Bjorn’s: Industry Evangelist
Bjorn’s, a 37-year-old specialty retailing legend, built a reputation early on in industry circles as a “showcase dealer.” Since the introduction of the Compact Disc and even before, vendors have used Bjorn Dybdahl’s single San Antonio store as a launch pad for virtually every new CE product category and innovation.
This year, the industry’s regard for him and for what he has given back to his profession has led to his election to the 2012 CE Hall of Fame—an honor the modest and self-deprecating Dybdahl said he was shocked to receive. “I’m basically a lazy person, and the reality is, people around me made it happen,” he said.
Though he may deny it, Dybdahl has been the tone-setter for the store’s ingrained identity as an instrument of technology education. But the store’s vendors do agree with him that Bjorn’s success is a group effort, and that Dybdahl is right to credit a staff that includes COO and CFO, Doug Bravin; IT and marketing manager, Kris Dybdahl; and retail sales manager, Neil Viers.
“They are genuinely nice people who care about the customer experience. The thing that sets them apart is their willingness to learn,” said David Solomon, vice president of sales and marketing at Peachtree Audio, a key Bjorn’s supplier. “Although they are one of the best retailers in the nation, education and staying up-to-date with technology is important to them all.”
Staying up-to-date poses its own challenges for indies with limited budgets, as they struggle against the e-commerce onslaught and the muscle of the big-boxes. But Bjorn’s, this year, has been using its resources to buck up its branding among established customers and new groups, including a younger demographic, through a combination of email, radio, TV, social media, billboards and in-store events.
Bjorn’s is also strategizing on a showroom refresh. It is transforming its Sony section to focus on more solutions and fewer TVs. A NAD dealer, Dybdahl is in discussions with Lenbrook about its digital audio demonstration and display concept. “There are lots of things coming down the pike we’ve got to be ready for, like how we’re going to deal with 4K, with OLED,” Dybdahl said. “And they’re coming quickly.”
Meanwhile, the company continues to push. “We’re always in people’s faces,” said Kris Dybdahl, who came on staff last year and has been instrumental in crafting a multi-pronged branding campaign. TV advertising has been broadened beyond the local ABC affiliate to include the Univision network. The aim: to reach a Spanish-speaking population that is growing, including an influx of wealthy Mexican nationals who are moving to the area to escape unstable conditions at home. “We’re on TV and radio two weeks a month, whether or not we’re having an event,” he said.
Part of the overall branding effort includes Facebook, where teaser questions like “What was the brand and size of the first TV you owned?” get people talking. The store has amassed over 1,000 ‘likes’ in less than two years.
But so far, the most effective approach has been email blasts. Bjorn’s has built a 19,000-name database, not from bought lists, but developed in-store during the last three years through sales/customer interaction, pass-around sheets handed out during Bjorn’s many speaking engagements, and by collecting sign-ups during store giveaways.
“With the email marketing service we use, we’re able to keep track of ‘opened’ and ‘unsubscribed’ stats,” Kris Dybdahl said. “We have a low drop-off rate. I’d rather have an email address from a customer than a home address.” While the average ‘opened’ rate for that service is 17 percent, Bjorn’s is at 24 percent.
A billboard initiative, now going into its sixth month, is a cheeky way to one-up big-box competition. “It’s in a strategic location, right over the shoulder of the top Best Buy store in the area,” said Bjorn. The messages don’t advertise models or prices but are short, pithy statements such as, “Value is more than price,” in clean white lettering on a red background, with the company logo and web address as tags.
“I recently visited the reworked Best Buy near their Minneapolis headquarters, and it’s really thought-provoking; laid out Apple-like and very open,” Bjorn said. “They’ve got the money and clout to pull a lot of things off, but the reality is that it still comes down to people. The problem all specialists have is that we’ve got to be better than them, but we don’t have the kind of money they have, so we have to do it with our people.”
One way is with in-store events. Bjorn’s long ago mastered the practice. The store conducts yearly Music Matters seminars, similar to other specialty dealers, but it took things up a notch in May with its first Saturday indoor/outdoor mega event. A Texas rock band played for three hours indoors, while a food truck festival in the parking lot ran from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. “We got 580 through the door,” Kris said.
“Customers saw it as fun, and people wanted to do business,” added Viers.
Its next event was an all-jazz concert last month, in partnership with a radio station hosting a jazz series the prior night with Grammy Award winner Paul Brown, who appeared at Bjorn’s the next day.
“We’re constantly honing and looking for things that will work for us, and that we can carry on over time,” Bjorn said. “We know manufacturers need guys like Best Buy, and they’re a good competitor.
But dealers like us can be a huge help to build brands and build a technology story. We’re educators; that’s who we are.”