company that Fall.
Fast forward 15 years to the present, and Lewis heads up a thriving public relations and consulting firm that works with brands spanning the custom installation (CI), high-performance and CE-centric worlds. Having served this industry as a specialty/CI retailer, Internet pioneer, manufacturer and associations leader, Lewis is able to provide her clients with a wealth of wide and relevant experience that enables her to answer their current needs – and has readied her to respond to future ones. These clients, past and present, include: Origin Acoustics, Adept Audio, Cleer Audio, ATC Loudspeakers/Lone Mountain Audio, iRoom iO, Phase Technology, projectiondesign, Soundcast, Pro Audio, Visual Sports, Antelope Audio and Audiophile Systems.
Lewis says she has always believed in leading by example. “If my staff was working, I was working, too… People will work hard and respect you if you are genuine and truly care for them and their families… I appreciate leaders who take the time to say, ‘Thank you! Can I help you? Great job!’ and share that you are important to their success. It is the team, not an individual, that makes great business happen.”
Lewis’ personal life is enriched by many individuals, and some of those she names include her husband, who is in the aviation industry, a son and two stepdaughters in college, a stepson who is in the oil industry, three grandchildren, and her mother. She adds that she values and has been influenced by “too many” CE executives to name in addition to her mentor, Joe Brown. “My list would have 30 or 40, if named. This industry is full of hard-working, caring and compassionate people.”
And as for the consumer technology business’s future, she is optimistic. “Our industry will survive and grow. Our business is the HOME, for the most part, and making people’s lives easier while there. As an industry, we must continue to evolve progressively to compete with the modern conveniences of home delivery, Internet shopping, security and on-demand home services. Just as Internet retailing unfolded and continues to expand, CE/CI retailing must also create and participate in collaborative opportunities to keep our ground – and gain more. The world is ours, as long as we don’t allow the tech giants [to co-opt] our advantages.”
Lewis heads up a thriving public relations and consulting firm that works with brands spanning the custom installation (CI), high-performance and CE-centric worlds. Having served this industry as a specialty/CI retailer, Internet pioneer, manufacturer and associations leader, Lewis is able to provide her clients with a wealth of wide and relevant experience that enables her to answer their current needs – and has readied her to respond to future ones.