Last year, I wrote a story about how the specialty AV business is going to have a much harder time selling to its go-to demographic, Baby Boomers. Without question, Boomers gave birth to the specialty AV business; but today, as they head toward being octogenarians, they simply don't need as much gear or as many upgrades, thus creating a sea change for the business.
Over the past 10 years, AV enthusiasts have seen the distribution chain crumble, with the failure of Tweeter, Circuit City, Ultimate Electronics, and regional chains like The Good Guys, Myer Emco, Ken Krane's, and so many more. As traditional brick-and-mortar stores have disappeared, the slack has been picked up by the likes of Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, and especially Amazon. The only true nationwide chain for specialty AV sales is Best Buy/Magnolia, which sells some pretty tasty products in pretty much every part of this fine country. But even Best Buy needs to learn to sell to a new audience and FAST. So do the remaining specialty stores and custom installers.
Here's the thing: that new audience isn't Millennials. Granted, the Millennial audience is huge (Boomers = 76m, Gen X = 55m, Millennials 66m), but they come with issues and quirks that don't make them ready for prime-time AV buying. Millennials are stereotypically buried in student loan debt. They don't like to own things the way Boomers and Xers do--this includes real estate, cars, music, and bulky AV gear. Will these traits change? Possibly, especially as they settle down and have kids. It's hard to Uber with your five-year-old to the grocery store--trust me, I've tried it.
No, the immediate audience for AV gear is the Generation Xer (roughly speaking, people in their very late 30s through their mid 50s). Although there are similarities in the way Generation Xers and Baby Boomers buy luxury goods, Xers also have their own issues. For example: form factor really matters to Generation Xers. Luxury goods are expected to perform well, but they are also expected to look really good. Colors, shapes, finishes--all of this matters to the Gen X buyer. Clutter isn't cool. The days of audiophile systems with cables propped up on little sawhorses will die with the Boomers. Rack-mounted, fan-cooled, nicely installed AV gear is much more appealing to a Gen X buyer.
Control is another key issue for the Gen Xers who use their mobile devices all day long (but might not be as Opiate-addicted as the Millennial). Intuitive control of lights, cameras, AV systems, climate, shades, and beyond is of high value to the Gen X client, especially as the Internet of Things (IoT) products are delivering high-end smart home performance at increasingly lower costs and with impressive ease of use.
One thing that generational pundits say about Millennials is that they are more willing to pay for experiences over actual products or items. In some ways, that applies to Gen X buyers, too. The AV retailer of the future needs to be able to show cool designs, like in-wall speakers hidden behind skim-coat (drywall), vibrant 4K outdoor TVs, and expandable video walls that can grow to 100-plus inches without fully blowing the video budget. And the "wife acceptance factor" should no longer be treated as a cliched afterthought. Any retailer who wants to survive and thrive in the next decade will need be as friendly to the Gen X woman as they are to the man. Demo systems need to create a WOW experience that combines high technology with a heightened emotional reaction. A tablet-controlled theater running the Roon interface as part of its music playback, which can then easily switch to gorgeous HDR 4K video with the swipe of a finger, then allow you to check the baby camera upstairs--this stuff appeals to a growing number of buyers.
While Generation X is smaller in numbers than the Boomers and Millennials, they are qualified buyers in the market right now. It's not that hard to show Gen Xers how high-end technology makes their lives better, and they are often willing to invest. Gen Xers are also far more sold on real estate than Millennials; and, if you own a home, there are a lot more reasons to invest in specialty audio/video.
As I said earlier, Millennials will grow up eventually and become a viable buying group. Right now, it seems likes it's me-me-me with these young adults; but, when the biological clock starts ticking loudly in the next decade or so, the urge to nest somewhere will follow. They also will have had time to pay down their debts and grow their careers, thus there will be more money to spend on whatever goodies we have to sell to them in the future. Will they still be quirky and different compared with Gen Xers and Baby Boomers? Probably.
For now, it's time to shift the focus of specialty AV sales to the people who have the need and the means to buy the coolest, most high-tech gear that we sell today. They are ready to buy. All you have to do is show them how the specialty AV, smart home, and IoT markets can improve their lives.
• The Demographics of AV Enthusiasts Are Changing Faster Than the AV Business at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• High-End Audio at CES: A Post Mortem at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• What Is the Right Price for AV Gear? at HomeTheaterReview.com.