Audio Shops: Where are they headed?

sound and vision

In this weeks pondering chicken post, I think we will call them that from now on, I want to take a minute to talk about audio shops. We all visit them from time to time, and a lot of us buy our gear in person. I think the audio shop is a necessity to our hobby, but how can we protect it against the inevitable. More and more companies are moving towards direct to customer sales. Schiit Audio and Pro-Ject are just a couple of companies that already do direct sales. Some even high end companies such as PS Audio are direct only now. So are audio shops as a whole the next casualty? Should they be? Why is this the thought bouncing around the old noodle? Well I was thinking about it while at my local store buying a new turntable. I picked up the one I did after playing with both of my top contenders, something I could not have done online.

bowers & wilkins

Do we really need Audio shops

Short answer yes, we do. With something as personal and high tech as audio, it pays to be able to hear something before you buy it. Its also great to experts standing next to you when you have questions like, what would be best for this type of listening or room, or budget. This assumes you are as fortunate as us and have a top notch store near you. The Team at our local store is well trained, and each has their own specialties as well. If you need turn table help there’s someone for that. Smart home integration, there is someone for that as well. As well as anything in between. Sure a lot of audio brands that have moved or always were direct sale setups have their in home audition. To me that is a not a replacement for a store front. I don’t want to have to order a component, wait for shipping, set it up and hope I like it well enough to not have to do it all over again. You also lose out on testing options head to head in the same environment as each other.

Are Direct sales a bad thing

The direct sales model in itself is not a bad thing. It helps smaller manufactures retain more profit as they do not have to sell whole sale where the store adds the markup. In the end it can save the customer some money as well. What it lacks though is the personal touch and value of testing something out and talking to a sales associate about pros and cons of a product. One issue you may run into is an honest description of a product from the company that makes it, an exception would be Schiit Audio. They are pretty honest about who should buy their product. I think direct sales is a great model for certain industries, audio just isn’t one of them in my opinion. It seems well suited for general purchases where you already know what you want, or something you already have experience with. I have been using Canon DSLR’s for the better part of a decade. When it comes time to replace my current 1D I know for a fact that I will get new 1D. I don’t need to test it. I know what it’s about and know that is what I want. Granted due to my nature I will still buy from my local camera shop.

direct sales

How to save The Audio Shops

For consumers this is easy, shop there, buy what you can when you can at your local shop. The store side is more complicated. If you are a shop and fearful of being the next Sears or Toys R Us then you need to make some changes. The first step is understand the market you are in. It is not easy to have a brick and mortar store in the age of Amazon, but it is doable. You can add value to a sale that the internet can not, that is knowledge. If you market yourself as a store for knowledge and not just products, customers will come. We have questions, we like to touch stuff, see it, hear it, offer that and you will have sales. When I go to my local camera or audio shops, I don’t just walk in and buy the item and head out. I get to know the employees, the products offered and the knowledge the employees have on those products. This means, your employees need to be knowledgeable, as well as pleasant to deal with. A great way to present your knowledge to the community you serve is to host how to events. Local bike shops and camera shops host free classes all the time. Even it is as simple as how to change a cartridge on a turntable. New owners may not be aware of the best way to do that. Then have various cartridges, scales and protractors set out for sale and maybe knock a little price off the top for attendees. This value you add can not be given with direct sales models. Lower prices only get you so far, especially in a hobby that is not about low prices.

sound and vision

What about the Millennials

Ah yes my generation that killed, Harley, the Diamond industry and some others ones as well, armed only with avocado toast and an inflated sense of purpose. What some of these industries seem to miss is that it is hard to sell to young people when their pricing and marketing target an entirely different age group. I own a motorcycle, and am a part of several groups on Facebook, as well as follow motorcycle companies. I have never seen a Harley ad in my feed. How can they expect me to think about their product if they never put it front of me. Audio Stores and companies, should be looking at other companies that are successfully marketing to my generation. I’ll give a hint, it’s memes and social media. We love memes, they are funny and get shared constantly. You’re brand can be in front of hundreds of thousands of people by just posting an occasional meme on social media. Hire a good social media person though, they have to be current and relevant. If you are marketing the same way you did 20 years ago there is a good chance it is not working for the next generation of customers, and if you want to stick around they are your next customer. What do you do with them once they cross the threshold though? We are all broke with 5 trillion dollars in college dept right, I think that is the latest average millennials debt per the news. We do care about having great audio trust me, but it has to come at a price we can justify. That means carrying some budget minded options that provide quality and value. Don’t attempt to over sell them on something way outside the budget, chances are most young people will leave the store empty handed. Find the best product in their price range and explain how they can expand upon it later. That is how you get us on the hook. That is were loyalty comes in from our generation. A name alone means nothing, but getting to know the brand is everything.

Big Audio

Is this a thing, you know like Big Pharma? We see posts all the time about shop local. Many times its something like don’t buy another yacht for a CEO, Buy local and help the shop Owner put their kid in little league. There is some truth to that, when you shop local you help your community, that store may fund a little league or help with the scouts. That isn’t to say that CEO’s are evil, nor are big businesses. We need those as well, they employ the masses, create the products many local stores sell, and many of them have huge philanthropy budgets and projects. My final thought on this is shop where you feel you should, be that dictated by budget, location or anything else. Like I said earlier, I am fortunate to have an awesome local store for my audio needs, I know that is not the case everywhere. It may not be practical to drive have a day to check out a store.

What do you think of audio shops,
Do we need them?
Do you have a great one local to you?
Does yours provide great value and service?

Disclaimer: This was not sponsored in whole or part by any shop or brand. These are my personal thoughts on the matter. To keep the pondering chicken honest, none of these discussion posts will ever be part of a sponsorship or product review.

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