What better place to situate what amounts to a learning lab for audio, video and whole-home control than right across the road from a renowned seat of higher learning?
The new 5,500-square-foot Audio Concepts Experience Center & Design Studio, which opened March 18, is a stone’s throw from Boston University, and a short distance from a veritable “university row” that includes Boston College, Tufts, Northeastern, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.
“This is within four miles of more money than anywhere in the country,” remarked Spencer Kalker, principal of the showroom design firm ImageCrafters, about the thinking behind president Don Houde’s decision to add this location for the 35-year-old business, which he founded in North Attleboro, 35 miles away. “But while everything here is high-performance, it’s not all high-priced.”
“Boston is underserved in custom and specialty retailing,” added Houde. “When Tweeter exited the market, it opened up opportunities for us. The consumer demographics here are a positive. And we have the gold standard in brands – and the best team in Boston.”
The facility is populated by experienced personnel managed by Don Cassidy, formerly of Harvey Electronics, and its chief technical officer, Jeff Haggar, signed on when his firm, High-Tech Home, became a part of Audio Concepts earlier this year.
The site, former home to audio emporium Spirit Sound, was an ideal fit for the Center – but not without a lot of tailoring. It was gutted down to the shell and remade into what Kalker termed “an evolved model of orchestrated, core rooms where everyone who comes in can have a clear perspective.
“Most integrators,” Kalker observed, ”if they could take their customers to their best clients’ homes, would close them without question.” That’s why the product mix within the facility is limited; it limits confusion overload. The company has access to many more lines than are on display, but “there aren’t five lines of lighting or five lines of seating here.”
Everything in the store design serves the Audio Concepts philosophy of experiential presentation. The floor-to-ceiling front windows allow clients to look out on B.U.’s Performing Arts Center, and allow pedestrians, in turn, to peer in at customers trying out the seating, the TVs and the audio systems.
“A big part of the impact with the consumer is based on the storefront. It gives a 3D impression. And the people in the rooms are props for the passers-by,” explained Kalker. The LED exterior store signage, too, is an advertisement for what the Audio Concepts team can do in a home. The sign’s RGB LED lighting continually and subtly morphs into different shades of color, making the store a visual focal point by night.
While Kalker says that other stores strive to create a showroom presentation that lets customers see how all the pieces can work together, “customers only tend to think about what they’ve come in for –even if you talk up everything. They need to experience it, not just hear about it.”
The Center offers a kind of “customer track” that snakes browsers around walls and eventually through four main rooms of various sizes and shapes named for New England authors. One 10-by-10 room showcases lighting, automated shading and front-projection possibilities and in-wall, in-ceiling and freestanding speakers, and another similarly sized area is dedicated to gaming. “We’re making the argument that, even in a 10 by 10, you can have a home theater,” said Kalker.
At the other end of the size spectrum is the Hawthorne room, a 14-by-15 space outfitted with Bowers & Wilkins and Paradigm speakers and a 65-inch Samsung panel. It will soon also house a 100-inch drop-down screen and an Anthem projector. “The idea is, customers will come in there and ask, ‘How much for the room?’” said Kalker. There is still the obligatory wall of flat panels to the left as the browser enters the showroom, but it is a minimalist treatment that also presents an array of mounting possibilities and furniture options for freestanding TVs.
“We think that our different market vision – which is viewing the market not just from an audio and video perspective but also from an integration perspective encompassing lighting, shading and production – will serve us well,” said Houde. “Our rooms aren’t ‘gear’ rooms. There’s the comfort level of someone’s home in each of them, and that makes the experience for the customer easy and flawless.”
- Nancy Klosek