Brick and Mortar Retail Lament from Ray Windsor

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The pitch at retail could make you cry these days. A trip to buy some home theater components left industry veteran, Ray Windsor, president of German Maestro in tears. He asks for some help. Somebody should read his tale of woe below and give him a call.


After an experience visiting a home theater specialty retailer near my office, with the goal of gathering an education and making a purchase, 7.1 receiver, DVD player, cables, etc… I am not sure if I came away with an epiphany or an intense case of fear, nervousness and frustration.

This specialty retailer is in a location that you cannot get to from here. It was mid day Saturday. All of the TVs were on. I asked the clerk (read “clerk” with disdain) about the difference between 5.1 and 7.1 system configuration. The difference was explained to me. He made an attempt to demonstrate the 7.1 sound in their high-end room. After about 10 uncomfortable minutes he was unable to coax any sound from the elaborate set up. My enquiry about Blu-Ray DVD was met with similar results. Forget the speaker demo. Its OK (sort of). I understand how folks might “rob” the demo room in a product availability emergency. Maybe a cable was missing…?

My real fears result from the clerk’s absolute lack of interest in learning about where I was in the education – buying process. He allowed me to direct the entire affair. My questions were answered for sure, BUT THAT’S ALL. Forget about; “How long have you been thinking about this?… Where have you been looking?… Do you have a big TV, theater system, audio system at home now?… Are you going to do the installation or have it done?… Is this a project you are in the beginning of or just finishing?… Etc… Etc…” Who let this guy on the floor? Management?

No attempt to understand the state of the consumer was made. No attempt to make a sale. No attempt to add knowledge other than answer the questions. No difference from the big red COKE machine in front of the body shop next door. A complete waste of time for me as a consumer. Another nervous point on the education graph, extending a disturbing trend line for me as a manufacturer committed to championing the value of the brick & mortar specialty retailer.

Half an hour later on the Internet I learned that I should have a DVD player with Internet connection, built in wi-fi, and at least HDMI version 1.4. I learned about 7.1 receiver power, inputs, outputs, digital, analog, tuning and a myriad of other important features. I did not possess enough knowledge to ask these questions of the clerk when I entered or left the brick & mortar store. Of course I learned price variances. (Kudos to Yamaha, Denon and Audioquest)

Is this the common experience of the consumer who seeks out a brick & mortar specialty retailer with the intention of making an immediate purchase OR is this just an anomaly? Retailer had a bad day… Unfortunately I have this kind of experience more often than the brick & mortar specialty retailer or manufacturer community should feel comfortable with.

Do manufacturers really need brick & mortar (value add) retailers if this is the kind of value added? The Internet (COKE machine) pages offered up more information and… every page tried to close the sale with a “BUY NOW” button. I note that several of the brands mentioned above performed admirably in their endeavor to manage pricing on the Internet. It can be done.

If a brick & mortar specialty retailer won’t even try to create a sale to a flesh & blood consumer standing on the floor in front of him, what respect (forget loyalty) should he expect, does he deserve, from the manufacturers under his roof who did not receive even a poor shot at the deal?

With tears wetting my keyboard, pain in my heart and great concern between my ears for the future of brick & mortar specialty retail, I will make my purchases at FULL RETAIL on the Internet.

Somebody help. Convince me I am wrong… 877-689-7833 or mobile 949-228-2153

Very Sadly Yours,

Ray Windsor

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  1. Bob seems on the right track. Every proposed solution has to be economically competitive for decision-maker/implementors. Retailers might be amenable to providing customers with headsets to link directly to mfrs; but then the mfrs would have the cost of answering the calls. The headset could call the appropriate mfr based on the closest RFID tag in front of it.

    Such an approach has pros and cons for every related party — as do other approaches.

  2. Ray,
    The role of the brick and mortar retailer continues to evolve as the internet has become the number one source for consumer research of products and price.
    I do believe we as retailers should engage our customers, but I see our role as 12 volt retailers in a transition period. Brick and Mortar retailers were once the primary source for product information and pricing, but the internet has assumed that role. Brick and mortar retailers are now the secondary source for consumer education, primary a validation process of consumers research. Fortunatly for us, professional installation is still an important part of the equation for most consumers, so that is where we can still shine. Now if someone comes up with a way to provide professional installation of products via internet we are pretty much done. In the meantime we must also contiue to create our own market. Enthusiasm, car shows, demo vehicles, advertizing will continue to be part of the process for us to be important to the consumer, but marketing our business as the best place to have your equipment installed is the long term solution to our success.
    Don’t give up on us.
    Floyd Seal
    Empress Audio

  3. I had a similar HT experience. Being in the 12V electronics business for over 20 years, I have gathered my share of “contacts”. Heck, our company even carries a 12V brand that also has a high end HT offering (not too hard to figure out who I’m talking about without naming names), so I figured I had it made. Gather my parts on some sort of accomodation and do all of the elbow grease myself – I’ve done it plenty of times in the past with 12V. Called our rep to get info on the HT offerings of the 12V product and got this response: “That product carries a separate contract, and I can’t sell you THOSE products unless you are under that contract.” Moving on, I tried every distributor that had products that I had researched and were interested in, and got similar “closed door” responses from them as well. The internet search showed most things to be maybe 20% off MSRP listed on the manufacturer’s website, but EVERY eRetailer was within pennies of each other, and NO eBay listings whatsoever! I did finally buy my products online, but ended up bright green with envy that this same, but oh so different facet of our business can be handled in such a different way than the one I’ve been in so long. For most 12V parts I can find virtually any part needed from several different online sources that will sell me a product at the same cost (or less at times) than what I buy it for directly from the manufacturer as a dealer! It must be nice to sell products that are so protected, with much higher price points on average (basic car deck – $120, basic HT receiver – $400) and a guaranteed better profit margin because the customer can’t price shop the living daylights out of you.

  4. Unfortunately so many see this as “us vs. them” – Independent retailers get the worst programs, the worst pricing and little respect from the manufacturers and in many, many cases it is quite deserved.

    As a long time business-to-business provider I have had the unique opportunity to interact with manufacturers and retailers and to see their perspective of the other. Whether their opinions were accurate or not is completely irrelevant as “perception is reality” and that is where we need to start from.

    The solutions will come in a holistic approach where each vested party contributes the necessary efforts and resources to ensure all are rewarded. After all, nobody wins when a retailers is simply stocking inventory. Everyone wins when a retailer continually turns their inventory and to this there are many factors contributing to success.

    There are examples of individual manufacturers committing their efforts and resources to independent retailers, but many have abandoned these same efforts and for reasons that are hard to deny. Let’s face it; if a chosen distribution channel cannot sell enough products or even properly represent the product or brand, then there is no choice but to look for other alternatives!

    So how do we all get moving in the right direction? There is the conundrum! Hearing (or reading) the same sad commentary is not going to get it done. Perpetuating the same “us vs. them” mantra is hardly a winning solution!

    The time has come for independent retailers to take the lead and demonstrate why they are in fact the most important channel available for manufacturers to invest in. This will only happen through a professional and consistent effort that demonstrates their ongoing commitment to high standards and follow through.

    Everyone likes to complain about Best Buy, but all forget that at one time they were one store with a dream. What is your dream?

  5. Ben,

    I read your observations with great interest. I agree that it is in the manufacturer’s best interest to educate the floor sales staff about the advantages represented by their respective products.

    As a manufacturer I would want to have some sense of confidence that the sales staff receiving the education would be given instruction by store management to ACTUALLY use that education and deliver same to consumers.

    Manville noted above to the effect that “good retailers take responsibility to have well trained sales staff”. We all understand that the retail salesman should take the following measures when engaging a consumer (1) sell himself, (2) sell the retailer’s brand (store), (3) sell solutions, (4) sell the manufacturer’s brand. If a retailer relys exclusively or even substantially on the manufacturer for training I am afraid the retailer will find the above well accepted sequence a little bit “out of order”. I submit the retailer might aproach the issue with this mind set… “My consumers and I are fixtures, manufacturers and their brands come and go.”

    Ray Windsor
    German Maestro

  6. Jacob,


    If I want to buy the brands that I learned about on the Internet (see the letter) then my research indicates that I will be paying the same price no matter which Internet guy I elect to buy from. I assume that is the retail price the supplier is comfortable with as it apprars consistent with every Internet guy I found. I suppose the buying choice will be not so much based on price but the “value add” factor delivered by the various Internet guys.

    Ray Windsor
    German Maestro


    2nd) is the big box stores expects the cutomers will come because of the name
    and buy.
    3rd) you have younger clerks really have no expeireince in this
    field and they themselves are just learning what is what
    and can not explain themselves because of my 1st point.
    4th) they may be in that dept and they really want to be in the computer dept
    and just dont care if they make a sale or not becuase
    they still get paid one way or another.
    5th) i say the maufactures should be more involved with the big
    stores and offer more training with the reps they have in place and
    offer to hold training seminars once a month and setup some
    kind of computer demo test to make sure the clerks are getting the message
    they can take every quarter to make sure they are understanding
    the seminars.
    electronics manufactures will keep on hurting our own
    sales if we just let the big boxes operate the way they do
    becuase customers get discouraged and they are lost themselves and come
    out more confused then when they started looking for what
    they wanted.

    This has been going on for long time already
    this just did not happen overnight.
    But as long as sales were strong no one worried about it
    know we are seeing what happens when times get bad and we wonder
    why this is happening to us and now we all know

  8. The problem is the clerk with the job see’s it as a job becuase of my commits below.
    1st)the big box stores do no train their Clerks
    like they use to becuase of employee turnover
    + layoffs
    2ND) T

  9. Good retailers take responsibility for their own salesmanship and any training required to improve it. They are few and far between, unfortunately.

  10. Box stores succeed by loading the lip of the salesperson; while many may seem like mindless clerks, they’re taught what to say, look for, how to approach, build commonality and ask for the close.

    Independent Retailers need to have access to such training, making it available and affordable…

  11. I feel your pain, Ray! It would be nice if there were a simple answer or answers. 1- Employees today are largely unmotivated and refuse to get motivated. 2- If we do find that rare gem that we would like to hold on to (for dear life!), we often can’t because we simply cannot make the kind of margins needed (or volume?)to pay that person enough to keep him/her. 3- There is the perception that if one ends up as sales person in a retail store, then all else has failed. This is simply not seen as a career opportunity any more. The result is that we end up with the clerk that you had the pleasure of dealing with. It is a constant battle, and no easy answers out there. This really didn’t do anything to dry your tears did it Ray?

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