The Good News: Access, Access, Access AND Entertainment!

By Doug Henderson
Published on: January 26, 2018

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As I mentioned last week, by the time I left B&W, we had a multi-room experience center and had hosted several hundred dealer employees and press people.  I’m confident that no one departed unimpressed.

We made those rooms in the experience center look good, too, avoiding the old stereo store tendency to stack everything inside the rooms.  We had pure CI rooms where the speakers were still positioned and tuned for optimal performance but didn’t intrude visually at all (one room had a stretched fabric front wall concealing the LCR array completely, another had the L/R flush mounted outside of a perforated projection screen with the center behind the screen and dual subs hidden in a floating cabinet).

Here’s what we did:

  • We designed a dedicated single system room that could provide a fully immersive stereo experience but wasn’t cluttered with too much gear.
  • The adjacent hallway featured artful static displays of our other speaker models along with story-telling props, and speakers could be moved easily into the rooms as required.
  • We orchestrated carefully structured demos with verbal stage-setting to heighten interest before we pushed play.
  • We did comparative step-up presentations to make obvious the benefit of spending more, given that the least expensive of our products was way better than the mass market standard.
  • We took these steps very purposefully with a “show, don’t tell” attitude and every year we endeavored to make improvements, some big like adding a new room, others just visual or sonic fine tuning.

You can’t just talk about these things.  You have to execute.  A number of our dealers followed suit and incorporated aspects of our showroom into their own.  Some took it even further. Hanson Audio Video (Dayton and Cincinnati), Georgia Home Theater (Atlanta) and Paulson’s Audio & Video (Detroit), to name three who have built out new spaces recently, have created amazing audio/video environments.

These dealers say the response from customers has been fantastic.  Simply put, when you put a great presentation together with fantastic audio/video products and a culture that inspires passion throughout the organization, and manage this feat every day, consumers respond by purchasing. That’s it – that’s all you need to do!  I’m not saying it’s easy, but you should be thankful for that.  It’s your advantage in a highly competitive market.

The simple truth is that it is relatively hard to sell specialty audio/video/integration today and it’s likely going to get harder. Accept that as fact and rise to the challenge. There are success stories where the mindset and ambition are aligned. Performance and style can always be elevated even in our heavily commoditized business environment, but functionality typically slides downward in price.

Today that slide seems to know no bottom; a 50” 4K Smart TV sells for $299 in warehouse clubs across the country, a really good RF remote complete with base station and smart phone app for $139.  Thankfully elevation requires non-mass market products and the skill and passion of a brick and mortar dealer.  There is no conflict between integration and performance, either.

Helping customers realize a music and cinematic experience that also artfully fits into their home requires technical expertise and design sensibility.  The bad news is that the big rack of components and expensive control systems of the past can be reduced to nearly nothing today.  You can plunk down some smart speakers, plug in smart lights, cameras, blinds, locks, security devices and pretty much instantly control them with your phone.  Even if the reality of these devices is yet imperfect, the damage has been done to our old model.

The good news is that the cloud has opened up an unprecedented level of access to content of all varieties.  It used to take years and thousands of dollars to build a physical media library.  Now you get that instantly for a few dollars a month.

The further good news is that people never lost interest in being entertained, not even a little.  The clubs, concert halls and stadiums are packed.  Billy Joel is doing something like 100 shows at Madison Square Garden; I’m hardly exaggerating.  The resurgence of the vinyl LP, which has gone on too long to be considered a fad, speaks to people’s interest in a music experience that has ritual and focus.  I liken it to small batch bourbon or craft beer.

The big open issue is the quality of the experience people have at home.  Systems can be based around high performance components with all the life enhancing benefits they deliver or they can just be AI speakers scattered about.  It’s up to us, audio/video/ integration specialists, to sell the difference.  With passion and commitment, it’s easier than you think because the high performance experience is amazing.


Doug Henderson

Doug Henderson

Doug Henderson has had a nearly thirty-five year career in the high performance audio industry, starting at Dahlquist speakers in 1983, continuing for 22 years as principal of independent rep firm Audtek, representing a virtual who's who of manufacturers including Audio Research, Bowers & Wilkins, Meridian, Krell, Rotel, Sonus faber and others. Most recently he was for a decade president/CEO of B&W Group North America.

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