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Throwback Thursday: Of Spiffs, Spliffs and Turntables

TWICE’s founding editor Bob Gerson used to argue that home video technology was driven largely by demand for adult entertainment.

To that I would add an audio corollary – that sales of high-end headphones and home sound systems are at least partly fanned by the use of … pot.  Any dealer – pardon, any A/V specialty dealer in business in the late Sixties and early Seventies could certainly bear this out.

At the risk of self-incrimination, lemme just say that I consumed my fair share of, er, music in high school and college.  (As if you couldn’t tell by the recently unearthed photo, circa 1974. Thank you, Facebook.)

The point of all this: A cautionary retail tale for Throwback Thursday.

Around the time of the photo I was in the market for a new turntable. After reading a favorable review for an affordable Dual, I visited my local stereo shop for a demo.

“Dual?!” the salesman decried. “Why would you want to buy a Dual?”

“Because Stereo Review said it was good?” I replied sheepishly.

The salesman went on to explain that Dual made its gears out of plastic, and steered me toward a comparably-priced Garrard, whose mechanicals were metal.

Faced with this new information I went home to reassess the situation, a glossy Garrard brochure in hand.

The following week I returned, having decided in favor of the Garrard.

“Garrard?!” the salesman said. “Why would you want to buy a Garrard? Let me show you the Dual.”

“But you said their gears are plastic!”

“Yes,” he said, “but it’s the same plastic NASA uses to coat nose cones.”

Long story short, I wound up buying an AR turntable from Stereo Warehouse, a popular catalog retailer, and Mr. Plastic Fantastic lost his sale, his spiff, and a potential life-long customer.

For me it was the first instance of direct-sale disintermediation, and proved to be a harbinger of the e-commerce revolution to come.

Today, with competition beckoning from every computer, cellphone and tablet, and detailed product information there at a glance, brick-and-mortar retailers can ill afford to lose their customers’ trust with biased advice.

For even a haircut-impaired high-school kid high on the sounds of the Seventies knew when he was being played.