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6th Ave Electronics: New Jersey’s Big Box Boutique

Despite its name, which recalls the company’s Manhattan heritage, 6th Ave Electronics City is a New Jersey institution in the tradition of boardwalks and Bruce Springsteen.

But surviving in the Garden State is no walk in the park. The seven-unit A/V specialty chain, based here, must contend with an inordinate amount of retail muscle in this land of a thousand shopping malls. Besides the usual big box suspects, 6th Ave competes to varying degrees with regional powerhouse P.C. Richard & Son for mass market customers, and niche player Harvey Electronics for the premium and custom-installation trade.

And while Cablevision’s expansive The Wiz franchise has faded from the scene, the family-run business now faces a more familiar competitor in Electronics Expo, a start-up CE chain founded by former 6th Ave CEO Leon Temiz, following a break with his kinfolk last year.

But 6th Ave’s hybrid style and nimble management allows it to straddle multiple consumer segments deftly, and principals Mike and Billy Temiz — president and chairman, respectively — adhere to a simple yet powerful maxim: “Keep the customers happy, and pay our people well,” Mike said.

That formula, which extends from blister-packed grab-and-go merchandise to custom home and car installation, has served 6th Ave well. In the fifteen years since the PRO Group dealer first set foot in New Jersey, the Brothers Temiz have grown the business into a $127 million operation that ranked 57th on TWICE’s Top 100 listing, with two new stores planned for the fall.

Retailing, it seems, is in the family blood, beginning with Billy’s textiles-based business in his native Turkey. But by the late 1970s, the eldest brother saw greater opportunities in the United States in general, and CE in particular, as three-piece camcorders and home office fax machines hit the market.

“Electronics was in its infancy,” Billy recalled, and in 1984 he staked his CE claim with a storefront on Sixth Avenue.

Today, 6th Ave has evolved into a big box retailer with a boutique feel, thanks to carpeted, female-friendly demo rooms that showcase audio, video and home theater installations within lifestyle settings.

Rooms range from a dedicated RCA Scenium space to a front-projection theater to a forthcoming $250,000 home automation demo area with three-chip DLP projector, Elan video server and touch panel controls. Elsewhere, the main power aisles, done up in a street front façade, are lined with flat-panel displays, while video staples like CRTs, DVD combo units and traffic-driving analog glass are consigned to the rear.

In audio, MP3 players and servers were relocated near high-end components after personal and portable audio counters were removed. “The industry doesn’t do a good enough job of explaining,” observed VP/operations Tom Galanis. “We can turn customers on to new technologies” — including server-based distributed A/V — “and make a friend.”

Despite the expansive product array, the company actually thinned its vendor ranks some six months ago to “clean up” overly cluttered vignettes and avoid head-to-head competition with national accounts, leaving it with a narrower but deeper assortment.

Meanwhile, a growing percentage of 6th Ave’s business is conducted outside the stores. The company’s in-house staff of custom installers bills between $15,000 and $20,000 a week in labor alone as the number of installations has quadrupled over the previous quarter — forcing the fleet to expand from six to 25 vans by year’s end. Custom design work also extends to cars, a burgeoning business once the chain moved beyond basic head unit installation to complete retrofits as the import tuner scene gained traction.

6th Ave also runs an e-tail operation here at company headquarters, where servers and dedicated inventory are stored (“It keeps our brand name out there,” said Mike), along with an in-house advertising agency that designs the company’s catalogs and traffic-boosting circulars which reach 1.4 million readers.

But ask Mike and Billy the secret of their success and they’ll point to their merchandising team, including buyers Don Barros, Haig Vartivarian, Sevan Cehreci and Sam Chera, and a motivated, specialized sales force that boasts a 45-percent up-sale conversion rate. “They’re our biggest asset,” Mike said.