By Michael Kinney
Back on March 24, Lawton Mayor Stan Booker ordered all non-essential businesses to close. That included hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors and all other non-medical establishments.
Yet, there was one business that was able to stay open in Lawton that seemingly didn’t fit the essential category. Audio Tech, which installs home theaters and car audio systems, has been able to keep working throughout the shutdown due to the COVID-19 disease. According to Carol Perez, the CEO of Audio Tech, they provide an essential service.
“What people don’t know is that we’re considered essential,” Perez said. “Even though we don’t let people in, we’re essential because we’re a service center for a company called Low-Cost Interlock. You know those breathalyzers for DUIs? They have to be calibrated and we’re a service center for this company. In the state of Oklahoma, we’re essential.”
According to Perez, the breathalyzers, which are placed in automobiles in order for them to start, have to come to Audio Tech every three to four weeks to be calibrated. That includes a diagnostic test. “If we were totally shut down, they wouldn’t be able to drive because their car would lock up,” Perez said. “We were essential in that part.”
Because of that, Audio Tech has also been able to stay afloat by being able to work in other areas of its business. But that has not been easy during what Perez calls the new normal. “I’ll tell you that one of the things that has helped our business is that we did get the PPP loan,” Perez said. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be able to keep the employees that I have now, and that’s going to help us keep us afloat for a little bit.”
When the coronavirus pandemic started to spread through Oklahoma, Perez knew right away she was going to have to modify her business philosophy. She knew the demand for electronics was going to suffer.
“It has affected our business. Our business is not where it normally is this time of the year in comparison to other years and the month,” Perez said. “But like every other business, I guess, we just had to learn how to adapt. Our store is closed. No one’s allowed to walk in here. What we’re offering right now is curbside service. We conduct a lot of the business outside.”
Audio Tech has pretty much turned into a drive-through style business. That is the only way to keep her staff and the customers safe while also keeping their doors open, somewhat.
“In the car business, we were able to conduct business outside of this building,” Perez said. “Normally, we have a waiting room, but we told them they could not wait here. They could sit outside, and we’d give them a chair, or they had to make arrangements to be picked up while we were servicing the vehicle. That’s how we conducted that business.”
According to Perez, the staff still must use masks and gloves while working on the audio systems of vehicles. They even will wipe down the interior of the automobiles with Clorox wipes. “They are to use precaution in those areas,” Perez said. “I mean, we couldn’t just totally shut down or we could very well be non-existent right now. That has maintained us. It’s not anywhere where it needs to be, but it has maintained us.”
While Audio Tech has been able to still work on cars, they have been unable to work in private homes. The only exceptions are houses that are under construction. “We do construction homes,” Perez said.
“There’s nobody living in them and people are still… the workers are still working, and so we’ll go in there and pre-wire the home. We were able to do those because they’re outside. One of the things that we’ve done is we were able to work on some churches, some houses of worship, because nobody was there. We were able to work in churches while they were empty.
Even as businesses are slowly opening up around the state, Perez doesn’t know when she will be given the word to return to full status. All she can do is keep playing it by ear like all other businesses in the state.
“It’s going to be a new way of doing business,” Perez said. “I think a lot of us are thinking about how do we do business a new way. I’m just trying to take care of my employees, and they want to work. They need to work, they want to work, and I want them to work. I don’t know what the future holds. I certainly hope that we’re able to move forward.”