Several readers posted insightful comments in response to my earlier blog, “What Tweeters May Be Saying About Specialty A/V Retailing.”
All of the comments added additional perspective. One reader lamented the loss of protected brands. Another complained about drab-looking specialty stores and drab salespeople. One faithful reader responded by email and prefers to remain anonymous. Here is what that person said, in its unedited form:
“Nice job on the Tweeter piece. You managed to somehow capture a novel in a short article. You hit all of the key points.
Let me share these thoughts with you:
“I became interested in this business in the late 70s when I was a teen. What I distinctly remember about the 80s and the 90s is this: ‘the search for perfection’ or ‘hifi nirvana.’ First it was Monster Cable, then it was Dolby, then it was dbx, then it was Trintron, then it was digital cell phones, etc., etc. Each invention, to some degree, was a band aid to an imperfect analog world. That is the essence of specialty CE: the people that brought you the band aids.
Sandy Bloomberg used to always say, ‘Where there is confusion, we excel.’ Today, if there is confusion, a consumer will sit in front of the TV with their wireless internet and a laptop and will learn about TVs, stereos, or anything else. A simple google search will bring more information that you could have ever imagined.
Additionally, nirvana has been reached with the products. Everything digital sounds or looks plenty good to the average consumer. Take a look at a 1080i picture on a Pioneer Elite plasma. How can that possibly get appreciably better? How can speakers sound any better?
At Tweeter, the first signs of this were around 2000 (before iPod and satellite radio). I distinctly remember being in our training room one evening while one of our trainers was setting up for the next day. He was about to train on some new line of Pioneer Elite TVs and had hooked up the HD signal through the Sencore box. He looked at the TV, then he looked at me, and he said ‘digital, the great neutralizer.’
That trainer may not have known how truly profound he turned out to be at that moment. What he meant was that we used to talk about comb filters, black levels, brightness, tuner technologies, etc. But now, all the talk is just that… ‘talk.’ The reality is that the consumer takes one look at any HDTV, and frankly, it looks great.
In the hifi business, digital has indeed become the great neutralizer. A few yeas ago, I replaced an OEM CD changer in my car with an iPod. I figure it was a lot cheaper than a (mechanical) CD changer, and I would have 300 albums instead of six. Yes, the sound quality wasn’t as good, but who cares?
In our business, we are at the confluence of two major shifts: the digitization of the hifi business and the way consumers shop. This, over history, in most industries, is quite common as industries mature. The middle gets ripped out (ie, CircuitCity, Tweeter, etc.) What happens on the other side of this is that the top, middle, and bottom are redefined. And this is what will happen in the hifi business. Once this economy picks itself up again, there will emerge a new hifi business (the word ‘hifi’ may not come back). That business will have a top, middle, and a bottom. But it will just be different people doing business in a different way.”