The Little Guys
Illinois integrator The Little Guys will keep the festivities going Thursday after the HTSA fall meeting in Chicago wraps up- they will host the 21st Century Home Entertainment Technology event on Thursday night.
There was a palpable air of optimism and brightness at HTSA's fall conference in Chicago this week, one that stood in sharp contrast to the Windy City's chilly autumn weather. Dealers and integrators spoke of strong business performance in the first half of the year, which they expect to continue through the holidays.
Hats off to Dean Miller and his team at Lenbrook for taking the initiative to develop a dealer program that goes well beyond the typical signage and endcaps. Called the Digital Music Experience Centers (see our cover story for more), the program is a tight collaboration between Lenbrook and some of its best dealers to create an area on their sales floors that highlights and demonstrates full solutions that maximize consumers’ digital music listening experience.
In a nutshell, that is done by educating the consumer about high-resolution downloads, storage options, quality playback and easy streaming.
The program stands out for a number of reasons. One of the most important is that it was developed in coordination with dealers, whose input and feedback guided the program to fruition. The importance of that type of collaboration can’t be overstated. One of the most consistent complaints dealers, retailers and resellers have in any industry is that their vendor “partners” fail to solicit their input and feedback when it comes to program and product development. Too often, the result of that disconnect between the front office and the front lines are programs with little dealer relevance or a products the consumer doesn’t want or can’t use.
During the last few years, Dave Wexler, co-owner of the Little Guys, a specialty CE dealer in the greater Chicago area, has been shifting his focus away from profit-challenged TVs to new solutions such as digital music.
Wexler is part of a growing trend among savvy retailers and vendors who are embracing the marketing, merchandising and demonstration of connected solutions, as opposed to one-off video or audio product sales. The move has helped dealers increase profits, differentiate themselves from big-box retailers, and offer existing and new consumers the hands-on expertise and education they can’t get from e-tailers.
One of the latest chapters of this reinvention involves the sale of high-quality digital music systems and solutions. It’s based on offering the tools, software, hardware, installation services and education a consumer needs to increase the resolution of downloaded music files, optimize their playback and stream them throughout the home. Several dealers have sold digital music gear for years but not necessarily in a uniform, cohesive manner that focuses on full solutions.
“We know there are millions of iPhones, iPads and Android devices that our customers are downloading music on,” Wexler said. “The question is: How are they doing it? They’re not taking advantage of the fidelity and high-resolution that’s available. We want to make the process easier for them and to show them how to get back to better sound. What’s important to us is maximizing our customers’ sound.”
Chicago-area retailer The Little Guys said this week that it will soon debut an in-store concept called the Digital Music Experience Center. The center will focus on digital music, both stored and streaming.
When asked what convergence products he sells, Paul Sherman figured the easiest way to answer the question was by listing the SKUs that don't fall into that category.
"Beyond a few basic televisions, a couple Blu-ray players, couple receivers and some speakers, almost everything we have these days has some aspect of Internet connectivity, the ability to stream audio or video, or do remote updates," said Sherman, the general manager of Sherman's, Peoria, Ill.
Today's CE products are true chatter boxes: they talk to each other, to the Cloud, to smartphones, tablets and just about anything else that's IP-based. But if dealers and retailers don't have a robust, in-store network to properly demonstrate these products, that conversation, especially the one that starts with the customer, is dead.
Most consumers find it easy to work with Apple's products. It's taking CE retailers a bit longer.
George Manlove, CEO of Vann's and a former Apple employee, summed up the feelings of many specialty retailers by saying, "I love the products but, as a business owner, it's very difficult." Manlove is far from alone. As more traditional and specialty CE retailers bring on Apple's products, they find themselves facing many issues that will define their businesses for the next few years:
• How to make money from the lines when the margins for Apple's products range 8% to 12%
• How to attract customers when Walmart, Best Buy and even Shop-Rite also get the lines, many times months before smaller retailers
• How to compete against the allure of the well-designed, hip and unique Apple Stores
When Trey Brunson of H&H Lifestyles was looking to differentiate his specialty retail, appliance and custom installation business, he hit upon an electric idea. He bought a high-voltage company.