News > i3

2018 CT Hall of Fame: Robert Cole

The Consumer Technology Hall of Fame honors visionaries who have made a significant impact on the consumer technology industry. These leaders and entrepreneurs have laid the foundation for the technologies, products, services and apps that are improving lives around the world.

Robert Cole will be inducted along with 13 other industry leaders at an awards dinner on Wednesday evening, November 7, at Capitale in New York City. Over the next several months, i3 will highlight this prestigious class. Please join us for the awards dinner as we celebrate this extraordinary group of honorees. Register for the dinner today.

Robert Cole, Founder, World Wide Stereo

Successful careers are often peppered with radical shifts, but few were more radical than Bob Cole's. Cole put a career in clinical psychology on hold to found World Wide Stereo, Philadelphia's most successful independent AV retailer, by following a simple philosophy: "Do well by doing good."

Born November 12, 1948, in Long Branch, NJ. Cole developed a strong work ethic at an early age. At the age of 13, he cleaned houses, worked in a hardware store then flipped burgers at McDonald's. At 16, he was a union laborer doing carpentry, ironwork, masonry, and exercising horses at Monmouth Park, learning essential business lessons along the way.

He left home at 17 and worked his way to a BA in psychology from LaSalle College. While attending college, he was a house master at an orphanage and worked at an experimental psych facility, Spruce House, which was to open many doors for him in psychology. He earned a Master's degree in clinical psychology from Temple in 1974. Concurrently, Cole worked at the Albert Einstein Community Mental Health Center in Philadelphia where he created its Partial Hospitalization Program – which became the national model for the National Institute of Mental Health – rising to Clinical Director.

In 1978, funding for his clinical work ended and, with it, his ability to work directly with patients. Unhappy, he left one month after marrying the love of his life, Karen. Using his love of music and gadgets as a compass, Cole decided to open a stereo store despite a lack of experience and funding. Cole worked for the retail franchisor, World Wide Stereo, to resuscitate failing stores. When the franchisor went out of business, Cole opened up his own 1,500-square-foot store in the Northern Philadelphia suburb of Montgomeryville, PA. He borrowed $2,000 from a friend to show some solvency and to convince a bank to loan him an additional $16,000 without collateral.

First to step up were car stereo manufacturers, the only suppliers willing to give an unknown a line of credit. Looking to drive traffic, Cole jumped into video games and soon became the local "King of Atari," which brought his store prominence. Well before stereo TV, he wired up his demo TVs to a stereo system creating a whole new category and gaining attention.

A memorable moment in Catholic school provided him with his retail philosophy. Cole was in sixth grade when his teacher, Sister Mary Dora, asked him, "How are you doing Robert?" He replied "I'm doing good, sister…" She gave him a rap upside the head and told him the Pope did good. "You need to do well, Robert." He replied, "Why can't I do well by doing good?" That got another rap, but the philosophy stuck. Rather than just sell boxes, Cole strives to do good via passionate customer service, improving people’s lives and inspiring employee loyalty. WWS experiences low staff turnover, has amassed a loyal customer base, and is active in both local and national charities.

Cole opened a second World Wide Stereo location in Ardmore in 2000 and then opened a large distribution center in 2016. Withstanding recessions and competition from big box and local predators over four decades, World Wide Stereo remains a Philadelphia institution, with 2017 sales reaching $56 million in 2017 and trending to $70 million in 2018.

In 2013, World Wide Stereo was named by CE Pro Magazine as a "Top Ten Integrator" and 29th overall in the Top 100 list of the largest custom electronics integrators in the United States. He is also the ProSource 2018 dealer of the year. Clearly, Bob Cole has done quite well by doing good.

CTA Staff