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PARA Presenters Promote Practical Management, Merchandising Tips

A/V specialists and installers came away from last month’s PARA conference with a load of practical management and merchandising tips on topics ranging from successful management styles to orchestrating successful surround-sound demos.

The group, a division of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), held its two-day conference here during EH Expo.

Perhaps the most practical tip of all, attendees learned, was making sure passersby know your store is open.

Sometimes people don’t know a specialty store is open because the store lacks an “open” sign and the interior lighting is turned down to accentuate TV displays, said Martin Smith, founder of EthnoMetrics, a company that researches and analyzes purchasing experiences. Once consumers realize a store is open and walk in, A/V specialists must let them know which displayed products are for sale, he continued.

Half of the consumers surveyed by EthnoMetrics after walking into a particular specialty store “didn’t know the furniture was for sale. And many didn’t know the speakers were for sale,” Smith said. “They thought the store only sold TVs.” People “don’t assume something is for sale just because it’s in a store,” he said. Retailers must either put up signs or verbally tell them.

Also on the topic of assumptions, Smith advised dealers that experienced salespeople are not as good at judging customers as they think they are. Salespeople who target customers by their car or clothes would have bypassed two college students shopping for a plasma TV for their Xbox when they walked into the store EthnoMetrics was evaluating, he said. The two students, EthnoMetrics also found, had connected their PC to a $2,000 pair of speakers.

Some things specialists can assume, however, is that “in a higher-end store, people spend more time than in a big-box store,” and “price is not always No. 1 on the [consumer’s] list at specialty stores,” Smith said.

PARA dealers also learned during the conference that consumers who get a demo of an A/V receiver (AVR) spend more money on an AVR than consumers who don’t get a demo. In a consumer survey, CEA found 56 percent of consumers who bought an AVR in the past two years got a demo and that on average they spent $542 for their AVR. People who bought without a demo spent $388 on average, said Steve Koenig, CEA’s industry analysis senior manager.

Demo tips: Whether an AVR is part of a home theater demo or not, Atlantic Technology president Peter Tribeman offered suggestions on maximizing the emotional impact of the experience. He advised against placing the front left-right speakers too far apart, thus creating an “acoustic hole.” Dealers should aim the center-channel speaker up or down to ear level, and after initial system setup, they should lower the center-channel output by 1-2dB to create a wider perceived sound stage. Likewise, dealers should boost surround-channel output by 1-2dB to “open up the room without swamping the room with surround-sound information that kills [center-channel voice] intelligibility,” he said.

Tribeman also advised dealers to use the subwoofer crossover built into the system’s main electronics, not built into the powered subwoofer, because the latter crossover is usually analog and not accurate. After adjusting the crossover point, dealers can adjust subwoofer level for maximum SPL by turning the level up until they hear a male voice coming from the subwoofer. Dealers should then back the level down until the voice can’t be heard from the subwoofer.

To demo a movie clip through the system, he counseled the use of a family-friendly clip that’s no more than six minutes in length and consists of a micro story with a beginning, middle and end so a scene is not cut off in the middle of the action.

Demonstrating a lighting-control system can also appeal to emotions, said Lutron’s Jeff Zemanek. “The show can’t begin until the lights start to dim,” he said. To demonstrate lighting to prospective customers, dealers can access a Lutron Web site, or download a demonstration program, that shows lighting scenes being activated in virtual homes. Dealers, for example, can demonstrate cooking scenes and entertainment scenes in a kitchen and a security system that turns on all the lights in the house and flashes the exterior lights when triggered.

Dealers can also fly out high-end customers to one of four Lutron Experience Centers, soon to be six, to demonstrate lighting controls in a home environment, he said. “The close rate is spectacular,” he said.

Coaching employees: Successful coaching of employees is another critical avenue to success, dealers were told. Applied-behavioral scientist Tim Daniel told dealers that one of their principle tasks “is to create the conditions for employees to solve problems.”

There are two types of managers, he explained. One type “teaches employees to fish.” The “heroic” manager, on the other hand, is a compulsive “fish-giver,” someone who “rides in to clean up a mess but doesn’t put systems in place to prevent future messes.” If the president of a company is a fish-giver, then long-range planning suffers, he said. “The president of the company should take care of the company’s future, while others take care of today.”

Heroic managers suffer from a “responsibility disorder,” Daniel continued. They ride in to clean up a mess, lay out in precise detail what employees need to do, hold them accountable and get results. As results begin to accrue, however, a new problem emerges, and the heroic manager adds a new task for employees to follow on top of the old one. The execution of the previous task then erodes because employees have a new priority.

In a corporation, this type of manager is known to hold a “gull job,” Daniel said. This type of manger lands on your desk, makes a mess on it and flies away.

Managers who hand employees multiple fishes “use terror to keep you from dropping a fish,” and as a result, the best employees will quit or “quit and stay,” Daniel continued. These types of managers have to know everything that is going on and “bury you in reports so they can find a solution to any problem.” The message sent to employees is that “employees can’t do for themselves and won’t ever learn how to,” he said. Such over-control creates a vicious cycle of lower initiative by employees, forcing the heroic manager to do even more, Daniel pointed out.

To create a “virtuous cycle,” managers must be good coaches, but not all employees can be coached, he continued. “Only give education to people who can use it, who can learn how to think. Coaching is how you think.” For the other type, “give them a checklist, a list of protocols to follow, and measure them against it.”

Coaching employees requires more than telling employees what has worked for you in the past, Daniel told the assembled dealers. “Employees must ‘do’ to learn because only those who ‘do’ will learn,” he contended. Managers must recognize that coachable employees “must learn their own way” and that they must struggle with something first in order to gain wisdom. Lectures will be forgotten, but “they’ll never forget painful lessons,” he said.

To coach a great employee, managers must match a task to the person but also “push the person beyond their current capacity” to go outside his comfort zone. Give them a task, then “withhold teaching until you see them struggle. Reflect with questions, not answers.” Rushing in to solve a problem for them “will rob them of growth,” Daniel said.

Heroic managers fail when subordinates perform complex tasks that managers don’t know how to do, when subordinates have a high degree of technical knowledge, and when “commitment is necessary for excellence,” Daniel continued.

He likened “teach-to-fish” managers to the former British empire and “give-a-fish” managers to the former French and Spanish empires. In its colonies, the United Kingdom created a system that taught people to fish, or to solve their own problems, he explained. “The former Spanish and French colonies have generally been less successful because their systems taught people that to turn to their government for the answer rather than encourage autonomous thinking.