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PARA Conference To Focus On Brick & Mortar Issues

MIAMI BEACH, FLA. -With e-commerce fading as a threat to A/V specialists, this month’s 22nd annual PARA conference will concentrate on such brick & mortar issues as creating a luxury position through store design and leveraging retail sales floors to build custom sales.

About 500 people are expected to turn out for the April 18-22 event in the city’s South Beach section, which is trendier than the Web in specialty circles.

“E-commerce is not as pressing as it was last year,” said PARA executive director Debra Smith. “It’s not presently a threat, and it’s turning out to be so not about what our members do, although the Web still provides an excellent marketing opportunity” to market the specialty message online.

At last year’s event, Web-related topics were in your face. One presentation focused on differentiating the retail experience to compete with e-tailers who threaten to commoditize services. Another presentation updated e-commerce developments in the consumer electronics industry, and a third focused on developing a Web strategy to create new relationships with existing customers and to create new customers.

Flush with profits even as e-commerce sites were turning off the lights, many PARA members expanded their brick & mortar presence during the past year with new retail venues or custom showrooms, Smith said.

Retail venues have proved important to the success of custom sales. “Our members are doing more custom, but except for a handful of high-end custom installers, they’ve found that the best model is the hybrid model with retail and custom,” Smith pointed out. “Those who closed their retail stores lost a stream of customers who could be converted to custom.” Many new stores opened in the past year integrate custom showrooms and retail, she added.

A/V specialists have fared a lot better than online retailers despite slower economic growth, Smith said. “I’ve talked to about 100 vendors and a lot of dealers in recent weeks, and they say it feels a little slower, and many say they are flat, but that was against a very good year. A couple are up strongly.”

What’s keeping the A/V specialty industry healthier than many other industries, she said, “is the pull of our digital products, including digital TV, and their prices. The coolness of our new products is keeping us afloat.” On top of that, “for so many years, we competed with PCs [for disposable income], and sales of PCs are way down.”

To help keep specialists healthy, PARA’s first day of sessions will focus on stepping back and thinking about the business, Smith said.

Keynote speaker Michael Gerber, author of The E Myth and The E Manager, will urge owners to spend the lion’s share of their time developing their business model rather than occupying their time with hands-on jobs vital to day-to-day operations. Entrepreneurs, Gerber believes, should spend more time on planning growth strategies, and they should make themselves dispensable on an operational basis by developing extraordinary systems and procedures that leverage ordinary people and deliver repeatable first-class results regardless of who is performing the task.

On day two, the conference will focus on accomplishing the goals outlined in day one and will start out with a nuts-and-bolts workshop focused on raising custom profitability by dispensing with the myth that every sale has to be customized for every customer. Custom installers must standardize as many parts of a sale as possible, from standardizing the bid process to developing standardized home theater and distributed systems that are easier for salespeople and installers to understand.

On day three, author and consultant James Gilmore will outline how to identify the key ingredients in a luxury positioning strategy that creates an exciting, memorable in-store or showroom experience. He’ll also outline how to use lighting, furniture and presentation materials to create a luxury experience that appeals to women.

Consultant Michael Heiss will follow with an outline of present and future home-networking technologies, how they will affect what specialists sell and install, and how specialists will compete.

Home networking will also lead the fourth day’s workshops, which will include a panel of manufacturers who will outline their network strategies. Other workshops will focus on managing employees of different generations, marketing custom services and creating a team.