Dealer Bias: Do They Really Add Value?

Many posts refer questions to a "dealer you trust", "get advice from a qualified dealer" etc. Maybe I have lived in big cities for too long, but these posts strike me as very naive or possibly written by local dealers masquerading as members on this board. Do you really think that dealers aren't biased, often ill informed or motivated primarily by profit? I dont' want to take away from the sincere people and genuine enthusiasts in the business, but I can't even count the number of times a "reputable high end dealer" has suddenly decided that Levinson is actually better than Krell, or Burmester blows Audio Research away, or we started having problems with Martin Logan, Audio Research etc. only months after they were touting the very same brands as the best thing in the history of the universe. Brands of equipment that work well together are often not sold by the same dealer, or even in the same state. I don't know but it seems that hotly competing lines are rarely represented by the same dealer. I agree that we should reward and give business to dealers who genuinely provide an excellent service, build long term relationships, give good advice and really go the extra mile, but all too often dealers seem to whine about , a shrinking market, customers who don't appreciate their service and value added etc when they need to look in the mirror and ask how much value they really add. I go OUT OF MY WAY to give business to people who try to get to know me and really take care of me, but when I perceive a mediocre, biased, commodity service, I am more than happy to get my advice from all of you and shop for my electrostatics, exotic cables and monoblocks on the internet at the lowest possible price.
You sound like the kind of customer a good dealer would love. I define a "good" dealer as one who allows home trials and does not discourage you from your preferences as you find them in your listening environment. This is, I fear, becoming harder to find because the general population has become more likely to take advantage of business owners. (How many posts have you seen where folks audition the local dealer and then go buy elsewhere at the lowest price. When you have your own business, this is one of the most disappointing realities to face. That being said, you are of course, right on about those who put profit over honesty. Let them feed on the naive. What goes around comes around.
The dealer I go to has spent countless hours with me, let me take home equipment to audition, and has even sent me to other dealers for particuar items that I wanted to hear that they didnt carry. I have spent a lot more money for items I could have bought here cheaper but with out their expert advice, patience, and help I never could have built what I did. I of course gave them my business for it and have always considered the little extra money well spent.
Yes,it's not the quality of the pieces,it's the quality of the music.I find I have to read between the lines,here and with the dealers. I guess it's the "uphill" struggle we enjoy.--?? I mean;do we want it to be that easy? "Winning" against the odds gives satisfaction. Do you want to do the maze?(Mt. road) /Or do you want to take the freeway? One is boring!!
Here's my perception - please help me understand if it's *true* or not.
I think (don't know this for a fact) that the high-end brick and mortar dealers do most of their business with people that find themselves with the $ to spend, but don't want to really "get into" this hobby. They want a nice system (I would think thatWAF is very high consideration in these deals), but don't want to invest the time into understanding it. "I want the best you got" (oooh, there's a line to drool over….) I assume these types of customers help the dealers to pay the bills, because I don't think they make their money from people like us - fairly savvy and into this hobby.
The Internet dealers have got to be putting a huge dent into the brick and mortar businesses. I mean when you can find dealers offering - 40% off - new in box gear, why would you pay full retail?
I find it difficult to pay full retail for ANYTHING, anymore.
Does my theory hold water?
As Woody Allen once said, " the greatest sin in my family was paying retail".
I have to disagree with a few of Angela100's points. First, the audio hobby existed LONG before the internet. I have been involved in audio since I was a child. If anything, there is a continued and steady decline in the amount of people who want to understand the hobby. True, we obsess over so much more now(cables, quality of AC power going into our components, the room, contact treatments, etc.) than in the past. But, many of us are the same people. We are just making progress. A lot of the people I see now(even on the internet) are in this hobby for inexplicable reasons. They must either have no idea what they are doing, or are impossible to please. Only in it for some type of status. Why else would they change gear so much with no rhyme or reason? Unfortunately, this has always been part of the territory, but so much more prevalent now. Secondly, I do not find the internet to be the bargain most hail it to be. How many products on this site can you buy in the box at a 40% discount??? Give me a concrete list of examples. I find many of the Audiogon dealers to advertise their merchandise at LIST PRICE. I have bought most of my equipment through brick and mortar dealers(and have even worked in a dealership), and have found them to offer discounts. Everything I have bought has been at a discount. And, I would even venture to say(via experience) that you may often be more likely to get that 40% discount at a brick and mortar dealer. The dealership I worked at discounted EVERYTHING right off the bat. Not typical, but not an anomaly either. And if you bargained(the same way you do for an automobile), you could get a GREAT deal. Example, I saw new PSB Gold i speakers(retail $2599) go for as low as $1300 for demos, and $1500 for new(in stock or by placing an order). Dealer cost was $1200. And what of used equipment? What had traditionally been something ALWAYS sold for 50% of original cost has changed drastically. Witness the prices asked for in these classified. Or even worse, the obscene prices fetched in auctions. I do agree that the internet has really hit the brick and mortars hard. But, some have also flourished. The place I worked at for example. We were strictly a local dealer. But, when companies like Adcom, Carver, PSB, etc. listed us on their websites, our business skyrocketed. No longer limited to people in the neighborhood, we had people coming in from all over the country(or ordering over the phone). And, when they found out the deals they were getting, word of mouth only expanded things. And before I am labelled a brick and mortar cheerleader, look at a lot of my past posts. I think most dealers are absolute slime(especially the one I worked for).
geez, settle down, Trelja. I clearly stated that this was my perception.
If you feel a need to argue, I'm not a worthy opponent. I'd rather be happy than right.

*Give me concrete examples*...Well, since you asked so nicely...

I recently bought an ADCOM GFA-7500 for our home theatre for $1000, ok, so it's only 33% off, but still an incredible deal. Kimber Bifocal XL's for $850, so it's 53% off, I was averaging.

Audio was around before the Internet? I did not know that. Did Al Gore have anything to with it?
I agree with Trelja on a lot of points. Some of the best deals I have got are from a dealer. No that you cant do better most of the time on the net but I always got 20 - 40% off and sometime up to 65% off for demo cables. I never paid retail and sometimes if you want something specific you cant find it on the net. Then there is the possibility of shipping damages and getting ripped off

I was also able to demo equipment at home without putting money down. This alone saved me money in the long run. There were so many particular pieces I planned on buying and didnt after a home audition.

I feel both have there advantages and the perfect road lies somewhere in the middle but I also admit to have found a great dealer.
i know a number of brick and mortar dealers here in Colorado and in several other states. a few are, indeed, as angela describes them. but they're the lucky ones with stores in affluent neighborhoods that attract folks who want to buy what they're told is "the best." most such sales are in ht rather than the 2-channel end of the market. there are, however, a few dealers like trelja describes. one such is a now close friend whom i met first as a curious customer. his name is john. john has a wide array of loyal customers all over the country. he carries products from the mid to highest ranges of the highend. he chooses his product lines carefully and knows them all very well. john can help a budding audiophile put together an all-tube analogue system or assist grizzled veterans who are buying their 8th or 9th set of ss monoblocs. john routinely discounts, allows in-home auditions of everything he sells, does complex setups gratis and has 4-6 open houses every year to introduce new products and the real people behind them. cwlondon, when you are exiled to the colonies, you should make your way to the rockies so that you can actually meet "a dealer you can trust," my friend john. good hunting. -kelly
I didn't mean to wind everyone up on price wars. My main idea is that there are all kinds of politics, relationships, and profit motives behind a dealer's lines which poison the task of delivering unbiased, value added service and advice. In the end, a single dealer is unlikely to put the perfect system together for anyone.
Sorry to drift off point Cwlondon. I do agree with your points on dealers. I firmly believe that the audiophile should rely on his two ears, whatever lies between them, and his heart. Anything outside of these things is irrelevant. This is not a team sport. One should only concern himself with his own pleasure. Finding his own bliss, whatever that may be. A dealer will more often than not, pollute one's opinions. His tool for such pollutions is good old fashioned balderdash. This is especially true for a novice in this field. As time goes by, and confidence is developed, one hopefully learns to accept his own tastes, not apologize for them, and assemble a system to make him happy. Imagine during the dark ages of tubes(mid 70's to mid 80's), someone with the courage to stand up and pronounce that he preferred the sound of tubes to the absolutely AWFUL solid state of the era. The blasphemy! Solid state measures better(of course, we are not measuring it with music. Only 8 and 4 ohm resistors). Someone willing to trust his instincts. Not afraid to say a 35 watt Heathkit actually SOUNDS superior to that 1000 watt(remember those days?) solid state, Japanese receiver. Imagine the reactions he faced from the dealers. That guy listened to himself, and NOT the dealers. There stood a true audiophile.
Short story. My friend recently spent about $150,000 on two stereo systems. After buying the first system from one high end dealer we were having lunch across the street from another high end dealer that my friend had never been to. Strangely enough, I casually knew one of the salemen in that store who just happened to walk into the luncheonette. He used to work in a discount low end dealer (CRAZY EDDIE) over 25 years ago, and I recognized him, and even remembered his name! (now if I could just remember where I left my keys) Saying hello, I introduced him to my friend. After lunch my friend and I walked across the street to have a look around. We were "greeted" with sleazy nonchalance, begrudgingly shown a set of speakers, left in the room without the salesman asking one question about what it was we were doing in the store, or what we were looking for. After being ignored for so long that we became uncomfortable, we left, without the salesman so much as asking if we needed any help or a thank you, or a goodbye. Needless to say, my friend spent his money (another $75,000) elsewhere. Had the saleman taken the slightest interest in my friend he might have made a great sale and a lasting customer, instead of a terrible impression. Yes, some dealers do add value, but I think it is becoming ever more rare, and their aliegences do seem to change rather quickly. I have heard one too many putdowns of brands that a salesman happily promoted weeks earlier. Like friends, choose your salesperson carefully.
sorry about any typos, it's getting late.
Great post, Bmpnyc! Sadly, far too common in high end.
who's John, Kelly? Does he ship for home demos,too? If you don't want to post his name here, how bout an email? We tend to run into the same kind of "stores" as Bmpnyc speaks of. Even, purposefully "mis-arranging" (is that a word?) the demo room to give the edge to their highest high end gear. You know the good stuff is in the perfect spots for the room, you want to demo the next step down, they *toss 'em* against a side wall 90 degrees off perfect room set up, roll the chairs over and leave you there. "what are we, chopped liver?"
Angela - I don't know if it holds up looking at overall demographics, but my impressions of the current bricks-and-mortar stores pretty much mirror yours. With a reasonable level of savvy in this market, paying 90% or more of retail for anything would appear to happen most often due to convenience, not wanting to have to spend the time to really shop. Now, before everyone re-iterates that they have a great dealer who provides so much more, etc., I'll just say that I know that, I believe that, and I think it's great. If that's the way you have built your system and enjoy going about it, it's a great way. It's a lot of fun to go to a high-end shop that has it's act together, that knows you, and that carries great stuff. But it's very clear to me that there are some very successful shops that there is no way I would pay a premium for their advice or services, and that the way they make the majority of their money is people walking in with more money than time and saying, "give me something good (and preferably impressive)". I'm also not being deragotory by saying they have more money than time - everyone reading these posts is clearly willing to invest a lot of time and energy into this hobby, but there's only so much time to go around and there are undoubtedly people who want something nice without all the reading, shopping, etc. I'm that way with cars - I drive a very nice car and appreciate what makes it nice but would never spend the time to get as educated about cars as I am about electronics. I probably paid more than I had to by at least a bit, but it didn't take long, I love driving it, and the time I saved more than offset any extra cost. In any case, the only high-end shop around where I live that is worth developing a relationship with charges 95% of full retail, I know I'm not going to pay that, so I steer clear. They're a Dynaudio dealer and a friend who bought his system there and went to one of their open houses said that they had about four interested buyers for a pair of the Evidence speakers ($85K/pr). Maybe they're all audiophiles who have just reached the point in their pursuit that, through all the guidance they've received from this shop, have decided that this is clearly the next step on their path, but that seems unlikely.
I just think back to the pre internet days when I had to rent a Mercedes and a $1000 suit if I wanted to get in the high-end room. What kind of value is that? The only way they'll get me back is if they pick me up at my house in a Mercedes.
The condescending attitude mentioned by Cyberman is a classic example of the kind of unsophisticated, low life scummy "service" delivered by most audio stores, in my experience. Further to my rant, it also seems that even when they do carry a certain manufacturer, they don't have certain models a) in stock b) on demo or c) "set up properly". And even when they do, they want to take off Miles Davis or Beethoven and play Mannheim Steamroller's Fresh Aire 17. That's why only their customers drive Mercedes. (To be fair, Cornfedboy, your dealer sounds like a rare find, and I hope he is happy and prosperous. But I still bet he doesn't carry Levinson AND Audio Research or Martin Logans AND Magneplanars etc.)
I admit that I have been lucky to find a good dealer and have seen the type of sevice that you talk about many times in other stores. I am curious that if you dont use dealers how do you pick equipment? I am not critisizing at all and think that maybe you know something I dont.

I feel the only way to pick a piece of equipment is hear it in your system. I go to a lot of stores hearing what I want then I try the top couple in my own home. Do you listen to dealers then buy on the net? Do you just buy based on other peoples opinions with out hearing it? If so dont you loose money in the long run by having to sell pieces that you dont like? Or end up with pieces that are inferior to others in the same price range?

I reiterate I am very curious and not attacking anyones methods. If you dont use dealers how do you pick the best piece for your system?
My main complaint about the local dealer's is they are salesmen and not audiophiles. They have NO clue what sounds better or how to make it sound better but they do know what makes them more money, that is why I was told that some $1600/pair B&W speakers sound better then my avalon acoustic's when I was looking for an amp, does that make any sense? It does not to me.
P.S I hope none of you ever have to deal with this dealer because they are boneheads.
Now you may think I am completely insane, but after so many years of experimenting with components, understanding reviewers' and dealers' preferences and biases and hopefully knowing a little something about the manufacturers' histories, I feel I can pretty accurately GUESS how a component will sound in my system after reading reviews, talking to people and doing a little homework. With no demonstration whatsoever, I have purchased, Apogees, Martin Logans, Aragon, Jadis, Audio Research and Levinson and felt that I have combined components pretty well and never made a big mistake. Of course, it helps to hear a pair of speakers at a dealer, but given the inevitable and major differences in room acoustics, associated components, accessories etc. trying to purchase wisely from any single dealer still seems like a crap shoot to me. Still wondering: Do They Really Add Value?
Does a car salesman add value? Do you believe what he says about the cars he sells compared to other cars? Get real.

Honestly, there are a few, very few. Some carry stuff they believe in. In southern Cal, I can think of Gene Rubin, Brooks Berdan, Randy at Optimal Enchantment. Some are retailers who try to carry good stuff at price points and offer helpful advice. Try the people at Reference Audio Video, mail order and internet, but you can talk to them on the phone, and if you are in southern Cal you can go there and listen to stuff.

In the UK, Alastair Gardner, at or something like that, is welcome to stay at my house anytime he comes to southern Cal.

And then there was, let's see, starts with L, what should I call him, I'll make up a name, Lloyd. I knew Lloyd when he was first in the business, worked the scope to set up cartridges, did maintenance and sort of acted as a salesman. Answered questions honestly. Unfortunately, he was too honest. Lost a lot of sales. Saw him many years later working in another store when I was listening to a very nice EAD cd player. Knowing my values he recommended something his store didnt carry, a meridian 506, which I subsequently bought from someone else and still have in my second system.

Mel Murakami (Audio Haven - defunct) was another. Would answer questions and take time over the phone. He had two problems. One was location, the other was when you talked to him on the phone and suggested you might drop by he always said to call first so he could warm up whatever you wanted to listen to. Sort of discouraged impulse shopping.

So, the answer is some do, most don't. But, if you decide to buy something because you liked the way it sounded in a store, for goodness' sake, buy it from that store, even if it means paying a little more than you would on the internet. They provide a service in making stuff available to audition, and if we dont buy anything from them, they'll go away.