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Fighting The Big Boxes

This is a letter sent to TWICE by Debi Holland about her store’s on-going battle with Best Buy.

I felt compelled to write you a short letter regarding the smaller independent retailers in the electronics business, being one myself.  It has become very obvious, the intentions of the big dealers in town, and around the country, of wanting to put us out of business.  I kept up a good front by not quite believing that there was an actual plan in mind, but after this past weekend, I have changed my mind.  I have been in this business for over 25 years, and owned my own business for the last 3 and a half years.  The company I own has been around for 50 years, and has been proud of the customer service that we offer as well as a 60 day price guarantee.  We have developed quite an extensive client base because of this.  The problem, now arising, is the deep pockets of the “big guys” and their intent to put us put of business.

We are obviously, the proverbial thorn in their side.  We are knowledgeable, we do have the best installers, we do have the better products and we do have the service after the delivery, which seems to really bother them.  The only solution to their not having all these things, is to discount, discount and discount again.

One of my loyal clients, came to see me when he decided to change up his home systems after having his last system he purchased from me for over 10 years.  He and his wife had done their homework last time, decided to buy from me because I was honest and knowledgeable about the products and I gave his wife the “time of day” when it came to her complaints about the high frequencies of most speakers bothering her.

We came up with a speaker system that she and her husband liked, and for that, they were ready to do business again.  We spent several hours and two trips to the store, putting together two rooms of audio and video, which included a Pioneer Elite 60” and a Pioneer Elite 1080P 50”.  The system totaled approximately $18,000 and change.  They were going to come in the following week and pay for the system as well as get on the installation board.

In the meantime, they needed a couple of new computers for the two rooms and stopped at Best Buy for help.  They happened into one that had a “Magnolia” inside, so my customer struck up a conversation with the manager of the department about the equipment he was purchasing.

Well, that is all it took.  The manager took my prices and beat them by approx. 10% and promised the world in the installations as well as a discount on all the computer supplies.  My client could not pass up the one time offer, when he couldn’t get a hold of me, (I was out of town for 2 days), so he purchased the system exactly as I had laid it out, but added extra, not needed cables, and an outrageous installation price.  (we had not done our installation walk-thru for cost yet). 

My client’s wife went ballistic when she found out what he had done.  She made him promise to come see me the following day, when I was back in town.  He brought his invoice in and asked me to take a look at it.  He was very embarrassed and had a hard time looking at me.  I told him not to worry about it, and said “lets sit down and look this over”.  I showed him the cable situation, what he truly needed, and he walked me through, with drawings of his room and where the gear was to go, so I could make an intelligent bid on the installation price.  The gear, in both cases were going straight down to credenzas, so not a lot of installation needed, maybe 4-6 hours, so the installation price they charged him was about $1000 too much.  I then had my installation manager call and talk it through with them to make sure I was correct in my assessment.

My client then went back to Bestbuy to return his sale, except for the computers.  He met with the manager who said, “let me see if there is something more I can do on the price” and my client said it was not the price at this point.  The manager came back with “I want to take all business from Debi no matter what the cost.”  At this point the client got angry, realizing the manager knew who I was, and what he was trying to do, so that when they offered him the 60” PIONEER ELITE plasma for FREE (thinking he could not turn it down) my client did turn it down, got his credit and walked out.  His wife came to the store to tell me the whole story, because he was embarrassed.  She told me the name of the manager, and I knew exactly who it was and I was very disappointed, but not surprised.  There are so many independent retailers going out of business.  We will be extinct if this keeps up.  Usually there are cycles in this business, where people come back to the service side of the pendulum; hopefully my client is that indication.  I am grateful for him returning to my store and giving up a FREE tv, but he will always get the greatest service from us. 

 This story may mean nothing to you, but I felt I needed to write it so that other retailers can see that they aren’t alone, and hang in there, if this customer is any indication, maybe the service vs price pendulum is swinging.

Debi Holland