A lot has changed in my hometown of Philadelphia in the 26 years since I moved to Los Angeles. After unexpectedly being rejected from The University of Pennsylvania, I was a bit crestfallen that an Ivy League education wasn't in my future. What I didn't understand was that my fate was to head 3,000 miles from home in a shiny, red, 1992 Volkswagen GTI that I was able to buy with the commission I made from selling stereos at both Bryn Mawr Stereo and Sassafras Audio on the Main Line of Philadelphia. It is hard to understand how divine intervention works, but thank God that I didn't go to Penn. USC was the right place for a young, entrepreneurial me in ways that I couldn't understand at the time and still perhaps don't fully understand today. The one thing I did understand was that it was a blast selling AV gear as a high school kid--and profitable too.
Roll the tape all the way forward to my recent August 2019 trip back to Philadelphia so my young son could spend some time with Mom-Mom and his kid-cousins. I can safely report that a very good time was had by all. Trips to the Franklin Institute, the indoor zip-line place, the Greek diner to eat scrapple (better than you might think), countless hours in the pool with cousins, family barbeques, and some meaningful, out-of-town Pokémon hunting were just the tip of the iceberg.
When I arrived at Mom-Mom's house, though, I couldn't help but to notice the nearly six-inch-thick TV that she had placed on top of a very nice Standout Designs equipment cabinet. I asked her where she got such a bloated, outdated TV and she said that I bought it for her. I did? Really? How long ago? This thing was a total disaster: thick form factor, huge bezel, and the picture from her Verizon Fios system didn't come close to filling the actual screen. I was left feeling like a bad son despite having recently procured her an Adcom, Anthem, and MartinLogan audio system. I can make this right, I thought.
So, I headed out to Best Buy in Plymouth Meeting, figuring if anyone could sell me a sweet, new 4K TV and deliver it quickly to my mom it would be Best Buy (BBY). I couldn't have been more wrong. I walked into the gigantic, suburban location and meandered towards to the Magnolia in-store location and stood by the Bowers & Wilkins Formation display until a very young man came up to speak with me. I couldn't help but remember the days when I was that kid and looking to rack up the commissions on the floor with my next lead.
He politely asked me what I thought of the B&W speakers and I said I liked them. He told me that Jerry Del Colliano of HomeTheaterReview.com thought the world of the Formation Wedge and I told him that "Jerry Del Colliano is a total asshole--have you ever met him?" He defended his favorite reviewer and I handed him my card and denied that I was an asshole in reality and that I do in fact think the world of the Bowers & Wilkins Formation products, as do Andrew Robinson and Scott Wasser, who also have reviewed them for HomeTheaterReview.com. He quickly got his manager over to help us and I told them both of my mission. I need a nice, entry-level 4K TV for my mom and I needed delivered that day or the next at the latest. Things were going well.
Then the manager looked at me as if I had lost my mind, so I asked him what was the problem. He told me the soonest he could have Geek Squad come out and install a TV (literally around the corner and no more than five minutes away) was two weeks down the road. I reiterated that I pretty much know all about the TVs in the market right now. This wasn't a sale; it is just an order. Just take my money, deliver the TV, unbox it, plug the HDMI cable in, plug the AC cable into the wall, and call it a day. I was driving a rental car and I wasn't sure if I could fit a TV in the trunk. The manager said "there is nothing we can do for you, sir" so I left pretty much deflated.
On the way out of the store, I swung by the appliances in the Pacific Sales-branded department even if we were pretty far from the Pacific Ocean. I asked for help with an air purifier and the guy walked me over to a few boxes a number of aisles over. I asked him what was the best and he looked at, me once again, as if I were insane. He said "I am not trained on this" and started reading from the bullet points on the boxes. I kindly and quickly thanked him and moved on. Best Buy might have some good "values," but expertise and service? Nope. Best Buy just plain sucks whether you're in West Los Angeles or the suburbs of Philadelphia.
Upon telling my AV installer this story, he added an anecdote of his own from this past week: He has a client in Santa Barbara with a 100-inch Planar TV that broke right before a big event. This was a billionaire-class emergency that he thought he could solve with a simple trip to Best Buy, so he rang them up on the way up the coast. He tried to buy an 85-inch TV and they literally wouldn't take his money. The clerk (a carefully chosen word) told him the only way he could know if they had an 85-inch TV in stock was to go online to buy it. So basically, they are saying "thank you for calling Best Buy but we don't make commission so dealing with a big, bulky TV is too much work and we don't care about how much money you are spending." Luckily, my installer was able to procure another 85-inch set slated for another job (it better not be mine, as I just ordered one from him for my new house) and saved the day clearly with no help from Best Buy.
Back to Philly: The next day, I ventured out to Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) in the same massive shopping complex and within seconds I ran into an associate named Connie right at the front door. She engaged me by saying "you look like you are ready to do some serious shopping," and she was right.
I asked her if she would like to be my personal shopper for the day and she quickly grabbed another shopping cart and led the way. Fifteen minutes later, I had about $1,000 worth of goodies in my cart for my mother's home. We bought a super effective Dyson air purifier thanks to the sales skills of the Dyson rep who was manning the endcap in that area of the store. A $300 spend closed in 60 seconds with just a little effort, enthusiasm, and information. Connie helped me pick out new bath towels, kitchen towels, new bedding for my mom's guest room, a whole bunch of kitchen tools, fancy hand and body soap, shampoo, beachy-smelly candles, and more.
Connie, who once lived in the Brentwood part of Los Angeles, was a pleasure to work with. She was respectful of my budget but was also opinionated about the products that they sold. She made spending money easy and fun. So much so that I made sure that I got the manager aside to tell him how pleased I was with her help. The Triple B, as the store is known in our house, has seen better days on Wall Street, but if they ever were smart enough to learn the lesson of Best Buy and give someone like Connie a taste of the action via some commission, their stock would be back up at $80... not at $8. I am not joking.
To solve to my mother's television problem (you didn't think I was going to leave her hanging, did you?), I drove across the massive shopping center parking lot to Target (TGT). We talk a lot at HomeTheaterReview.com about how the biggest issue in the specialty AV space is the sea change in the distribution channels over the past 10 to 15 years. 26 years ago, anyone in Philadelphia could have walked into a specialty store such as Sassafras, Worldwide Stereo, HiFi House, or Bryn Mawr Stereo and had the best of TVs delivered and installed that day. Today, all but Worldwide Stereo are gone, as is that level of service, thus leaving the Amazons of the world becoming more and more relevant to anyone buying electronics. But for this investment, I needed what I needed and I needed it now.
I'm not very familiar with Target, as there aren't too many around where I live in L.A., so I asked where the electronics department was to someone who thoughtfully walked me to the back of the store. There was someone there to help me and they couldn't have been more useful. I ended up buying a 55-inch LG LED set, as I know Andrew loves these sets and that they can be calibrated with one or two clicks of the remote. Total cost? A mere $400. I was blown away at the overall value. I would have spent more on a 65-inch set for $550 (can you believe these prices?) but I wasn't confident that I could fit it in the back of my rented sedan's trunk. My caveat to the Target salesperson was that I needed to fit it in my car and they called for a manager who personally helped me to my car, helped me load the car and get the seats down to accommodate the 55-inch 4K TV. Simply put, they couldn't have been more helpful.
Today, my mom is all hooked up. Her new 4K TV (without a 4K source, but I'm getting her a Roku soon to fix that problem) is a massive upgrade. The stuff that I got from Connie is also very well received, specifically the Dyson fan/purifier. Best Buy is supposed to be the industry leader in electronics, but they couldn't take my money when all I wanted to do is give it to them. The shopping experience at Best Buy is so incredibly lacking, and that's scary for manufacturers who sell their products there, and for the industry as a whole.
The solution to the problem is a simple one, but the C-level managers and bean counters will hate it. Best Buy needs to learn how to give a crap, starting on the sales floor and working all the way up to the top. This starts by learning from the lesson of Circuit City and finding a way to incentivize people to provide an elevated buying experience. If you make a $250 commission on selling an 85-inch 4K TV on top of a living wage then you have reasons to learn all about video technology and how to sell it. It would also be worth training appliance salespeople how to sell all of the products in the category, including slightly tangential products like an air purifier.
Could an online certification be done by sales associates to prove that they are up to speed on selling a specific category of the store? Paired with sales numbers that match and a manager administering a test, wouldn't it be cool to be a true expert in a product category inside a store like Best Buy? Would said expert not be worth an extra $5 to $10 per hour and some commission overall? Apple does that. The "black shirts" inside of a Best Buy don't work for the Minneapolis-based retailer. They work for Apple and the experience and insight that you get from them right inside the Best Buy store is night and day different. Imagine what could be if all of the Blue Shirts had this level of training, experience, and enthusiasm paired with a financial inspiration to sell with the backing from the top of the company down?
Now that really would be a Best Buy, wouldn't it?
• Read The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of AV Customer Service at HomeTheaterReview.com
• Read What the AV Industry Could Learn from a Silly Bedding Company at HomeTheaterReview.com