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Video & Audio Center Still ‘Talk of the Town’

SANTA MONICA, CALIF. – “The Talk of the Town” has been around for 31 years, but it’s the changes at Video & Audio Center over the past couple of years that have made all the difference.

Brothers and co-owners Joseph Akhtarzad and Mayer Akhtarzad opened for business in 1981, and their three-store operation has evolved with the times. For instance, it opened the Just One Touch custom- installation operation in 2000, with a showroom based here and departments in their three retail locations.

And what has made Video & Audio Center live up to its tag line of “The Talk of the Town” has been its ability to introduce new technology to the Southern California marketplace.

In the last couple of years, the Akhtarzads have stepped up their game, redesigning their stores in a vendor-branded boutique approach. And, with the help of industry veteran Tom Campbell, who joined the retailer last year as corporate director, the specialty chain has become the place in that market to look for new technologies from top CE manufacturers.

Video & Audio Center began to change back when the economy did in 2008. Joseph took a look at his stores and said the goal was “to differentiate us from the big-box stores. We visited chain stores and were very confused about electronics – LCD TVs were mixed with plasmas, brands were mixed … you couldn’t find the models they were selling.”

After visiting several stores, they thought about how men shop for clothing. “At men’s stores you want a brand and want to see their collections together. So we got the idea of carrying a full inventory of [a vendor’s] line. Keep it together so customers wouldn’t be confused.”

As each store was remodeled, “vendors and consumers loved the idea. For instance, we carry 160 different TVs, but customers are not overwhelmed” due to the boutique format that the Akhtarzads established.

“For instance, if a customer wants a specific brand of TV, they go to that department and see what size fits their needs,” Joseph said.

Since Video & Audio Center always had “a great relationship with a select number of manufacturers,” they received the additional benefit of having “factory trainers come to our stores and work with our employees and customers” to teach them the technology, Joseph said.

The relationships have evolved to an extent that top execs of manufacturers, especially from corporate headquarters overseas, “spend time with us to see what we need. Their engineers visit with us to see what works and what doesn’t” when it comes to home theater setups and the like.

“It has become a win-win situation for us. We learn from each other,” Joseph said.

The next step has been special events, which the Akhtarzads have always been known for – hence “The Talk of the Town” line – but they took it to the next level with the hiring of Campbell, a CE veteran who has worked with several top retailers in introducing cutting-edge technology.

“Joseph and Mayer see outside the box,” Campbell said. The retailer has become “a launching pad … branding themselves” as retailers with cutting-edge A/V products. “They talk about why you want that set, and not price alone. [Price] is a factor, but not the only factor.” Joseph noted that Campbell has “helped us tremendously to get us to the next step in our business.”

The retailer added that their key customers are always asking, “ ‘When is the next technology event?’ They ask because we do it all first-class – food, valet parking and top technology to get that ‘wow’ factor and remain the ‘Talk of the Town.’ ”

Video & Audio Center has been a member of the Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) buying group for a decade, which Joseph said has helped the business greatly. The retailer also saw the need for custom installation for the technology it sells and its clientele, and began its Just One Touch operation.

Joseph said from a custom point of view, “you can’t have more than two or three locations. It is impossible to do custom with a lot of locations and provide great service.”

He added, “If you make mistakes in custom, it will haunt you. You must have a team of designers and engineers that explain the products to consumers and work with them, as well as working with [home] builders too.”

All of this must be working because Joseph said that business is picking up. In fact, Video & Audio Center is holding a job fair this quarter to add lead technicians and sales and customer service staff to its custom operation.

But that doesn’t mean the retailer will be opening more locations. “We will be expanding our business within our existing stores,” Joseph said.

As for the upcoming holiday selling season, Joseph said trends indicate “that business will be stronger than last year, for sure. Our customers trust us that if there is something better out in the marketplace we will go out and get [that technology] always. The customer always comes first for us.”