We are pretty open and overt about how we make our living here at HomeTheaterReview.com. We don't own a store. We don't have an ecommerce portal or affiliate deals. We don't even sell t-shirts or coffee mugs (perhaps someday). The way we profit around here - assuming I can stop spending money on growth for a month to stay in the black - is selling advertising. The most common theme in my pitches to new and renewing clients is the creation of consumer demand, as all advertising can be boiled down to the simple concept of "cost per acquisition of client." Too many AV manufacturers think that we live in a time warp where it's 1977 again and you can simply build a better audiophile mousetrap and have rich people beating a path to your door to get on your wait list. Today nearly all of the gear on the market is good (if not better), so what most AV companies do is "push" their dealers to sell more and more in hopes of growing their business. While dealer education (Bill Low from AudioQuest won't let me call it "training" because dogs go to training and people get educated) is always a good idea, without new clients coming in the front door, calling or willing to conduct business over the all-powerful Internet - dealer push alone isn't going to bring home the bacon going forward. Neither is a print ad in an audiophile print magazine even if it's on the back cover. In today's challenging economy, this is even more relevant now.
I've been thinking about what sells AV equipment today and what doesn't. Here's what actually works:
- Show someone who loves music how much better their favorite music can sound on a high performance video system and watch them find the money to invest in a meaningful audio system either today or in the near future.
- Experience a movie in true high definition 2.35:1 ratio with beaming 1080p video and HD audio for the 7.1 system. The Full Monty: the entire experience including seating, acoustics, lighting control and beyond - and see the seed get planted in the heads of every person in the room for "Someday, I will have a theater like this in my house."
- Find me dealer who can do a truly emotional demo of both music and movies and I will show you a store with repeat business and loyal clients willing to make recommendations to their friends. You need the client to start with, but you also need to know how to close the deal once they walk in the front door. The best dealers can do this.
- Explain to a home owner, a real estate agent, a builder and or a designer as to why home automation makes their house more valuable in today's tough real estate market and watch them perk up. Show them how home automation can save them money, make a house more "green" and most importantly make a property more salable in any economy - and you might get asked to write a bid. Write the bid with today's cutting edge yet competitively priced home automation gear and don't be shocked to see that the deal gets closed. It doesn't cost $100,000 to wire you home anymore but millions of potential customers think it does.
- Price products at fair numbers. Provide value that is undeniable. Oppo does it and they are successful. VIZIO has made a multi-billion dollar business selling more HDTV for less money. It works in today's economy and in every economy. This is not to say that there isn't room for high end because there is, but a high end product better compete favorably with other luxury goods, be it a vacation to Cabo, a new Mercedes lease down payment or even a pair of Jimmy Choos for your wife. It ain't Levinson versus Krell any more.
What doesn't sell more specialty AV is...
- Dealers pushing high end home theater to people who can't afford it.
- Big box store clerks who have no training or hopes of getting any training because they will transferred and/or let go before they ever become an expert.
- Manufacturers who don't advertise. Ditto for dealers. Sales is a numbers game. Get people in the front door and good things will happen. You can't hit 50 homeruns without enough at-bats.
- Selling on price only. Costco might be cheaper for a 55 inch LED but if you want more support and/or want to become more involved with the state of the art of AV then you likely need a good local dealer who is trained, skilled and experienced in the business. There is no degree for AV - you have to learn it in the school of hard knocks.
- Online flamers who know-it-all and attack products on the forums and beyond. Real customers don't understand why people are fighting a religious war over a pair of speakers or a Blu-ray player to the point where they get personal. Wealthy, potential enthusiasts don't understand (or care) why people debate AV issues with this much hate. In fact, it turns them off.
The home theater business boomed from the advent of VHS and Dolby Pro Logic in the early 1980s and never really had a downturn through the Laserdisc era. With the advent of satellite television, DVD-Video and DTS/Dolby Digital, in the 1990's things got even better. Even 9-11 wasn't the end of the AV business. Flat HDTVs brought new customers into retailers like never before even when a 42 inch plasma was $14,000. The red-hot real estate market didn't hurt either. Being able to pay for that plasma with home equity money made a lot of deals go down.
Today, we all know things are very different than the last 25 years and will remain so going forward. Value is key for everything from a $139 Blu-ray player to your next ultra-thin HDTV to a big bucks audiophile purchase. What hasn't changed is the need for more people to want what the AV business has to sell. I am not talking about cell phones, GPS and the other crap being slinged at CES every year. I am talking about young, upwardly mobile people (with or without the money) to want to buy top level music systems or complete home theater setups. My pitch says that advertising helps - especially on the Internet - but there is more, much more that fans and lovers of the musical and cinematic experience can do to keep the party going, growing and developing. Drag friends to a good store. Get them over for a Sunday night movie or a Super Bowl party. Show them how you can hook their iPod up to your system and then show them how an HD music file sounds better. Get them thinking. Get them feeling. When the time is right, they will spend as it takes time to earn the hearts and minds of new customers. Trust me, no clerk at a big-box store is doing this even with the most whiz-bang 3D demo right now. There's more to the picture than that. The question is - now that the golden days of home theater's boom are likely behind us can home theater enthusiasts, AV dealers and equipment manufacturers get a new crop of clients in the door? I think we all can.