Being a brick and mortar hi-fi shop is very different today than it was back in the 80's or 90's. Many will say it is become much more difficult with the internet giving rise to online dealers and a huge boost to the pre-owned market. True one can cry the blues and reminisce about the good old days but we see it differently. We live in a time when it's never been better to be in the hi-fi business. The products available today are so much better than before and consumers have so much more access to music that it's creating waves of new customers.
Of course, in order to be relevant to day's consumer, it's not enough to simply open your door and expect someone to "buy stuff." Today's consumer has more information available to them and is able to harness opinions from a much wider pool than just "one of the other guys at the store" or "a friend of a friend." So what have we done to be relevant? We have become a resource that our clients can rely on and we have earned their business. True, all the information that we impart on our customers can be found online but it would take a long time and a lot of wading through nonsense to find the real goods. We've done this work and are now offering it to our clients in an easy to understand manner.
Now, more than ever it's become important for our staff to not only have good product knowledge but to become brand ambassadors, completely immersing themselves into the products, technology and culture of a brand. For example, one of our salespeople who has been in the industry for over 30 years decided that he would be the Linn expert in the store. The timing of this conveniently coincided with Linn's release of their DS (Digital Streaming) products. He purchased a DS player for himself and studied the various intricacies of this new platform. So here's a hi-fi salesperson who started his career learning how to mount a cartridge on a turntable and now he's installing hard drives into NAS enclosures. A few years prior, if you asked him what an IP address was, he'd give you a blank stare and now he's configuring routers, setting up UPnP servers, configuring ripping software and teaching clients all about computer audio.
Speaking of computer audio, those who haven't
already embraced this as being "now" and not "the future" should get out of the
business ASAP. Sales of CD players in our store have all but stopped and a day
doesn't go by without an inquiry about some sort of computer audio product
whether it be a DAC, a streaming device, a multi-room audio system or a simple
cable. This is where it can get tough because most of the staff who know a thing
or two about hi-fi are from an older generation and it's no secret that learning
a completely new technology when you're in your 50's can be challenging. Like
our salesperson did, however, it is possible and it is imperative if one wants
to succeed in this business. It's not good enough to simply tell a client that
he can use his computer to play back music files because chances are the client
has already figured this out and has started doing research. He will most likely
start talking about file formats, USB connections, iTunes and will begin
regurgitating information like a Vegas slot machine spitting out quarters. This
is the product of someone who has done some online reading and has not yet
consolidated all the information into something useful.
Photo above is of our store as it looks today.
Photo above is of our store as it looks today.
We have to know more than our customers, otherwise why do they need us? For example, when a client asks about file formats it's not good enough to say "MP3 is crap" and stop right there. What if the client happens to have a library of 5000 albums that he has purchased from iTunes over the years? Does that mean that he can't get into computer audio because he has his music in an inferior file format? Sounds ridiculous but it happens! I've spoken to many clients who have visited other stores and heard just that. Yes, of course, MP3 is inferior to FLAC, AIFF, WAV, etc. but don't alienate the client in your first sentence. Show the client how he can get the most out of his current music collection and introduce him to higher quality formats so that moving forward he can purchase music with the highest fidelity possible. Fortunately for us, we jumped into computer audio many years ago and have had quite a head start on our competition. Today, every one of our demo rooms is able to play music from a local Mac or over the network and some even wirelessly.
Another thing that has set us apart from our competition and has helped us earn customers' business is our showroom. We're located in the heart of downtown Vancouver and our showroom is 10,000 square feet on two floors. We have 10 demo rooms with 8 focused on high performance 2 channel. While many dealers have eliminated their showrooms altogether we felt it was important to give our customers a place where they can come and actually try out some gear. It's something we get complemented on almost daily. Maintaining a showroom in the heart of the city is an expensive proposition and one can wonder how it is that we're able to do so. I think our customers realize that if they don't support us, eventually we will not be able to be here and then everyone loses. Of course many customers purchase things online but the good thing is that enough of them are choosing to buy from a local dealer and receive all the benefits. Not only are we there to help if and when issues arise but the assistance we can offer in terms of setup has been an extremely valuable added plus. Just the other day I visited a client who bought a system from us and set it up himself. I then offered to properly position his speakers after the system had time to break in. The customer actually did a good job of positioning the speakers himself but after I adjusted the rake angle by raising the height of the front spikes he just about fell out of this chair after listening to the improvement in sound quality.
One thing that needs to be mentioned is focus, or lack thereof. Over the years there have been many distractions for hi-fi dealers which took away focus from what we're really good at. The most obvious has been home automation. Not sure who had the bright idea that hi-fi guys should become home automation guys overnight but it happened. Stores that had absolutely no business getting involved in home automation jumped in with both feet and with very little knowledge started promising clients the world. Unfortunately these were not successful and the back-lash from clients has been significant. I applaud those dealers who wanted to take on home automation the right way, hired the right people, attended a ton of training both inside the industry and out and as a result are doing very well. Unfortunately, however, this is a very small group and the majority didn't fare so well. So where do we fit into all of this? We kept our involvement into home automation to a small subset of the category, focusing on distributing music throughout the home with a little lighting control thrown in for good measure. By sticking to only these disciplines we didn't bite off more than we can chew and as a result have happy customers.
When Alex Kivritsky, my father, opened Hi-Fi
Centre in 1984 he had a vision to offer customers great sound, great service and
an exceptional customer experience. Back then we were 1600 square feet, 1 sound
room and decorations which couldn't even really be called "decorations".
What we did have, however, is passion. That passion fueled our two major
expansions going first to 5000 square feet and now 10,000. That passion fueled
our desire to offer our customers the best brands that we could find and a level
of service that they could not get anywhere else. The same principles and
passion that founded this company almost 30 years ago still apply today and will
guide us to the next 30.
Voice: (604) 688-5502