2011 Hall of Fame: Saul Robbins, Founder of HiFi House
Building a Lasting LegacyJanuary 2011 By Jeff O’Heir
Saul Robbins still lights up when he thinks back on how a relatively small event can change someone's life in a big way.
Back in 1955, when Robbins was working for a trucking firm in Pennsylvania, he hit his boss up for a small raise. When the boss told him to take a hike, Robbins turned to his passion for recorded music, collected some of his high-end gear, ordered a few more pieces and set up a HiFi section in the back of his father-in-law's clothing store in Wayne, Pa.
The business eventually became HiFi House, one of the country's first stereo specialty dealers. With showrooms in Broomall and Jenkintown, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., and a long list of satisfied customers and appreciative vendors stretching back nearly 50 years, Robbins had established one of the cornerstones of the custom A/V industry by adjusting to changing markets and technologies.
"One of the keys to their longevity is their ability to adapt," said HTSA executive director Richard Glikes, speaking of both Saul and his son Jon, now president of the company and vice president of HTSA. "They were always ahead of the curve and were able to stay on top of the changes in the market."
It all started humbly enough. In the back of the clothing store, Robbins and his wife Reina, would thumb through the White Pages that covered Pennsylvania's Main Line section of affluent towns, pick out the names of doctors, lawyers, industrialists and anyone else that might have money, and ask them if they'd "like to experience a new way of listening to music?" or to hear an "interesting new sound quality." Those who did were invited to the shop to listen to the latest HiFi equipment from Bell Sound Systems, Fisher and Bozak, to name a few.
One of Robbins' favorite sales took place about four years into the business when he called on his old boss, the one who fired him. Robbins thanked him for giving him the boot and proceeded to sell him a $4,000 system for his warehouse. "You've heard of the old adage: Don't get mad, get even?" Robbins said, with a smile from the Broomall showroom.
Within a few years, Robbins' father in-law, Morris Freedman, retired, ceded the store to Robbins and began working for him as a salesman. "He was a great salesman," Robbins said. He remembers a time when Freedman was in the store with his arm around a female customer explaining how the "walnut" cabinet of a system sounded much better than the unfinished version. "Walnut was all we had in stock," Robbins laughed. The extra help freed Robbins to focus on what was the very early days of the custom market: taking empty cabinets and outfitting them with Fisher or Harman Kardon amplifiers and receivers, Jensen speakers and Garrard record changers, among other brands. He also increased his installation services.