NEW YORK –
David Wasserman admits he’s no audio hobbyist.
For him, the thrill of founding and running Stereo Exchange, a Greenwich Village institution, is in “turning customers on to something new and coming up with good solutions for them.”
That formula has seen the company through 27 years in Manhattan, arguably the country’s toughest market, where a multitude of heralded audio specialists like Arrow, Audio Exchange, Leonard’s and more recently Harvey Electronics have come and gone.
“Customers can drive you crazy,” including some of his celebrity clientele, “but I always go the extra mile for them,” Wasserman said, and his good-karma philosophy extends to vendors and even his landlord. “I don’t believe in squeezing people for the last dollar. In the end, relationships and goodwill are more important.”
Good employees are also cherished and treated like family. “What is any business about but its employees, and how they treat your company?” he observed.
Another key tenet is willingness to change, which Wasserman has demonstrated throughout his career. Starting out as a seller of pre-owned audio gear, he dropped that business in 2000 amid the growth of eBay, only to re-enter it again more modestly as a way to help customers trade up.
The hybrid dealer and custom installer was also an early advocate of computer audio, and dropped TV when panels became commoditized. Instead, he provides them on special order through distributors or refers customers elsewhere for displays — just as he dissuades them from home-theater purchases if two-channel audio is more appropriate for their listening habits.
Wasserman is also a big booster of his buying group, Home Technology Specialist of America (HTSA), which has provided him with invaluable vendor contact and best-practices sharing for the past 11 years.
Today the company focuses on demonstrating super-premium performance audio from its recently redesigned, 7,800-squarefoot showroom and six listening rooms on lower Broadway, at the nexus of the trendy SoHo and NoHo districts. The area, which was dicey when the store first opened several blocks north in 1984, is now brimming with boutiques and national chains including Best Buy, which took up residence directly across the street.
“It got me a little nervous at first,” Wasserman recalled, “but they bring people to the area. They do what they do well, but whoever shops there is not our customer.”