Dealer Behavior


I’ve visited a number of dealers, after being out of the hunt for a long time, and I’m still surprised by the way many deal with potential new customers. A number of things that don’t seem like good sales strategy with a potential customer. A few observations:
  • Wouldn’t you ask about the kind of music they listen to first? Maybe establish some rapport and develop a sense of what to play to try out equipment? At least establish if it really is about the music or the equipment, and sell accordingly. Getting enthusiastic about a recording is a great way to build listening rapport. I came in with a group os sample tracks I know well (I think I inventoried them in another thread). This has happened only once so far, and only tepidly - "oh - I have that on LP!" (Karajan Beethoven Symphonies, 1963, remastered).
  • Why crap on their equipment? If someone’s been happy listening to something, that may be a clue (and for god’s sake, make sure you know specifically which equipment before making a fool of yourself by describing the shortcomings some other piece of equipment, real or made-up). I have an Adcom 5802 amp driving Thiel CS 3.6. I’ve now been told by *everybody* how harsh and grainy it is, and, more amusingly, how it’s not powerful enough to drive most good speakers. It works in my setup, perhaps counterintuitively. Or maybe I have play-doh ears, but if I do, why would you tell me that?
  • Why all the correcting and mansplaining? Even if a prospect is wrong, it seems more reasonable to say "that’s interesting, my experience is X"
  • Why make broad assertions and shut down discussion? If a customer expresses doubt that, for instance, dollars invested in cables will make a big enough difference, why wouldn’t you smile and say "Ooh - I’d love to run a demonstration for you that might make you change your mind!" instead of just "cables make a huge difference, you just haven’t listened with good enough equipment".
I’m fully aware that one sales technique for high-ticket items is to challenge someone with money to not feel worthy of the snake oil. I worked at an audio store as a gopher when I was a kid (Atlantis Sound, Third Ave, NYC) in 1978, when I first got the bug. These types of techniques were prevalent then, and I was shocked at the behind-the-scenes cynicism of the salespeople. But over my lifetime, the marketplace has been rejecting it. I’m really surprised, while Lexus, BMW, etc. have beaten this kind of behavior out of their salespeople, to see it still going on in Audio.
I don’t mean to say I’ve found it uniformly true - I’ve encountered two individuals who avoided, in the main, this sort of thing, but the majority were still....jerks.
I’m in the money management (and before that lending) business - thirty years now. I never interrupt someone when they are making a mistake that might help me or give me information. I can usually tell when people are bluffing and can’t factually back up their claims, best revealed by simply letting them talk. I smile and nod, but I go back to the office and trade. I assume a lot of other people who can afford this stuff have probably learned similar life lessons. I just don’t think this behavior makes sense, and it may help explain the parlous state of the industry at this point.
end rant.
Actually (Columbo!) one more thing: If you act like that in the store, why would I EVER want you in my home helping set up my equipment and negotiating the everyday non-audio, cosmetic obstacles that will come up there?
ahofer
Well, it’s a business first and foremost. Survival is the key. I’ve yet to meet a dealer that had any interest in what I was looking for. The best ones have been patient and understanding, and importantly, been able to out on an impressive sonic display.

Years ago a local dealer put on Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks LP through a budget system. That one demo (of Tangled Up in Blue) really cemented my passion and belief in audio. Unfortunately, subsequent experiences were not so inviting.

I recall being interviewed for a post as a Hi-Fi Salesman here in my home town. It was a most dispiriting experience. The interview revolved almost entirely around monthly sales targets, repeatedly drummed into to my naive consciousness.

The shocking thing was that this shop specialized in separates, stocking AR, NAD, Mordaunt Short, Mission etc.

That was some welcome into the harsh realities of the Hi-Fi trade. My sympathies remain with anyone who works in that world.

My conclusion is that to be a successful dealer and eschew all that snake oil nonsense is no longer possible in this online age.

How can it be? Pity the poor dealer.


Ask the audio dealer what business he is in, and most likely they will look at you askance and say: "Why the audio business, of course."

The fact is, they are not in the audio business. They are in the people business.

Ask them who their boss is, and you’ll get the answer: "Well, I’m the boss. I’m self-employed."

The fact is, they are NOT the boss ... the customer is. It is the customer who determines whether the business makes enough money to make ends meet. It’s the customer who determines if the doors stay open or not.

These are just a couple of things that are way too important to miss, and I no longer frequent audio stores because too many of them don’t have a freakin’ clue.

Frank
You have to buy their attitude, that’s to pay, though with some people it won’t work either. Get something from them for $5k-$10K and then you might be worth a little to them. It is all commodity, starting with both sellers and buyers. I can’t blame either you or them. It is unnatural and unpleasant, it is called bazaar economy.
Tangled up in Blue was/is a fav of mine as well.  I never was a Blonde-on-Blonde guy.
My question is whether there is an alternative model. One that might invite more people into the fold.  I've bought some cables and a DAC from Audio Advisor (things you can return easily), and they are unfailingly friendly, enthusiastic, and non-snobby.  It makes you want to want what they have.
I experienced that dealer "attitude" back maybe 10+ years ago.

But today, I must say that even though most audio stores are now several hours drive for me, they have all treated me with respect and listened to what I was interested in and have gone out of their way to demo what I wanted to hear. I usually would call a head to set up a demo and tell them that I am bringing my own music.

At least this has been true for the dealers that are near me. I live in Southeast Michigan.

ozzy
Well, based on your experience, I must say that I got incredibly lucky how accommodating the dealers in the Chicago area were. One even gave me a free CD for visiting them (Holm Audio). They generally asked me with what I listened, why I wanted to  upgrade and then leaving me to the speakers I wanted to audition. No pressure, no dissing other dealers, etc.

Maybe you should visit the dealers in Chicago :-)
I think that with the advent of the Internet, and the online sales derived from it, the weak, non-customer oriented dealers have gone out of business, and the good ones are surviving.

This applies to all retail sales companies. It certainly applies to the real estate business, a business I know very well.

Those who want to survive, need to follow certain basic skills. People skills. Sales skills. Excellent work ethics. And just attain the understanding of those undefeatable basic universal laws that affect us all ... whether we know them or not.

Frank
I, too, got my initial experience during the late 70's-early 80's, and my experience mirrors yours.
I was very happy to find Audiogon and USAM as a way to buy used equipment without the dealer.
But I have to say I did get to meet with a really nice dealer in Verona, NJ.
He made me see the value of a dealer with his openness and honesty, and never trying to 'sell' me something or bad mouthing anyone/anything.
If only other dealers would comport themselves similarly.
B
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I bought Harbeth 30.2 from my dealer... terrible experience, left such a bad taste in my mouth I wanted nothing to do with the speakers and sold them a month later. 
Overall, my experience has been good. What I “hate” is when they automatically crank the volume to max drive.... front row Led Zep high!!! 
I must have visited and auditioned at every high end audio store along the I5 corridor from just north of Seattle to South Tacoma, with a few in Olympia and Portland/Beaverton thrown in. The best ones were patient, listened, and were happy to let me have plenty of time to listen in a relaxed environment. The best one, in Portland, had a system with speakers so good my WIFE wanted me to buy them! Pure luck she was with me the one time I go to the best dealer furthest from home! 

Actually the best dealer I ever knew was Stewart Marcantoni of Weekend Environments. Unfortunately both of those two outstanding examples are gone now, retired that is.

Sad to say but the premier dealer in Seattle now is Definitive Audio. Sad to say because at one time about 30 years ago Definitive actually helped me learn how to listen. I must have looked quite the rube bringing in my Magnavox CDB-650 to A/B with their Proac DAC - and then not be able to hear any difference! - but the guy was patient, made a few suggestions (listen to the way the cymbals trail off) and then left me alone to listen.

Ultimately the Portland guy didn't sell me, his selection of premium SQ components sold me. Stewart sold dozens of systems to people who couldn't sell the stuff they bought from Definitive fast enough once they heard what he had. In both cases of course the reason they had the great gear was they had great ears.

So once again, whether you are a buyer or a seller, it comes down to listening skills.
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This is good thread!

I rarely walk into any dealer --- I am such a cheap guy who kinda use ’green’ (re-use old equipment) as an excuse. :-)

BAD DEALER:
An Summit NJ dealer (you know which one it is) didn’t bother demo a brand new Rotel I wanna buy. They had everything setup for VIP customers (that wasn’t an ’listening night’, for the record) and didn’t want to reconnect anything to the Rotel. I purchased it brand new at 10% discount anyway and drove it home. Unit DOA. The dealer claimed I didn’t know how to plug it in after blaming my home didn’t have surge protection (I did). They refused return / refund, wouldn’t even offer help to get it fixed. They actually used the words "We could care less" (see my other thread) when I threaten to dispute thru my credit card company.

(The guy hinted that they could have completely ignore my phone calls and emails and personal visits to get help with that DOA unit ... but they were already nice to me as they were still talking to me after I paid for an DOA new unit ..... thus, "we could care less" meaning in my other thread)


ALRIGHT DEALER:
Quest for Sound, PA. Some of you may have mixed experience with it. But the owner would let us listen to whatever we want on whatever setup we want for however long. No pressure at all. Yet at the same time, they could be sloppy in shipping --- damaged items, or shipped me used demo item by mistake. They always took care of that promptly and professionally, nevertheless.


BAD DEALER:
Overture Audio. Sold me an expensive pair of certify used Avalon. When I arrived for local pickup, the speakers were all crated up. They didn’t want to open them for me to inspect (too busy was the explanation). Got home, opened the crate up, both tweeters had physical damages. Told them, they claimed the parts may take a while to arrive due to back order, offer free $200+ headphones as compensation while waiting for the replacement tweeters. None of them ever arrived. eBay dispute deadline expired. Didn’t even got response from them since. They blocked my eBay ID from email contact or buying.


THE BEST DEALER:
JS Audio, Maryland. Got a pair of Wilsons from them. Super honest, courteous and proactive dealer that truly make sure everything is done right and beyond the call. Not that I advocate free loading, but they offer their perspective customers pickup/drop-off service with Porsche. (I turned the generous offer down --- I am too cheap looking to be in any Porsche). While I was waiting, they offered fine wine and gourmet cheese, also kept me occupied by playing whatever $$$$$$$ setup I shown interests in.


SUPERB DEALER:
Paragon Sight And Sound, Michigan. Purchased some very expensive used speakers from them. Found out quite many inconsistencies. Turned out the trade-in customer was a total crook and fooled them completely. Paragon took care of everything very promptly and friendly. No pressure, no non-sense at all.



SUPERB DEALER:
GTT Audio. I used to deal with them. I am dead broke. Can’t afford their stuff anymore. Courteous service and passionate about audio. Always a happy encounter when I visited.



My first "high end" audio purchase was a Krell KAV 300i integrated amp purchased from Art of Audio in Portland Oregon back in the mid 90's. Before that I survived with Sony/Yamaha receiver-based systems connected to cheap speakers with lamp cords. I loved music and wanted better sound but I was a broke twenty-something that knew very little about high-end audio beyond what I read in Stereo Review (I think that was the name of that magazine).

Anyway, I wandered into this store one day when I was out to lunch with my boss and he ran an errand in the business next door. A salesman, an older guy (mid 40's, doesn't seem so old now) talked to me. He asked me about the music I liked, the system I had, and let me sit and listen to the very high end systems they had in the store. I remember listening to a system driving Maggie 3.6's?? and having my mind blown.

I started going to back to the store every chance I got. That same guy would always take time with me, talk to me about music, about my father's hi-fi system that turned me on to music when I was a kid, and let me listen to every high dollar rig they had set up in the store. Several times I sensed the owner of the store annoyed that his salesman was wasting time with a broke-dick kid.

Longer story short, I ended up purchasing a Krell KAV 300i from that guy for $2300 which was the largest purchase I had ever made that wasn't a car. That Krell integrated amp opened my mind and ears and created a life-long audiophile.

More accurately, that older, bearded, hippie, salesman at the Art of Audio, who wasted hours over the course of several months with a broke 24 year old, created a life-long audiophile.

I now have the means to afford a very good system that I've assembled and upgraded over many years. I've spent a small fortune on equipment and learned a lot over the years.

The last great brick and mortar store I visited was Echo Audio in Portland. The owner is awesome and successful because of how he treats his customers. That was over ten years ago and I've since moved to a new city. I visited a couple of stores since and felt condescended to and turned-off by some of the same treatment others describe in this thread. Why would anyone travel to a store only to feel uncomfortable when they can click and buy online? To compete, a brick and mortar needs to offer humanity along with the product.

I know there are still great dealers out there. Kurt at Echo Audio is one. But how many are taking time to educate and enlighten the next generation of audiophiles? Or non-audiophiles with means that could catch the ailment?

High end audio seems to be a market that survives on people with screw-you money who want the best even if they won't use it or appreciate it, and obsessive nut jobs pursuing an unattainable goal of audio perfection. There are also those who just want great sounding music and are happy to purchase a great system and listen to it for years without modification. But these people aren't buying the next new thing every year.

If you know a dealer that operates like the guy who turned me on to this hobby 25 years ago you should support and promote them. They are not only helping people, they are also creating a larger market for themselves.


@bsimpson 
Totally agree with you about GTT Audio.  Bill Parish is extremely knowledgeable and a great guy....very patient and a pleasure to deal with.  

ahofer


where are you located? Which audio shop(s) did you attempt a business/customer report?  I see that Thiel Audio CS 3.6 was cited and would extend an invite over on the Thiel Owners thread here. I look forward in reading more about your Audio journey.  Happy Listening!

@ahofer, "My question is whether there is an alternative model. One that might invite more people into the fold. I’ve bought some cables and a DAC from Audio Advisor (things you can return easily), and they are unfailingly friendly, enthusiastic, and non-snobby. It makes you want to want what they have."

Yes, that’s got to be the way to go. As @oregonpapa stated, this is a people business. Customer satisfaction is the key. Buying online does save money but there’s nothing like recreating a domestic situation when it comes to auditioning. Tea and coffee please, Hi-Fi auditioning is always, always best done relaxed.

It’s also got to be a two way process, we the prospective buyers have to factor in dealer costs when selecting equipment. The deal should be as follows, they help us find audio satisfaction and we pay them for it. I know it sounds hopelessly idealistic but like most things in life, there is a moral aspect involved here. If they help give them your money, if they don't, walk away.

Of course there are always other factors beyond anyone’s control, such as the state of the economy but the one thing that would really help everyone would be if a way could be found to make audio exciting and attractive - no more ’snake oil’ crap. The public at large may be gullible, but not that gullible.

I wonder whether selective celebrity endorsements and product placement might help bring high quality audio into general awareness once more. I can see it now, "After a hard days shoot, Tom likes nothing more than sitting down to a sumptuous evening of listening to his McIntosh MC2152 amplifier".

I’d say the need for the music as a means of relaxation and healing is greater than ever, but how, other than the boom in headphone sales of course, does the industry best spread the word?


Wow!  Great thread.  I was worried my shop from the old days would be mentioned, especially after the new owner, a professional crook who still has a shop upstate, took over.

Like many, I went into the business because of my love for music and my devotion to equipment.  I learned so much!!

At first, I was hesitant in helping people find the "better" stuff.  If you came in and wanted "X" I would sell you "X" with little or no issues.  It is a BUSINESS, right?

After we LISTENED to the 40 different speakers on the floor--this was an existing shop that I bought--I REALLY learned a ton.  A total revelation to me.  I thought I knew stuff; boy was I wrong.  For example, we always thought the large Advent speakers were the best in the world.  To be fair, at the time they were OK for rock, but they completely disintegrated (not literally, of course) when driven by first quality electronics and especially when A-B comparisons were made to many other speakers on the floor.  Sure, I sold you a pair of Advents if that is what you wanted.  Why not?  THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT is pretty much the first rule of retail, as my dad used to tell me. 

Eventually ,with the help of people like Bill Johnson, Jim Winey, Sol Marantz and his people--he was pretty old in the early 1970's, but still very opinionated, and many others I will not list here, I learned and learned and learned.

We tried to help you the best we could.  We brought stuff out to your room, set it up, let you listen for a week, etc.  We sold a lot of high-end gear back then as there were other dealers who sold low-and-middle end equipment. 

Finally, another thing I learned quickly is, "Never ask a customer what they do for a living."  Back then, people came into my shop wearing cutoffs, no shirt, no shoes... and carrying suitcases full of cash; you may remember those days in South Florida.  

A good dealer is customer-focused, intelligent about the gear he or she sells, and understanding of the audiophile's many, many dilemmas.  If you can do that, and carry only the best stuff in every category, you have a shot of being named in this thread as a "great dealer."

Cheers!
I've had great experiences in Central PA at HiDef Lifestyle (for Rega and Dali) in Harrisburg and BEK (for Spendor) in Allentown.  HiDef lined up several speakers I was interested in, and I had a room to myself while I listened through a CD I'd cut with everything from Palestrina to Pearl Jam (loved the Dali Fazon F5). When we decided to get Spendors from BEK, HiDef told me they were great speakers instead of bad mouthing them.
My only bad experience has been with looking for a new CD player and talking to a very pushy salesman in NJ (re Bryston BCD3) who bad mouthed everything he didn't sell. I'll never speak to them again. I've just started talking to Surround Sounds in Exton, PA about getting a Roksan CDP.
The worst dealer visit I had was in my search for a new pair of speakers, visiting JS Audio in Bethesda, MD.  I visited on a hot, rainy summer Saturday.  During my visit, not a single other customer walked thru the door.

I was interested in a pair of Dynaudio C2/C4 speakers, and brought a nice selection of CDs for my audition.

First, they let me know that since I didn't have "an appointment", they would not switch the speaker cables from the amp they were connected  to, to the model I owned, even though it was sitting right next to it.

Second, the blower from the air conditioner was nearly as loud as the speaker, when playing chamber music, and they refused to shut it off for five minutes, so I could get a good audition.

Third, I attempted to hand the salesman my card, in case he wanted to contact me, but he said "we don't accept business cards".

As it turns out, I purchased a speaker they didn't carry, but the dealer I used for that purchase also carried Dynaudio.
Dealers do not know haw to sell.  I worked for a company that actually trained its sales staff.  After the greeting, a salesperson must establish rapport. Instead, these people challange our mentality and ears.  Some rappirt!  I askwd my sales people what customets did for a living, if they had kids, what equipmwnt, etc. Tbe customer owned...  When these questions are not answered, the most impirtant step in the sales process is skipped.
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I agree that both Paragon Sound and Overture Audio in Ann Arbor are places where you can demo gear and trade-in equipment without being pressured. But I would suggest that may also be a reflection of the culture here where I live in this midwest college town.
I find it that most dealers in my area central Illinois have vanished.  Used to have 8 places now just 2.    Even Chicago way less,.  At least 50 percent or more of shops have closed.      I would say I get better attention these and service than 10-20 years ago.   I blame Bluetooth        I don’t consider magnolia to be a hifi store       Check out Jeff at Glenn poors in Champaign if you want sales service and a guy who knows audio and then legacy speakers is right there in same town 
I had a great dealer long ago n the 'burbs of Chicago.  Would let me take anything home to demo with the mere stripe of a credit card.  Patient, they listened and got to know me and my tastes.

So I bought lots from them, of course.  Auditioned at home, and let go, a pair of Avalon Mini-Monitors.  A great mistake.  OTOH, they sold me my Vandersteen 2Cis, which served me well for many years.

Right now, Clayton Shaw of Spatial Audio is The Man.  I've had several dealings with him, and even though he isn't "retail" per se, he's wonderful to deal with.
Toys from the Attic in White Plains, NY was the place I used to frequent when the audio bug first bit me. I was able to audition a lot of equipment at home just by giving them my credit card ... if I wanted to buy it, they put the charge through; otherwise, I just returned the stuff within the specified period and no harm, no foul. The staff was great there and taught me a lot about the high end. I remember hearing a pair of Maggies there for the first time ... wow, what a holographic experience! It gives me chills to this day. TFTA is long gone now, but I still have some of the equipment I bought there, and very good memories of the kind folks who took the time to befriend a then audio neophyte and teach him the ropes.
Have to agree with Paragon Sight and Sound in Ann Arbor. Excellent low pressure service, voluntarily left me alone to listen, and even happily demoed some top end Wilsons with D’Agostino amplification even though they were clearly not in my range. 

Another Michigan dealer I’ll mention is David Michael Audio in Royal Oak just outside of Detroit. Slightly annoying by-appointment policy but once there, service is stellar. Not to mention an incredible range of very well chosen equipment. 
@batman1971, I was a Glenn Poor's groupie back when they were still at Round Barn center.  It was the first store where I got to see and hear much of the big name high end electronics and speakers that I had only read about in TAS and Stereophile.  The staff were awesome and I still own and use many of the pieces I bought from there.  I remember the day when I was told that Geoff was heading east for a big audio venture!  I watched him walk to his car, a nice Porsche  IIRC, thinking the place will never be the same.  But Glenn Poor's survives!  I must visit next time I am in the area.

Best dealer I ever knew was Stewart Marcantoni of Weekend Environments. Stewart was one of those guys who never really cared about much besides audio. One of the hardest things about this is how the very best stuff is so scarce and scattered around the world. Stewart spent all his free time flying around buying and trying. A flippers flipper. Until his wife said look this is all you're doing why not do it as a business?

I met Stewart when he was moving out to Washington from the east coast. He drove cross country in a mini-van packed full of gear. Not straight across, but zig-zagging from one customer to another! Still a lot of stuff in there by the time he got to me at the end of the line. Whole lot of stuff I never heard of back then- Synergistic Research, Aronov, bunch of stuff I'm forgetting as this was nearly 30 years ago.

Ordinarily the extra stuff would turn out to be crap. But Stewart was no ordinary dealer. I told him only interested in a pre-amp. Stewart brought in an amazingly good pre-amp. But then he said might want to try this Aronov integrated. Which turned out seriously good. Not only better, but cheaper. Even before factoring in interconnect. I could sell my amp, buy the Aronov, now I don't need a pre-amp, or interconnect, or power cord... and even have money left over.

Everything Stewart brought in was like that. Speaker cable. Interconnects. CD player. Every single one not only better than what I had (which, let's face it, there is always better) but cheaper too! And not only cheaper, but cheaper enough I could sell what I had and buy what Stewart had and have money left over! How often does that happen?

About as often as you find a dealer with more knowledge and better ears and greater customer service than Stewart. Which is to say, never.

Stewart set up shop in the daylight basement of a custom home on the shore of a nice little lake out by Bremerton. No ads, just a small website. Residential area. You could get further out, but not by much. By appointment. Always seemed to have people flying in from all over. They came because of the reputation Stewart had for finding the best sounding gear for the money. I don't recall him ever carrying any of the really big name brands. Only the really good stuff.

Way back when most people still questioned whether cables really made any difference Stewart demo'd a system with more money in cables and conditioners than amp, source and speakers. Twice more. Caelin lived nearby and would bring his newest Shunyata cables over for Stewart to compare. One time he's all excited, got some power cord he's gonna sell for $500. What do you think? Stewart didn't say a word. Just said here try this one. Caelin was impressed. What's that one retail for? $750? $1000?
That one goes for $300. Oh. Back to the drawing board. 

Golden ears. Encyclopedic knowledge. All the best components. Connections. Leading edge. Value. And I haven't even touched on acoustics, tweaks, setup, ability to help anyone of any interest at any budget. Totally unfair, but Stewart was my standard for what a dealer should be.

Sad to say Stewart retired a few years ago. Wish there were more like him. 
Funny, I seem to encounter more the attitude that there is an orderly and positive correlation between price and sound quality, and every tweak is worth having.  Sorry, it just ain't so.
millercarbon

That was an XLNT story about Stewart.  If he really was that good, then it is a tragedy that he did not bring someone under his wing that he could hand the reins off to when he retired.  So that his legacy, both in name and in approach was not carried on.

ahofer


A PM sent.  Happy Listening!

millercarbon

I can remember reading about Stewart. There are very few gentlemen of Audio with his caliber of expertise. As above, too bad he did not untake an apprentice or partner to carry on his unique retail approach.  And yes, per reputation, he was that good.  Happy Listening!

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