Mike Twomey continues his series of articles and focuses on how the dealers choose the lines they carry.
When I first began my lifelong interest in all things Hifi and audio, I frequented a store in New York City. For me it was Disneyland. Amplifiers, Tuners, Turntables all laid out for me to lust over. The salesmen viewed my buddies and myself as annoying little brats that need to be escorted out of the store as fast as possible. I would go home and grab my audio magazines and check off the products that I saw and heard that day. I kept wondering why Valhalla Audio didn’t carry specific brands that I wanted to hear even thought my eleven year old allowance of 3USD a week couldn’t land any item worth mentioning.
Fast forward many decades as we now enter our 13th year in the business. The decisions that I make along with my team as to what lines we carry and those we don’t’ are critical to our success and to keeping our customers interested. I’ve learned from experience on how not to choose our lines. Like many in this business I’m an unabashed fan of most of the equipment being sold. This is particularly true of loudspeakers having tried my hand at making my own in days gone by. So one of the rules in selecting lines is to set aside your own taste (or prejudice) for one line or another. When our team meets every two months to discuss product strategy, we all agree what the customer wants is far more important than what we think. We carry some lines that I personally don’t care for but the customers do. We also carry a line or two that I happen to think are superb products but the customers yawn at.
We think that the customers should have a significant say in what lines they see in our store. I ask everyone who comes in here are there any lines that you don’t see that they would like to see added. The answers range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Our absolute died in the wool audiophiles think we should carry every speaker line; especially those starting at 15,000USD. Given the realities of budgets, it’s just not possible. Of course we also get people asking for ultra cheapie headphones as well. So what ends up happening is an act of striking a balance of what makes sense for the market and what we think represents good business value for us. My suspicion is that my brethren in Europe do the same thing.
There’s a true saying that you cannot please everyone. This is fact. But we try to have a product in every category and one that represents good value. We also have a category advocate; meaning each category has a store employee who represents what she or he thinks we should be buying in that category. We have a turntable expert, a home theater advocate, a speaker expert, and so forth and so on. There are certainly influencing factors that come into play. Many manufacturers have defined geographical territories for their dealers. We carry two such lines. The manufacturer tightly controls the distribution of the product. If you sell outside your territory bad things can occur like losing the line. Many manufacturers want their lines only in specific stores and only those stores that have a proven history of paying their bills. That annoying little thing called financial responsibility rears its head. The dealers in turn like working with manufacturers who are reliable and have good quality control. This is a daunting issue for us as calls from unhappy customers are what we want to avoid at all costs. There are certain facts that bang on our door each week. If the product has lots of moving parts, there are going to be service issues. So our turntable repair expert gets Christmas gifts from us as well as good single malt scotch on occasion. Turntables lead the list on items that require service. So we consulted with our guru on what tables had a solid service record before we brought in a turntable in to sell to our customers.
Do we ever drop lines? Yes we do. We make mistakes like everyone else. There are no shortage of products made today. We occasionally make bad judgments. Here is an “oinker” that I personally had a hand in….pink and blue chassis colours on flat panels (pink hifi? – take a look at our specially commissioned power conditioner from LAB 12 below -Ed). Okay, I know what you’re saying. What was I thinking? I was drinking tequila the night before. That’s the best I’ve got on that one. I ended up giving them away to child protection agency here.
There is also the sticky wicket of product quotas to talk about. When we add a line we have to sign a contract with the manufacturer which invariably details yearly quotas. To hold that line we must meet our quota. It’s not optional. Thus our discussions in adding lines always include the question of whether we can meet the quota. This can be very difficult for a dealer. There is also an intangible that ends up being discussed. Does the manufacturer’s style of business match ours? Many manufactures put significant pressure on the dealer to sell their products. This includes weekly calls asking from sales managers asking for sales results. This doesn’t match well with our philosophy of making the customer visit an enjoyable one. High pressure sales tactics are poison in this business. We steadfastly avoid companies that have an aggressive sales approach. This is true even when their products are ones that we would like to carry.
If you would like your local audio dealer to carry a new line I encourage you to ask. We have a sign here that says “what would you like to see us carry?” We actually do listen and care about what you think.
Mike Twomey owns Big Kids Toys AV in Greensboro North Carolina. The staff at Big Kids Toys AV typically do not invite Mike to product line decision meetings.