Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, Franklin Karp caught the hifi bug early on. He built his very first stereo at age 13, a Scott Casseiver, then traded up a few years later to a Kenwood KR70 which he loved until his senior year in high school when he found his way to Marty Guttenplan’s Stereo Warehouse to upgrade his system yet again.
He ended up with a Pioneer integrated amp, a Dual turntable, Wharfdale speakers – and a part-time Saturday job paying $25/day. He liked the work and after college, he went full-time, got promoted to Merchandise Manager, met and married the boss’ daughter, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Says Karp, “This first third of my career gave me a tremendous education in the basics of retail. Stereo Warehouse was a true family business with several stores, a wholesale division and mail order where everybody did everything and I got to learn all parts of the company.” Later, when Guttenplan purchased Rabson’s in Manhattan, Karp ran the stores and learned how to manage and grow a more upscale retail concept.
Says Karp, “By the late 80’s, with 8 stores going strong, I saw the handwriting on the wall. With no succession plan on the horizon, I realized this busines was not coming down to the next generation any time soon, so it was probably time for me to go.”
In late 1990, a fortuitous call to Alec Chanin and Art Shulman resulted in a new job as Merchandise Manager for Harvey Electronics, the pre-eminent specialty hifi chain in the New York metro area. Says Karp, “I took a cut in pay but knew it was the right opportunity at the exact right time.”
During his early days at Harvey, though already well-versed in product assortments and negotiating skills, Karp found himself on a steep learning curve, understanding how to manage inventory with a POS system, honing his writing skills under the tutelage of President Art Shulman, working closely with CFO Joe Calabrese to learn the fundamentals of business finance and learning how to work with a first-class advertising agency to create and spend a $1 million advertising budget.
In 1993, Karp became VP Merchandising and eventually became President in 1997. “Says Karp, “This was an exciting period in our industry. Harvey always sold the very finest audio and video components but during these years we saw the introduction of the first flat screen TVs (then profitable) and custom control systems. We started our own custom division from scratch and grew it to more than $21 million.”
In its heyday in the early 2000’s, Harvey was grossing more than $46 million in sales in 7 stores. Says Karp, “At that time we had a Harvey’s President’s Club for salespeople writing more than $1 million a year in sales – and we had 10 or 11 guys who made the club.”
Incongruously, Harvey was always part of a larger publicly traded company, the Harvey Group, which ran into trouble in the early 90’s and ended up bankrupting the entire enterprise. As President of the Electronics Division, Franklin was instrumental in exiting the company from bankruptcy, re-opening stores, taking Harvey public a second time, navigating through a second bankruptcy and then raising capital through VC’s to soldier on. He was ultimately let go under the new regime of VC’s who, due to a combination of greed, neglect and insufficient knowledge of our industry, led the once thriving Harvey to its final demise.
Says Karp, “If I got my retail college degree working at Rabson’s/Stereo Warehouse, I certainly earned my PHD at Harvey. Between first growing the company and then twice going in and out of bankruptcy, I worked with accountants, lawyers, landlords, unions, vendors and investors on a business level I never knew existed.” He adds, “Fueled by the most amazing group of colleagues one could ever hope to work with, it was a helluva great ride and without a doubt the high point of my career to date.”
Next Karp went to work for two guys he had known from Stereo Warehouse, Elliot Inger and Fred Martin, who had joined forces to start one of the industry’s first integration companies, AudioVideo Systems in Plain View, Long Island. By 2006 they were doing very well but as Elliot said, “We’re great at sales and installation but you’re a real business guy. Maybe you could come help us run a better company.”
Says Karp, “They were writing a ton of business but in fact their back-end was a total mess with very few standard operating procedures.” He went right to work, slowly but surely cleaning up the inventory, narrowing the product mix and creating processes and procedures wherever possible. The next several years saw Karp morph from a specialty retail executive to a custom operations specialist.
Says Karp, “The biggest problem was trying to get all the salespeople and programmers on the same page so that everyone was selling similar systems and programming in the same way. Only then could the install team get good and fast at installing those systems in customers’ homes.”
Eventually, Karp took a trip out to Vancouver to meet with Richard Millson who had these systems down pat. He drank the KoolAid and returned to create a true in-house installation lab where most of every system could be fully programmed and racked in-house such that the installation time in the customer’s home was minimal, overall job productivity was eons more profitable, and customer satisfaction increased across the board. Says Karp, “Taming that particular dragon was a challenge of major proportions.”
Karp’s second greatest contribution at AudioVideo Systems was recognizing the enormous potential of selling more Lutron lighting and shades and helping AVS speed the growth of those two high profit categories.
In December 2021 Karp left to start his own consulting business, Franklin Karp & Co. Says Karp, “At this point, I can really help any size integrator, retailer, rep or manufacturer build a more profitable and efficient company. In particular, I can help integrators create in-house installation labs, grow their lighting and shade business, improve purchasing practices and vendor relations, help with sales, HR and personnel issues and identify and solve problems in all areas of the company.”
Always known for his keen wit and lively writing style, Franklin can also help with brand identity and marketing campaigns – and he writes a mean newsletter and very engaging marketing copy.
Today Karp and his wife live by the ocean in Long Beach, New York. He is an avid reader of the daily NYTimes, The New Yorker, trade publications, car magazines and mostly non-fiction books. He also enjoys cycling, spinning, fly fishing and spending time with his 2 sons and grand- daughter.