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Jeff O’Heir, Editor in Chief of Dealerscope, has covered consumer electronics and information technology issues for more than 15 years. Prior to that, he wrote about crime, politics, boxing and the arts for daily newspapers.

Defender of the Independent Dealer


There are product launches and then there are the Joe Clayton product launches. For a number of reasons, we'll take the latter almost any time.

Clayton, the CEO of Dish, has been around awhile, but he still manages to bring a showman's flair, a youthful spark of excitement and a contagious passion for whatever he's pitching. The CE industry today needs more that type of marketing, which was on full display at the rollout of the DISHnet broadband service that Clayton recently launched at Cowboy Maloney's flagship store in Jackson, Miss.

There are a few reasons why Clayton chose Cowboy Mahoney's for the rollout, which featured a hoard of press, the mayor of Jackson, and a big barbecue for select customers who were entertained by Skylar Laine, a hometown American Idol finalist.

Clayton is old pals with the Maloney brothers and a good portion of the consumers that shop at the retailer's 12 stores throughout Mississippi live in the type of rural areas that DISHnet targets. But the main reason is that Cowboy Maloney's represents the strong independent CE and MAJAP retailer that is so vital to the industry. Clayton knows that. By hosting a major launch at Cowboy Maloney's, as he did when he was heading up DirectTV and Sirius Satellite Radio, he sends a message to the entire industry that validates the importance of the independent retailer.

Despite the tough climate many independents face today, Clayton well understands the staying power they have in the industry and the communities they serve. He knows that for a significant product launch the independent will use its deep ties and connections within the community to bring out the press, the city officials and deep-pocketed clientele needed to spread the word and to ensure the new offering gets a proper introduction. Most independent retailers have built up those ties, bonds and relationships over years and, in some cases, generations. That is something the big boxes can't do.

The big boxes and major e-tailers also can't replicate the education, handholding and overall customer service independents provide consumers in helping them fully understand how to best use and optimize today's complex CE technologies. More manufacturers and vendors should keep that in mind.

 We realize that in the past the major vendors have had to throw a big chunk of their marketing support behind the big boxes, mainly Best Buy, when it came to major launches. But as Best Buy closes stores and struggles with reshaping its business model and identity, the independent retailers remain. Manufacturers need them more than ever, especially when it comes to launching new products.

Most of the industry agrees that consumers would have had a much better understanding of 3D technology if specialty dealers had the chance to demonstrate the sets right out of the gates. Instead, the initial marketing support and inventory went to Best Buy and other mass merchants. The lack of content, the glasses issue and market saturation of perfectly good flat-panel TVs prevented the technology from becoming a premium selling point, but at least the independents would have done a better job at demonstrating and explaining the new technologies, including Internet connectivity, to a curious public.

Let's hope the vendors don't make the same mistake when they rollout their 4K sets, which will take a lot of education at the retail level to make sure consumers have the right product and content sources and connectivity for the optimum viewing experience.  Disappointed customers always translate to disappointing sales.

With that in mine, we hope that vendors who are looking to write their next chapter take a page from Clayton's marketing book and partner with a few strategic independent dealers. It will pay off.


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