I wrote the following story for a group on Facebook that is dedicated to paying tribute to the pioneers of the consumer electronics industry.
The one woman who is not mentioned often enough is Stella Austi. She was one of the top executives at the famous, but now defunct, Stereo Warehouse of New York City and Rabsons Audio Video. It’s difficult and upsetting to believe that she died 10 years ago. She was a 35-year industry veteran.
While most women were afraid to enter the work force, or felt they couldn’t compete with male counterparts, Stella was building a thriving retail business in the consumer electronics industry. Marty Gutenplan, the owner of the entire company, would often tell me she was the reason he was so successful.
In fact, when Marty recommended Donna Austi, as a future account executive at my agency, HWH PR, he said , “If Donna contributes 10 per cent of what her mother did for me, your business will forever thrive.” Donna went on to work at HWH PR for 12 years. She now does specialty PR work for the Consumer Technology Association.
Her brother Paul, owns Audio Video Crafts, the super successful custom installer to the stars.
Stella was a single mother raising two children, but no one ever thought of her as anything but a highly-spirited and serious career woman.
She started at a low level administration job at Stereo Warehouse and rose to the top. It wasn’t till late in her career that she ended up marrying Marty. After working side-by-side with him for many years, they found romance. He told me a number of times that they were both as surprised to realize their attraction to each other as the rest of the industry was to learn about it.
Franklin Karp, Marty’s son-in-law, and now COO at the prestigious and highly-regarded Audio Video Systems, said, “Without peer, Stella was the most astute consumer electronics retail buyers in the United States. She understood the need for the most popular inventory, at the best possible pricing, better than most. She negotiated till she got the best deal. Everyone was in awe of her. The CE manufacturers and reps loved her even though they knew she would get what she wanted.”
Franklin worked at Stereo Warehouse for 19 years before he went on to become President /CEO of Harvey Electronics.
“There is no question about it. I learned a tremendous amount from working with Stella. Many people did. Those were great years watching Dave Pardo, buyer at Crazy Eddie, compete against Stella, and vice versa. Those were the true days of entrepreneurship.”
I was lucky enough to witness those days. I sure miss them.