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June, 2009

Improving High-End Audio’s Market Share

Sunday, June 21st, 2009 by Mike

The U.S. is a place where high-end audio is shunned. In a culture where we just want to have fun, party and experience the good life as an out-of-control consumer, why high-end audio is not on the top 10 (or even top 100) list of every good American, is hard to fathom.

One answer is a ‘discount mentality’

Another is that quality and aesthetics are not really important to most people here.

Another is that we are currently obsessed with kids. Kids do not want high-end audio

Another is a total lack of marketing - besides Bose there is NOTHING.

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Hopeful signs are:

Teens might be interested in hi-fi [they used to be :-) ], why are we neglecting this market segment? Parents will buy kids $$$ cars, why not stereos?.

Nesting and behaving just like one’s neighbors is really important to most people, so once a few people start becoming audiophiles in the ‘burbs, many, many will follow.

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Marketing.

Show suburban families with nice stereos.

Show women liking stereos. Wives are one of our main hurdles - many actively try to sabotage their husband’s high-end audio purchases. We need to market to them directly, like other market segments. We can talk about how music is good for kids brains, helps kids get better jobs, it is cheaper than therapy [or marriage counseling :-) ], that is helps bring the family together, share their kid’s music and share their music with the kids, … etc.

Product placement: Unlike on the ‘Friends’ TV show [with Martin Logans] and others [SOTA turntables, etc,], have people talk about them and not just used as a background. And not just in NY apartments.

OK, well, any more ideas out there?

If we get a chance, we will put sample ads up on Spintricity advocating our hobby to the masses. Maybe something will strike a bell and start something snowballing….?

Marten’s new Momento loudspeaker

Saturday, June 20th, 2009 by Mike

The latest penultimate speaker from Marten. We don’t know too much about it yet - but we do know is that it sits between the Coltrane and the Coltrane Supreme speakers in their product line and that it is the same size as the bass tower speakers of the Supremes.

momento speaker

momento speaker

A larger picture of this brochure is in the latest issue of spintricity.

Lone Star Audio Fest 2009 is here

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 by Mike

Lone Star Audio Fest

Lone Star Audio Fest is this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Dallas Texas. We (i.e. Neli) will not be attending this year but our cohort in music David Cope, however, will be there representing Audio Note this year. The Exhibit will be displaying the new Audio Note ‘Zero’ gear, the cool smaller sized components that were also shown at AKFest earlier this year.

How European High-end Audio Manufacturers can better understand the U.S. Marketplace?

Thursday, June 11th, 2009 by Mike

You want to have a distributor in the U.S., but don’t know which one to pick. You may not even know which ones there are, it is not like there is a high-end audio distributor registry somewhere now is there? What is a poor manufacturer (MFR) to do?

One method some MFRs use is to find other quality product lines and see who distributes those. But this doesn’t always work, obviously, because otherwise we would have had no need to have written the previous post. Bad distributors do sometimes end up distributing what were once good brands.

Another is to try and verify a distributor by talking to the other MFRs that the distributor deals with. But THAT doesn’t always work, because the distributor may be slimy, but the MFR that slimy distributors work with are either clueless [they don’t know the distributor is slimy] or they are slimy themselves [and see nothing wrong with the tactics the distributor is using. Hey, takes all kinds…].

Another is to talk with MFRs that have dropped the distributor, see what they have to say. This MAY work, but there are so many personal grudge matches in this little high-end audio market of ours, that this approach will often be useless [and that earful you get may be the truth or it just may be a ready-for-prime-time personal feud that you kind of stepped in and kind of wish you hadn’t…. if you know what I mean ].

Another way, and maybe the best, is to talk to the distributor’s dealer network. If they have few or no dealers, well, there you go - something to think about. If the dealers carry nothing else but the product of this distributor - then you may have the dealer-for-a-day program going on, where they are fake dealers who get good prices and pump up the sales [because everything is going for so cheap] and size of the dealer network for the distributor to point to - but it is all a chimera. If the dealers carry lots of cheap gear, but this one very expensive thing from this one distributor… well…

Look, from my perspective MFRs want a distributor who carries lots of similar-quality brands and who has a dealer network of long-term reputable dealers. Sure some dealers will be a little strange, post all sorts of stuff on their blog at all hours, stuff like that - but the general impression that you want to make on this side of the pond is going to be up to the distributor, and the dealer network, and customers are going to receive this impression - perhaps subconsciously, but they will receive it - and it is really up to you what you want this to be.

We are happy to help MFRs (and dealers) choose good distributors to work with (and we have). We know a lot of people in the industry. We don’t know everybody but we know people who know everybody - but who no doubt would prefer to remain distanced from such open ended offers like this :-O.

We hope the impression MFRs want to convey is one of a long-term stable excellent brand with great products and one that cares about quality and about their customers.

Why?

Well, why not. And then my show reports can be all happy happy like all those others out there.

But somewhat more seriously [or not] …

We Americans do spend money with wild abandon and without a care in the world. Don’t think about whether it makes a heckuva lot of sense or not. We don’t. Unfortunately this trendy spendy attitude has kind of ignored high-end audio quite thoroughly for several decade now.

But wait!

But that will someday all change, because we are a unpredictable lot and not prone to doing what is expected of us - mostly because we just don’t pay a lot of attention to things [and are extremely uninformed about what is expected of us. Unless we watch Fox News, of course].

So, when that day comes, hopefully sometime within our lifetimes [it’d be nice] do you want to be stuck with back-alley dealers? Or up front on Rodeo Drive?

OK, I see this has devolved into sociopolitical analysis of the buying habits of large herds of credit card bearing consumers roaming the wilds of the U.S. Not much fun there.

Next: Mike & Neli’s Manufacturer / Distributor match making service. We’ll have some 31 point forms for everyone to fill out, and then we will find the perfect distributor for every manufacturer. We guarantee there will be lots of ‘happily ever after’s, and tons of little products popping out every, oh, 9 months or so.

Definitely got to end this post… now.

Why is it that European High-end Audio Manufacturers are Completely Clueless about the U.S. Marketplace?

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 by Mike

I mean, many build good products but… well, let’s start at the beginning.

Contrary to most people’s desires, good distributors are experiencing financial problems while the slimy riffraff continue to exist, and are even picking up a few previously respectable European product lines.

Why do the dishonest distributors do better in a bad economy? Because, even in a good economy, they sell stock at or below dealer prices, directly to consumers. So if they need some money to cover some bills, they do what they always do and sell under the table, damaging their own dealer network [putting them out business eventually if the dealers are clueless - need a post about clueless dealers next], damaging the brand name to some extent forever, obliterating the resale value for people who already have the equipment and might want to sell someday, etc.

[They can almost always find someone to buy a component for an ‘unbelievably good price’ - problem is that the consumer does not realize that dozens of other people are getting the same, or even better, price from this guy, and that therefore that is all that the component is worth. And they can wait to see it on Audiogon at half that unbelievably good price as people learn that the brand does not have such a good rep after all - i.e. that it can be bought at ridiculously low prices.]

Good distributors do not do this, which is great in a good economy, because they build brand and are able to keep prices high enough so that they can make money and stay in business, so that a dealer network can exist and people can hear the equipment locally, and people can sell their used equipment when they are done with it for closer to what they bought it for. In general they grow the brand - slowly, but for the long term - and for bigger bucks in the end.

We figure Europeans just think we are one big WallMart, and that we are all dishonest and have no taste anyway :-) So, they tell themselves, why not allow it to be discounted heavily, why not let the dealer network wither away - we get ours which is the same amount of money as we would if a good distributor sold the product through a local dealer network, right? Wrong.

Wrong. And it is easy to see why.

First, if someone pays a pitance for something, they are going to sell it for 1/2 a pittance. Everyone in the world then sees what the resale value is on this brand - they ALL visit Audiogon and the other sites - word gets out.

Second, there is a long sales cycle for most of this stuff. If they can’t hear it at their dealer, if their dealer in fact slams it because they got burned by the current distributor, perhaps for a different brand entirely, but burned they are anyway - then this will hurt sales for 5 to 10 years in that dealer’s area and with the people everywhere that the dealer talks to.

Third, once a manufacturer reveals that they are willing to work with dishonest and slimy distributors, this reflects back upon the ethics and character of the manufacturer themselves. The become untrustworthy to good distributors. Who knows when they will ‘blip out’ again and switch to a dishonest distributor when the going gets tough? They are then stuck in the position as a second rate brand [at best]. Good distributors stay around for decades and decades. And they talk to each other. They even talk to us :-)

Why do I call the bad distributors dishonest? Because they lie to the manufacturer and lie to the dealers. Their business model pretty much starts off with ’sell into any dealers territory at any price - it is unlikely that they will catch me at it - and when they do, I’ll just set up a different dealer… they are so clueless they do not talk to each other about me, either because they want the other dealers to suffer the same fate, or because they are at war with each other’.

Why do I all them slimy? Because sometimes they sell things to consumers that they do not even distribute - lying to the consumer about support. Sometimes they sell things to dealers they do not even distribute [yes, dealers are sometime more clueless than manufacturers]. They lie just about everything, having a philosophy [as near as I can ascertain from trying to figure out how they can stand themselves] that all is fair when it comes to making a buck.

And so, calling European manufacturers clueless is being charitable, because eventually their lack of interest in the character of the people they deal with will reflect back on them - that they also think “all is fair when it comes to making a buck”. Including making inferior equipment.


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