12 responses Add your response
In Great Britain there is Richer Sounds. The have locations all over the UK and many in London. The owner Julian Richer is also the general partner of Cambridge Audio. Mostly mid-fi and budget audiophile equipment (like Cambridge Audio and Arcam, Mordant Short, NAD, Marantz, Wharfedale), but the only chain I am aware of that has a really huge selection and sells better stuff than Best Buy and Circuit City. The closest thing to an audio chain in the US that I know of is Tweeter, but their salespeople are clueless. Has a large web presence also, but only ships to Europe, probably because of the voltage. You can browse their stuff at www.richersounds.com
Home Depot Expo has been around for a while, expecially here in the southern U.S. But if you think about it, Home Depot is doing with stores what audio companies are doing with their R&D. Harmon International now owns Madrigal. Klipsch (god help us) has just purhchased Mondial Designs. High-End makers don't have the cash to continue designing the high-dollar, low-quantity items that we love. Can anyone say Wadia?--and dare I say it? Hales Design Group. I was in tears over that one. These companies need an assembly line monster like Harmon to buy them and support them. Home Depot sells everything, affordable building materials; Expo sells high-end.
It seems that you are trying to mass market a specialty item. I don't think the concept will work. Specialty items such as high end stereo requires passion. This is where mass marketing falls short. Their passion is to make a profit by selling a high volume. In order to sell at high volume you must have name recognition, something high end audio lacks. Surarbrie has alluded to the lack of knowledge of the staff at Tweeters. I can assure you that Home Depot suffers from the same cluelessness as the Tweeter staff. This seems to be a byproduct of the superstore mentality where the staff are not sales people who are knowledgeable about their product, but are responsible for the logistics of the operations, answering questions about where to find a certain product. Ask them anything about the product and they are lost.
Mass marketers may have the capitol to do it but they lack the passion for the product. Even if they did such a thing as you are proposing, I think it would soon become another Circuit City type operation. Mass marketing is about selling to the masses. High end audio is not something that appeals to the masses.
I think you're correct about the true high-end of the market - having a mega-store sell $15K tube amps isn't probably a concept that will work. But I guess I'm wondering about a slightly different concept which would be the mass-marketing / mass-retailing of "quality" gear (to stay away from the term "high-end"). Just take speakers for a minute - if somebody put together a retail concept where they had many many major brands of speakers priced from $2-10k and flexible, quality auditioning capabilities and put the store in a high-traffic area, I would think that the concept of $2-10k speakers becoming more commonplace is quite likely. It would require (or cause) speaker manufacturers to at least slightly change their approach which, while quite possibly not being a good thing for already-avid people in audio, would probably result in lower prices based on higher volumes and more competition. I don't think this would work for $25K speakers, but it seems odd that you can spend $5k on an outdoor grill, on a watch, on an oven and, without blinking an eye, on a TV and get all these things through "normal" channels, but $5k on a pair of speakers, while admittedly a major expense, is still viewed as exotic by "the masses".
In the end, I guess I am talking about mass marketing / retailing and that is decidedly different than pursuing the true high-end market. It just seems like there is a significant market out there that could be serviced by a bigger retail influence that would provide (much) higher quality than Best Buy even if it didn't tap the very high-end. -Kirk
Tweeter staff vary. Some are quite clued-in, and come from a high-end background. I have friends that work there that are an example of this. Sure, some of them are clueless, but I've also encountered plenty of cluelessness in high-end stores as well. Tweeter will always only be upper mid-fi at best since that is what sells the most. Some of their product is nice (Sumiko/REL/Sonus Faber) but they don't have any electronics of the same caliber. And, that part of the market makes up a small percentage of their sales.
My friends who work at tweeter and at high-end stores basically loathe the typical audiophile customer: they come in and listen for long periods, are high-maintenance from a customer service standpoint, rarely buy things and when they do they beat them up on price or simply buy used or off the net. Can't say as I blame the sales people. The sales folks seem to much prefer the non-audiophile types who tend to spend more, buy more often, arent' such chiselers, and are easier to deal with.
Any wonder why the high-end shops are falling on hard times... ?
We just had a couple of Ultimate Electronics stores open here. Most of what they sell is Circuit City/Best Buy type stuff, but they do sell Krell, Adcom, and Martin Logan. When I tried to audition some speakers there, the boom-boom from the car stereo section precluded critical listening, even though I was in a separate room with glass walls.
My experience with Home Depot is that the sales staff is extremely knowledgeable. A good perecntage of Home Depot revenue comes from sales to contractors so they have to be fairly well trained. Also Expo is fairly high end (how many of you have $3,000 shower heads?). Still, the analogy between home improvement and audio still doesn't work. I believe that Expo has succeded by and large because in the last ten years of prosperity many people ended up with excess wealth that they reinvested in their homes (home traditionally being the sole investment of Americans). But I think the home improvement craze will subside with the shift back in the market. I really wonder if Expo's sales model will work in a recession. Regardless, while many people can think of fixtures and paint as a capital improvement (and hence, in some ways an investment), I think that it would be more difficult for them to believe the same about speakers.
Incredible Universe failed in the Dallas Fort Worth Area. They sold some mid fi stuff such as Parasound, Denon, Acurus, Etc. Most of their sales staff did not know from up. There were, however, a couple af outstanding exceptions.
An aside to pdaneluzzi: I for one do not think Hales are gone because of little value for their money. I think many of their products had exceptional value. It was only after Wadia bought out Hale that the problems started.
Woodman is right. Wadia got into money trouble with their R&D, and they drug Hales down with them. I heard that Hales chief designer got fed up and left the business. As for the speakers, they were priced WAY below what they were worth. Stereophile loved them, I loved them. If I had had any money at the time I would have bought a pair of Trancendant 5s. Anyway, a note on Tweeter: yes some of their salespeople are clueless, yes they sell some mid-fi audio gear. But I take it in stride. They are a Home Theater store, not a hi-fi store. I go there sometimes just to chill out and see all the new gizmos. Plus, I got a great deal on my Mitsubishi Diamond RPTV. :-)