Should Every Home Theater Purchase Be a Big-Ticket Sale?
Professionally, I haven’t been in a pure sales role for over 25 years and that’s strangely liberating, but also thought-provoking. I used to sell over $ 10,000,000 in online audio / video advertising, but I also had to run the editorial, accounting, search engine optimization, IT, and more. Audioholics President Gene Della Sala knows my pain, trust me. There is a certain beauty of uniqueness to just worrying about how to make the cash register ring and ring enthusiastically.
At the start of a new project or sales role, it can be difficult to build a sales pipeline – that is, leads that will one day simmer on the way to a sale. This applies in my world as well as in the world of special audio technology. Preparing the pump for large jobs can take a few months, a little creativity, and a lot of patience. In the past, I have drawn to bulk sales with the mindset that you could make more money selling larger items with a higher profit margin than doing a higher volume of smaller sales. While there are some people who make a multi-million dollar living selling condos all over West Los Angeles, my real estate clients (for SEO and yes, they’re fortunately number one or two on Google now) sell houses of 10,000 each $, 000 to over $ 100,000,000. The commission percentage is the same as a $ 900,000 condo in Culver City, but the commission volume pays for a fraction of the jet’s ownership and allows agents to rub shoulders with their customers as neighbors as well.
In my new role, I’m learning to find a balance between smaller transactional sales and the water for the big boys. My buddy who helped me recruit is excellent at big game hunting and he’s well on his way to making about a tenth of a percent this year. But that’s not the tried and tested way to be successful here and elsewhere, as even my mentor will tell you. In baseball, Barry Bonds was a “patient bat” because he understood the science of Bill James and Sabermetrics
(the concept behind the book and movie Moneyball) which states that no matter how you get down to earth, you have dramatically increased your chances of progress and goals. While Bonds would frequently homerun at McCovey Cove during his game, he would also take a hit by pitch or stroll and smile. He knew math and played the numbers on his and his team when he was in San Francisco.
Marketing and advertising boil down to a basic concept, “CPA”, which stands for “Cost per Acquisition” for the customer. After selling some of my AV magazines to a publicly traded LAX company in February 2008, I later received serious abuse for spending $ 10,000 on a private jet golf trip to Pebble beach
for me, my Vice President, and a key client who represented four or five other key clients with annual sales of $ 180,000. We had a great time this December weekend 2007 and the customer was more than loyal after the trip. During our record year of 2007, he was spending more of his customers’ money every month than the total cost of the trip, and this could have continued until the new owners stopped spending on customers from day one. I did what I could to keep the relationship going, but I was a founder and Harvard (literally) MBAs love getting people like us out of town – and fast.
Ask GoldenEar’s Sandy Gross or Definitive Audio’s uber AV retailer Mark Ormiston how this works after selling your own AV company. Most companies don’t follow Berkshire Hathaway’s “We like this company – that’s why we bought it” model. They see a shiny shiny toy that is theirs now and they want to play with it, their own way and the damned consequences. After six months, my super happy $ 15,000 a month customer knew I was gone and that he and his customers weren’t taken care of, so his expenses went down to zero.
For AV retailers, I’ve been thinking about the same balancing act that I’m now working on at work. Are you working on smaller, easier-to-install, easier-to-sell offers, or do you go hunting for big game when it comes to customers or projects? Is it a good idea for a retailer to spend $ 100,000 (out of pocket) building a reference-level theater or audio demo room while paying additional rent? Or, keep the scope more modest about what you’re showing (assuming you have an active demo at all as some of the best custom installers I know don’t).
How the retail space has changed
There are a number of factors that play a role in AV retail in 2021. One of the first includes geography. As a large-format AV retailer, you can spend an awful lot of money on rent in a medium to large city. Is the retail location on a street where you get 10,000, 20,000, or more impressions a day from people watching what you do? Is there pedestrian traffic or are you isolated, with even more space, but in a more secluded spot so you can “show” more gear? Is it a necessity to show a lot of gear today? Manufacturers’ requirements are no longer what they were 20 years ago, but it’s nice to have an active demonstration helping people develop ambitious goals for their hobby, be it audiophile or home theater. Years ago, Sound Ex was able to sell just about any high-end brand of audio in suburban Philadelphia from a shabby house right on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. You could buy a Mark Levinson preamp, an Audio Research amplifier, and some Transparent Cable, have it all shipped to Midtown Manhattan, and get the same NYC discount, but not pay six percent sales tax. In the right sale, the tax factor made all the difference in the world. Towards the end of their audiophile rule, Sound Ex built an audiophile emporium with 28 rooms, which was built according to the motto “Build it and they come” and which was closed a few years later. They refused to sell flat screen TVs. They were stuck in the past, but what was worse, they blew their heads up and couldn’t recover. Skilled business owners should manage overhead costs versus “rent as an advertisement,” along with the ability to actually demonstrate the product, installation, programming, and ongoing service. Each market would likely have a different “correct answer,” if you will.
Headphones are a key product that I think is really underrated by audiophile retailers. There are dozens of brands out there, from mainstream juggernauts to mid-sized players to small boutique companies selling cool headphones. The margins aren’t always big, but the sales are small. If someone who loves audio comes in to hear your $ 100,000 Wilsons, they probably won’t order a pair every time you play them. Is it reasonable to ask someone on the way to a demo if they’d like to hear the best wireless headphones to pair with their iPhone 12 pro? You’ll probably give it a try, and with a quick trip to Settings, you’ll be rocking some tunes in seconds. Could it make you $ 300-500 in sales? You sure can, and this sale is the audiophile version of a walk like Barry Bonds. You made a small profit but actually did business with the client and that speaks in favor of the CPA model. This is a smart move. They have their contact details. They felt so comfortable with you that you can charge your credit card. It’s a total win-win situation and could lead to that massive sale one day later. Who knows?
There are all sorts of other cool items that you could have in a modern AV showroom. Streamer. Portable player. Local (but relevant) art. Vintage vinyl. Musical instruments. Coffee table books on audio, films, and other related topics. That doesn’t consume as much capital, but it helps to acquire customers on a small scale again, which is an important step in the long-term process of closing the big boys.
In the end, the key concept is to generate enough demand for your products and / or services. Too many AV distributors think that people should break their doors down to buy the products because they are an “XYZ Audio Dealer”. This is a total fallacy. When you’re in the game, you have to pay to have people walk through your front door, be it rental, pay-per-click ad campaigns, TV, local ads, partnerships, and / or any other kind of creativity you can think of . It doesn’t matter if you don’t take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, as long as you make a good impression. If you can sell them a little “something-something” then even better. Obviously we all want to close the million dollar deal, but there is more than one way to earn the right to those sales and in the future the best AV retailers would be well served if they went for a walk and from a pitch, while waiting for the pitch to hammer over the wall and into the ocean. Also, making the in-store shopping experience more engaging and accessible will make your customers in the city more loyal to support your local small business – and that’s not a bad thing at all. The bright future of the special AV business beyond 2021 will depend on a win-win working relationship between the specialist retailer and the enthusiastic customer.