Hifi Pig invited Mike Twomey who owns Big Kids Toys AV in Greensboro NC to give us his thoughts on internet shoppers and high-end audio. 

It’s interesting in society we tend to avoid difficult conversations. My partner asked me if I liked her new hair style. I thought about the answer. “If I tell her the truth I would get the “silent treatment” for a day or two. (If you want to know what the silent treatment is like ask any married man and you will get litany and verse) Or do I take the easy way out and say “It’s wonderful. I like the ringlets.” This is a philosophical dilemma that all of us have faced. Usually it involves in-laws, clothing and all manner of cars.  So it’s with this background we’ll talk about a subject that is the proverbial elephant in the room (in Canada substitute moose or other large mammal for elephant).  It’s a vexing problem…the internet shopper who uses the local dealer as a showroom. It’s a problem that people tend to avoid in polite company, much like sex and religion, which of course as we well know are closely related to high fidelity audio. (say hallelujah brother!!)

I had an interesting conversation with a would-be customer last Saturday. He spent three hours here listening to a high performance system. This was his second time here. The first time he sat here for two hours. At the end of Saturday’s session, he informs me that he can get a used pair cheaper on the internet. I understand the concept of leverage in negotiation…it’s not lost on me. I did the usual things explaining that he actually got to hear the speakers and that they come with a warranty and we set them up as part of the cost. I didn’t bother mentioning that he drank our beer. He shrugged and said he just wanted to make sure he liked the speakers before he bid on them online. Ethics are not definitely not spoken here. Brazen? Yes. Rare? No.

But what really got me were the stereotypes (sorry) that came out during this discussion:

1) “You dealers make a fortune”.  Well it looks like the gig is finally up!!!!  Yes people one of the larger problems we have is a proper investment strategy from the millions of dollars we make weekly. And we won’t even talk about all of the accountants and marketing types who want to hang out with high end dealers for the street cred’ they bring to the party.

I know many dealers across the US, Canada and Europe. I do not know many “making a fortune”. There is a couple to be sure, but they are blessed with a great local economy, good location and they work their asses off and they’ve been retailing for a very long time. Most dealers I know are creative, hard working people who go out of their way time and again to please their customers. Becoming part of the proverbial 1% is not part of the equation. There are faster ways to the bank than being a high end audio dealer.

2) Stereotype number two “there’s not much danger buying used speakers off the internet”.  This is an interesting view.  It’s similar to saying there is not much danger playing with a Black Mamba. (“Oh don’t be a baby it’s just a small bite”). Here’s reality…dealing with a total stranger on any of the internet sites without having heard the speakers is a total crap shoot, with your hard earned money on the table. You never know how the speakers were treated and if there is any damage to them. And if there is…what is your recourse? …not much.

3) “You dealers don’t have to pay for your gear on display. These are free to you” This is patently false. Every dealer that I know has had to invest a considerable amount in demo gear. Are there exceptions? …perhaps, but none that I know of. The manufacturers do not dole out free gear to the dealers. That’s called the expressway to bankruptcy.

Bad Dealers Hurt All Of Us

I’m the first to agree that there are bad dealers. All of us know who they are.  They ignore you when you walk in the door or worse talk down to you with a smug “I know better than you” attitude.  Hard Truth: They need to leave the business and are not are not worthy of your money. If you ever come to our little establishment you will notice a sign on the wall that covers our philosophy….”the most important person in this business is YOU the customer.” If we have a fun environment where people can ask questions and enjoy the visit the business aspects will take care of itself.  The dealer must be part missionary today. We don’t have the luxury of not treating our customers like highly valued guests. In the states, every kid past age 11 has some form of smart phone with the ubiquitous ear buds attached jammed into his or her skull.  When you sit them down in front of good gear the reaction is immediate “Wow…this is amazing”.  Yes the dealer network needs to change. We need to be missionaries and creating new disciples is our most important job. Stay tuned for tomorrows gospel.

So your good and aware local dealer is an asset and should be rewarded with your business, but only if they earn it and add true value to you and the entire listening experience. Their stores should be fun places to shop.

Have a great month.

Mike Twomey owns Big Kids Toys AV in Greensboro NC.  Mike’s guitar teacher recently has encouraged him to consider bowling as a hobby.



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