i3 - November/December 2018 - 40

Consum

er

Techno

logy

FOUNDER, DOW STEREO/VIDEO
(1944 - )

W

hen consumer
technology
companies had new
technologies to introduce, the
first person they'd call was Mike
Romagnolo at San Diego's DOW
Stereo/Video, which, for over
30 years, has been the first to
sell more than two dozen new
products.
Soon after he was born
in Jersey City, NJ, in 1944,
Romagnolo's family moved to
San Diego. After graduating high
school, he found work in sports
and commercial fishing boats.
He soon discovered there
was no future in fishing. In 1968,
after getting married to Sandy,
Romagnolo answered an ad for a
salesman at Mr. TV, a local threestore chain. After six months, his
boss asked him to run a failing
location. While building up the
store's business by expanding
into stereo consoles, Romagnolo
and his wife realized they could
accomplish the same thing on
their own.
In spring 1969, Romagnolo
bought four stereos with his
$1,000 tax return and got four
more stereos on consignment.
Romagnolo called his rented
1,000-square-foot North Park
store Anchor Stereo. After the
eight stereos quickly sold, he
ordered more, developing
relationships with manufacturers.
Romagnolo expanded both his
inventory and locations, adding a
2,500- and then a 3,500-squarefoot store in the area around San
Diego State University.

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40

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018

Techno

Romagnolo attributed his success to being
nimbler than his larger competitors and
shifting quickly when he recognized a
promising technology was being introduced.
Romagnolo's success
was built on finding and
developing talented and loyal
individuals and recognizing
the need for financing in the
days before ubiquitous credit
cards, especially for college
students. Romagnolo set up
his own financing department,
advertising payment plans for as
little as $10 a month.
A retailer called DOW Sound
City, a seller of higher-end audio
systems, was the area's dominant
seller of component stereos. But
when Dow went bankrupt in 1971,
Romagnolo bought the retailer's
inventory, name and the lease for
its main store at 37th and El Cajon
Boulevard, down the street from

of 10 DOW Stereo/Video stores,
including locations in Chula
Vista, east El Cajon, Vista, La
Jolla and Clairemont. Other than
financing, Romagnolo attributed
his success to being nimbler than
his larger competitors and shifting
quickly when he recognized a
promising technology was being
introduced. DOW's penchant for
showcasing new tech created a
cool-factor bond with tech-savvy
customers, as well as a trusting
relationship with manufacturers
looking for high-profile national
retail exposure for their next-gen
technologies.
Over the years, DOW became
known as a "launching pad."
Consumers lined up for hours
for a chance to be the first to
buy more than two dozen new
technologies first sold at DOW
including 8mm camcorders, large
screen direct view TVs, Super VHS
players, digital audio tapes, CD-Rs,
digital cell phones, DVD players,
satellite TVs and HDTVs. Highlypromoted first-day availability
of new gear by "D-O-W DOW"
attracted thousands of early
adopters, along with national,
and often international, media
coverage, most featuring DOW
spokesperson Tom Campbell.
In April 1999, DOW was
awarded the Smithsonian Award
for Heroic Achievement in
information technology. Once
having reached this height,
Romagnolo sold DOW Stereo/
Video and retired. 

Anchor. Most importantly, he also
got the contacts with higherend brands. After a few months,
Romagnolo closed his other
three locations and focused on
DOW's 7,000-foot store.
Romagnolo picked up
the lines he needed and
also opened an on-premise
installation subsidiary up the
street. In 1981, he added video
and TV, and he consolidated
all his operations into a single
15,000-square-foot, two-story
building 10 blocks away. In
1983, he added a 9,000-squarefoot location by the San Diego
Sports Arena.
Over the next 14 years,
Romagnolo expanded to a total

logy

I T I S I N N O VAT I O N



i3 - November/December 2018

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