If you spend much time pursuing through the trade magazines, both printed and online, it does not take a lot of searching to find disparaging comments about the 2017 CES - at least as pertaining to high performance audio. In a perfect world, CES is the kick start to the new year in audio and a way for dealers to see new and exciting equipment to sell their customers. By most accounts it was worse than last year and last year was worse than the year before. Could the issues at CES be a harbinger of the future of high end?
Just in the last five years, an increasing number of dealers now display at audio shows. Because the dealer network has been consistently shrinking it makes sense - an audio show attracts just about everyone interested in this, our hobby and industry. Where better to find new business?
While it may be a hobby to the end user, it's a business and livelihood to distributors, dealers and manufacturers. We've seen the relaxation of sales policies, at least from some manufacturers, as dealers are now more than ever allowed to sell just about anywhere. If not, why would a dealer located on the East Coast of the US go to the expense of paying for a room in a show west of the Mississippi River? I asked one such dealer that very question once and his reply - "gotta make a livin, man..."
For the audiophile hobby, shows have become the best, and really only way to see a large variety of equipment assembled at one time. For that matter, I myself have attended past shows with a future purchase in mind. Mostly, however, I go simply to have a good time over a long weekend.
I've been associated with trade shows in a variety of industries for many years. It would be silly for me to claim that any show in any industry is a waste of time but are they the best way to promote a product, whatever that product may be?
Some five years ago, I was attending a trade show in a non-audiophile industry. I was talking with the manager of a company at one of the booths when I asked him how the show was going. "Oh, I suppose it's okay" was his reply. He then added, "if my sales force was doing a better job, I wouldn't even be here."
Is that a stance that may realistically be applied to the audiophile hobby? Have we reached the point where audio shows are our best sales tool, where dealers no longer have any restrictions regarding territorial boundaries, where manufacturers are forced to sell either direct and credit a dealer or simply sell direct in order to move product? Are Internet sales a help or a hindrance? Is there any measure of a happy medium between doing nothing and successfully selling your product in a market area by means of getting out and working? Are we, as an industry, standing in our own way when it comes to successfully penetrating new markets?
Whatever else they may be, manufacturers, distributors and dealers are all manifestly sales people. They need to create sales to remain in business. Obviously. I would also expect that some dealers in certain parts of the country have a robust business and attract a goodly number of local clientele. In, however, those parts of the country that have found the times to be more difficult in terms of attracting new customers, might something be done differently?
As an industry, we harp on the need to bring younger users into the hobby. Many manufacturers are doing their part by introducing products that sound surprisingly good and whose cost will not especially break the bank. There is a thriving used market for all types of audio equipment. Despite the perils of buying used, if you are both smart and fortunate, a nice system at a favorable cost might certainly be assembled. If there is, in fact, better availability of lower priced equipment than in years past, and the industry is still lacking in sufficient numbers of new customers, should we therefore adopt a different sales methodology above and beyond an audio show?
Or is the problem not really associated with sales and more so the condition of getting young folks to pull the plug, you know, the one in their ears, and actually sit down and listen to a song? In our desire to excel in salesmanship are we failing on creating longevity for the hobby?
Or is it all the above?
As I see it, it starts with the selling process - and that is more than simply equipment sales. We as an industry must do a better job of making the hobby better known to a wider range of people than it does currently. This is not one of those "if you build it they will come" things. Hardly that. However, it cannot be denied that there are scores of music lovers who hardly know anything about high performance audio. "But wait," you say, "those people don't care about audio." Perhaps not. Maybe they never will. Even still, should we give up trying to create new customers?
Here's a question. To whatever degree a lack of market penetration and sales dollars exists, is it because there is an insufficient number of customers, or are we, as an industry, not adequately creating a continuing number of new potential clients? If cost is viewed as a prohibitive factor, is it because of the actual cost or are we not excelling in finding customers with adequate financial means? Is the industry inevitably doomed to suffer into oblivion?
Or is the hobby alive and kicking along at full speed?