JOSH GORRELL ~ DRIVER OF INNOVATION
Rachel Lock | Photographer
If you buy a warranty on a car, it covers every part of the car—right? You don’t have to get a warranty for the steering wheel, a warranty for the speedometer, a warranty for the suspension. That would be ridiculous.
And a warranty on a TV covers the entire product. There aren’t separate warranties for the screen, the power cord and the internal wiring. Again, that would be ridiculous.
So why, then, when you have an electronic system installed—one that might include a television, surround-sound speakers, and a home security system—do you have to purchase a separate warranty for each individual component?
THIS IS A QUESTION
Josh Gorrell wondered many times before coming to his conclusion: You shouldn’t have to. An electronics system is one comprehensive product and should have one comprehensive warranty. Paying for an entirely separate warranty for each component of the system would be, to say the least, ridiculous.
Gorrell’s solution to what he saw as an inefficient and painfully expensive way of doing things—the way warranties for electronic systems have always been bought and sold—is taking the nation by storm. With his second company, Techsafe, whose beta launched in May of 2017 and quickly expanded to 16 states, reaching consumers from the tech frontier of California to the sun-bleached shores of Florida, Gorrell is looking forward to a future that’s becoming bigger and bolder by the minute.
But before he was the president and owner of two thriving businesses and a driver of innovation, Gorrell was channeling his forward-thinking into what he describes as “a side gig”—a small business he started more than 15 years ago to nurture his entrepreneurial spirit, right at home in Topeka, Kansas.
As a high school student, Gorrell earned his gas and fast-food money by working at a car-audio shop. In his own words, “That was the coolest thing to do back then.”
“I did that through high school and in the beginning of college. I figured when I got done with college, I’d get a different job,” Gorrell recalled. “Well, this was before Best Buy was in the area, and there was a local home-stereo store that had just gone out of business. Some people were looking for home-audio equipment, but my boss at the time wanted nothing to do with that, so he allowed me to order home-audio electronics from our current vendors and start selling them on the weekends.”
FIRST START UP BUSINESS
After a couple years of selling these electronics products, Gorrell found himself busier with his “side job” than with his actual job. Seeing the opportunity, he quit his job at the car-audio shop, and in February 2002, Kansas Audio Video was born.
“I just kept going—cold-calling and door-knocking, shaking hands with everyone I met—and before I knew it, I was so busy with that, I had to hire somebody to help me. And then another guy, and then another guy,” Gorrell said.
As the go-to audio and video retailer in the Topeka area, Kansas Audio Video enjoyed strong, steady growth over the following decade until, in 2012, it made its first of now three acquisitions.
“Over the past five years, we’ve acquired three competitors and opened an office in Kansas City,” Gorrell said. “We ended up with six different brand names, which was confusing to customers, especially since we had a Kansas Audio Video office in Missouri.”
In 2014, Gorrell did away with the confusion and rebranded his company under one, encapsulating name: Electronic Life.
“It’s simple. Something I can take anywhere,” he said.
Today, Electronic Life—which caters to both home and business needs—is an electronics integrator and dealer with a selection that includes audio and video products such as speakers and TVs, security systems and home theater components, as well as services such as lighting design, installation and automation systems.
WHAT'S COOL AND NEW
“The new and cool thing is automation systems,” Gorrell said. “Home automation is huge right now. You can control your entire home or business system with an app—audio/ video, security, heating and air, video cameras—pretty much anything electronic, we can tie into the platform.
” In addition to the wide array of products and services, Gorrell’s company took customer service to the next level by guaranteeing the lowest price on a complete electronic system.
Gorrell said customers will often go on the Internet and buy each component of an electronic system separately because one or two of the line items, individually, might initially seem cheaper than what he offers.
“Usually, if a customer thinks someone else is cheaper, it’s because someone left something out,” Gorrell said. “But at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, with the materials and the installation, we guarantee the best final price.”
Electronic Life currently boasts a staff of 16 members. Gorrell said that when he acquired the companies that now make up Electronic Life, he looked for businesses that not only provided similar services or products, but that also had valuable team members he could bring on board.
While Gorrell appreciates the success of Electronic Life, it hasn’t quenched his thirst for entrepreneurial achievement.
With the proliferation of total home/ office electronic systems, Gorrell identified a problem: the warranties on those electronics, or rather how the warranties have historically been issued and handled.
As an electronic system integrator and the dealer of electronics devices, Gorrell naturally receives plenty of calls from customers requesting help when one of these systems or devices breaks down.
“I hate having to tell them, ‘No, you’ll have to call your extended warranty company.’ So, within the past couple of years, I decided it would be easier if the customer could cover any number of items in a system with one warranty,” Gorrell said.
And why not, Gorrell thought, offer that warranty myself?
In answer to that question, in May of 2017, Gorrell launched the beta of Techsafe, a comprehensive-warranty provider for electronics systems integrators and electronics dealers. Within five months of its launch, the two-person company now serves businesses that offer complete home/ office electronic systems in 16 states across the U.S.
THE BUSINESS MODEL
“We provide a billing system that allows integrator companies to add their own VIP-level support as part of the warranty plan,” Gorrell said.
Typically, a local electronics dealer—whether it be the stores that offer the warranty through Techsafe, or the manufacturer of a device, such as Samsung—provides the actual repair or replacement services, and Techsafe covers the costs. The business model is somewhat similar to purchasing roadside assistance through a large auto-insurance provider, except that it is for electronics. To Gorrell’s knowledge, no one has done anything like it before.
If any element of a customer’s electronics system breaks down, whether it be a TV, stereo, security system, home automation control…you name it, the all-in-one warranty covers the cost to repair or replace it.
Techsafe allows a customer to purchase a warranty on a month-to-month basis. The option for a yearslong warranty is available, but most customers prefer to avoid the expensive, long-term commitment and to insure their electronics with month-to-month coverage.
While Techsafe is focusing at this time on further developing its relationships with its current clients, when the beta ends in January, Gorrell said he plans to increase the staff size to four and then to roll out a significant sales initiative.
SUCCESS FROM FAILURES
Right now, Gorrell is enjoying the freedom and creativity—and the learning that goes hand-in-hand with the challenges—that come with being an entrepreneur.
“Early on, I failed a lot. I made a lot of mistakes that cost a lot of money,” Gorrell said. “And it was always a struggle to get financing, in the beginning, and to get advice. I didn’t have some of the mentors that some other business people do.
“You start a business because you’re good at something, or because you like something, but you don’t realize that’s only half of it. There’s the still the back end of it—working with the people, with HR, with payroll, the administration side of it.”
For the past 15 years, Gorrell has continued to grow his companies. Each of them provides him with a unique sense of fulfillment: a satisfaction from working with technology, from Electronic Life; and a satisfaction from the opportunity to embrace innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, stemming from Techsafe. With Electronic Life now positioning to make another acquisition, and with Techsafe prepping for a major sales campaign in January, Josh Gorrell is looking to the future.