April 22, 2021

From Atari to Zenith: Snowtronics repair shop is one of downtown Rock Falls' longest running businesses

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hen Grant and Denise Snow opened up their downtown Rock Falls electronics business in 1987, towering home stereos took up a chunk of people’s living room walls.

Nearly 35 years later, the sounds of popular music can be heard on devices you can tuck into your ear.

Changes in technology have been exponential, but the business philosophy at Snowtronics has remained the same through the years. Grant, who lends the family name to Snowtronics, can fix electronics big or small.

Taking care of the customer’s devices as if they were his own has kept the trust going all these years, Grant said.

“We try to do right for the people that come in through the door,” he said. “We’re here because the consumers come through my door. I’m here because people need me here.”

“When it gets back to their home, I want them to get years of use out of it, not days.”

Televisions? Snow can fix that. Car stereos? Yep. Cell phones? You betcha. That dusty Nintendo Entertainment System and the zapper that’s needed to play Duck Hunt for the first time in 30 years? He can bring life back to those, too, and just about anything else that isn’t too far gone.

There aren’t very many like him around these days.

“We get people coming in from all over the place because they can’t find anybody,” Grant said.

They specialize in new car and home audio electronic sales and installation and servicing all types of electronics, from common consumer items to more specialized requests, and they have a large line of car stereos, amplifiers, subwoofers and subwoofer boxes.

Snow spends most of his time tinkering with the many repair jobs, for gadgets old and new, on his slate. Some devices can no longer be repaired by the manufacturer, but they can be brought back to life with Grant’s skillful hands.

“You have to have that technical experience and the knowledge he has,” Denise said. “It’s not just take a board out and put a board back in. You have to have the components. It’s a technical field that requires steady hands.”

The former Marine corporal was a ground radio repairman, and he became familiar with all different types of cables, diodes, wires, circuits and conductors – some pieces as small as a tip of a needle. Grant, a Rock Falls native, started out repairing and installing car stereos at his house, but thought, “If I could do it at my house, I could do it anywhere,” he said.

“We were getting a lot more people at my door than what my wife really wanted.”

Earthquake Sound was the big car stereo manufacturer when Snow opened, along with Rockford Fosgate. Snow “sold a ton” of Earthquake Sound systems early on, but like any business, product lines come and go – and that goes for store displays, too.

A shelf full of boxes doesn’t always cut it these days. People serious about their auto audio systems want a front-row seat to the sound before they buy, and soon, Snow will be able to give it to them.

He recently purchased a frame car audio display that he hopes to have completely installed by the end of October. It’s a $30,000 orange fiberglass and aluminum display with a car seat and controls to simulate whatever atmosphere a driver is in, to give them a better idea of how their sound will sound. A similar setup for a motorcycle also is in the works; Snow hopes to have it done by spring.

One of Snowtronics’ more colorful displays is for a 4K OLED television set, where every one of the billions of pixels has its own red, green and blue LEDs. All LED and CLD TV’s have a backlight that shoots through a screen, and that’s where you see the picture; OLED sets do not do that. All of that makes for extremely crisp picture quality, and the set is about as thin as a pane of window glass.

“It’s the best TV on the market,” Snow said. “A lot of actors don’t like this kind of TV because it shows so many of their flaws in their skin. The makeup artists don’t like it either because it shows the bad makeup jobs. Everything flows so flawlessly in it, it’s amazing.”

As far as the old tube televisions go, it’s one of the few things Snow doesn’t work on anymore because they’ve become almost completely obsolete. However, there are many electronics once considered obsolete that are making comebacks. There are a couple of record players on the store’s shelves – LP’s have made a comeback in recent years. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl has outsold CDs in 2020 for the first time since the 1980s.

Grant continues to repair plenty of VCRs, despite video cassettes being offthe market for quite some time. Some things, however, do get beyond the point of repair; if it costs too much to repair something as opposed to buying new, he’ll let you know. He has studied constant changes in the electronics world throughout his whole time in business, and that helps keep his mind sharp, he said.

Competing with the power of the internet and product profit cycle ideas, such as repairing Apple iPhone parts, is something that’s always on the Snows’ minds, but they have a powerful tool to help them compete with the world wide web: quality and personal service.

“It’s truly a hometown feel,” Grant said. “They know who I am, I know who they are – and our handshakes are a lot better.”

“All I got to do is take care of the people that are taking care of me. That’s what I’ve done all of my life in this business. I could have done it a different way and built bigger stores, but those guys go by the wayside because they bite off more than they can chew. This way, I’m comfortable sleeping at night fixing things for guys.”

Snowtronics does more than just repair audio and video equipment; the shop also services Kirby vacuums, which are still marketed by the manufacturer exclusively through door-to-door demonstrations. Snow also carries a stock of Kirby supplies. No one repaired Kirby products when Snowtronics opened, but Grant saw a need for it in the area.

As long as electronics of all types need fixing, Snowtronics will be around.

“We’re a small mom-and-pop shop and have been here a long time,” Grant said. “We take care of the people that come through our door.”