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Fasten Your Seatbelts. It’s Gonna Be A Bumpy Ride

(Dateline – Retail Doldrums) Once there was a time when we could blame slow winter sales on the weather. Or the disappointment of our local team to fail to reach the SuperBowl. Or any other idea we might invoke to rationalize why no one buys electronics in February. We know they don’t. We complain about it every year. Be we sales people, retail operators or manufacturers, we enter this soft season with the hope that we’ve squirreled away enough profit until the customers flock back like the swallows to Capistrano.

And we fear that they may not come.

This year, they may not.

This year, many are waiting … for that next, great thing. We’ve teased them with it. It’s our own fault, but that’s what we tend to do.

Want to sell a tablet or iPad2? How do you do that with the iPad3 looming on the horizon?

Want to sell a smart TV? How do you do that with Apple’s TV churning in the business and consumer press?

This business likes to wave carrots at its customers. It’s what we do, and when we do it right, it’s how we profit from the entertainment products that we sell. When we do it poorly, we wring our hands and wonder why wallets aren’t opening at our cashier stations or websites.

We can blame the economy, with some reasonable arguments. We can blame the past acceptance of our customers to adopt the technologies we have offered. (How many customers are coming in to buy their first HDTV?) We can become somewhat introspect and wonder what happened to the promise of 3DTV.

We can blame the marketplace that has moved from offering (and marketing) solutions and expertise to one based on price. We stripped away our margins to generate volume. We can’t fault ourselves. We were forced to – by our competitors, our bottom lines and our customers.

Now we are sitting in the middle of a marketplace that doesn’t seem to have much interest in us – at least not at the level that we used to enjoy.  And we know our business can’t be “business as usual.” We’ve understood that for a while.

AMOLED looms on the horizon, perhaps to be here by the end of the calendar year. Apple teases us (or at least the press teases us) with a re-invented TV.

And our customers know that something new may be coming, and many are willing to wait.

Can we?

Can we survive in a marketplace that has lost its margins and profitability? Can we survive on add-ons and attachments? Does the potential of lower production levels make our products more attractive to customers because we can convince them that the product they can buy today may not be available tomorrow?

Samsung, by some reports, is moving toward unilateral pricing, trying to break the back of price-cut selling. It works for Apple and Bose. It didn’t work when Sony tried it a few years ago. We’ll see.

Retailers are trying to train, or re-train, their floor staff to attach, to sell audio, to maximize profitability by building the bigger package. But that’s always been the mantra for success. It’s just getting louder.

How do we survive and try to thrive in an environment that demands prices fall, while new technologies are being promised in the not-too-distant future? Do we sit back, wait, and lick our collective wounds (a.k.a. balance sheets) until the next, great things help line up the customers outside our doors?

Or, do we – as Steve Smith suggested – look to re-invent our business models, as we’ve done in the past? We will certainly do it again.

Perhaps this is the time.

Until we have something new and spectacular to bring to the marketplace; until the purse strings of our customers are ready to pay a premium for the best in technology, service and solutions that we are good at selling; until we discover a new way to operate in a business that is more price-based than system/tech/service based; until someone, somewhere has that “A-HA” moment that the rest of us will wish we thought of, we are facing little more than trying to get from quarter to quarter and watching the bottom line with trepidation.

Yes, we need to re-invent. Or we need to be re-invented.

Until then, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

John Rice is a writer, consultant, and occasional sales professional. Komedia Group provides marketing, training and informational services to companies in the electronics, automotive and pharmaceutical fields. He can be reached at 267-980-5919, via email at [email protected] or