Linette discusses why we need specialist shops for both music and Hifi purchases.

We ran the story earlier this week that the UK supermarket, Sainsbury’s, is starting to sell vinyl. (LINK) We had experience of this ourselves while back in England as we came across Tesco’s vinyl ‘selection’. We did actually pick up a replacement copy of Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ (because it was there) but the overall impression was that these supermarkets, purveyors of everything, are selling a ready-made record collection. It’s a kind of homogenised ready-to-play selection featuring classics that you ‘should’ own like Nirvana, Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, ACDC, Foo-Fighters etc with new music being represented by a token Adele album. Not bad music by any stretch but it just seems to take the fun out of discovering what you like and don’t like, just picking up a record collection with your ready meal. Who is there to advise you about the latest release from a favourite artist, or a classic that you missed first time round? Nobody, that’s who. The checkout guy or girl doesn’t care, the vinyl display came in a pop up stand and was probably pre-selected by the supplier’s computer rather than an enthusiast.BIRDSSPONSOR600X74

That’s what is missed by selling music in a supermarket, the enthusiasm and expertise which a punter gets from a specialist music or hifi shop. As a teenager in the Midlands I was a bit of a rock chick and then a bit of a goth before I discovered my true love of dance music. Favourite haunts were Selectadisc, Virgin and HMV in Nottingham and The Left Legged Pineapple in Loughborough. My waitressing and baby-sitting money was spent on carefully considered purchases, there was a great selection and always someone to ask if I needed help or advice, even in the bigger chain stores as well as the independents. I worked in a couple of Our Price shops myself, again a chain rather than an independent but there was still a passion for music among the staff. Everyone had their own taste so we always had an ‘expert’ in any genre that the public came in to enquire about. I particularly enjoyed recommending something to a punter based on what they had been buying for them to come in the next week loving their new purchase and looking for more. Stuart and I even owned a specialist dance music record shop back in the mid nineties which became a Mecca for the dance music addicts of the North East, while it lasted.

With hifi becoming a more mainstream purchase, the same is starting to happen with equipment. We were recently in a large E. Leclerc in France (the French equivalent to Tesco’s) They have a separate section with everything from washing machines to computers and mobile phones, and this time we noticed some proper hifi had crept in. It was decent gear, Klipsch and PSB speakers with NAD electronics, but just crammed into shelf space where you couldn’t have got a decent listening position if you were a contortionist….just given the same kind of treatment as if it were a vacuum cleaner or a deep fat fryer. No care about how it was set up so that the customer could decide what they thought of it.

In a specialist hifi shop, hours are put into choosing the right components and system set up. Customers want a sense of occasion, to be shown new products by someone that takes pride in what they are doing. It’s a day out, a treat to come and audition new hifi. Shopping at a specialist retailer allows the customer to build a relationship with the retailer, the retailer learns their client’s likes and dislikes and can offer them something rare or out of the ordinary. Friendships are formed between music and hifi specialists and their clients, there is history and understanding.

Visiting a specialist is special, there is much more of a connection than buying from a faceless store that sells everything under the sun. Much in the way that, before the supermarkets took over, everyone did their shopping at the local greengrocer, butcher and baker’s shops. Online specialist shops can still offer this level of service and client connection even though they are not ‘bricks and mortar’. They still know their stuff and want the customer to have the best experience, whether they are buying music or hifi. A real, enthusiastic human being is usually just an email or a phone call away and many online only specialists now have pop-up shops at events and hifi shows to connect with the public in person. Online retailers still have to compete with the ‘sell everything’ giants like Amazon. Whether online or bricks and mortar shops, specialist hifi and music sellers have to offer more to compete with the faceless giants. The customer experience and customer care is paramount and if the specialists can offer the best then the customers will keep coming back.

When is comes down to it, music is about pleasure and emotion so buying it and the gear we play it on should be a pleasurable experience, not a soulless act like picking up the weekly groceries from the out of town mega-store. Let’s value and support our specialist music and hifi shops whether online or on the high street, for their knowledge, passion and service and let’s keep music and hifi special!

Linette Smith

Read more Bird’s Eye Views with Linette Smith here.


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