Does the Summertime Have to Be the Blues for Home Audio?

Traditionally the period from June to September is the slow period for all HiFi sales. Vacations and summertime activities propel audiophiles out of their listening chairs and into the swim of non-audiophile-related activities. This slow point in the business cycle used to end when the fall kicked in, but the last couple of years there's been a new trend - portable and Head-Fi audio components sales have been full-speed ahead even during the summer.

AR-summer1aa.jpgWhen the summer slowdown hits it's not unusual to see an uptick in articles about what audio retailers can do to improve their businesses, such as this one in our companion site by Jerry Del Colliano, Five Good Ideas for Dealers to Lure Consumers Back Into Brick-and-Mortar AV Stores This Fall. One of his suggestions was for enthusiast shops to expand their offerings into high-end home appliances and flooring. While the idea of buying your speakers to match your floors may be somewhat off-putting to hardcore audiophiles, it's not without historical precedent - much of Thiel speaker's early success was due to the fact that they offered their buyers much wider finish options than their competitors. But flooring and white-goods are still indoor-based and very likely seasonal offerings. But what about adding more headphones?

If you spend anytime on Internet forums and audio websites its pretty obvious that the interest in home audio wanes during the summer. But if you are a regular visitor to Head-Fi's site  you will see that their traffic hasn't diminished one iota during the warmer months, and actually may have increased some. Why? The obvious answer is that headphone use and the interest in headphones does not diminish when the weather gets good, and it may actually increase as hikers and bikers hit the great outdoors with transducers firmly entrenched in their ears.

AR-summer3aa.jpgBut headphones and portable players aren't exactly a poorly distributed sector of the industry. Amazon currently has almost 4 million items listed under "headphones" so what can a local retailer possibly offer that the 10-ten gorilla of retailing can't? Expertise and a hands-on shopping experience.

I've reviewed more than a few headphones and in-ear monitors and I can tell you from personal experience that the most critical and personal aspect of a headphone's performance is how well it fits. No amount of reading manufacturer's literature and perusing other user's experiences on Head-Fi will tell you how well a pair of headphones will fit you. No, the only way to know that is to try them on. This is where a brick and mortar store can have a major leg up on the mail-order shops - you can walk into a store and actually try on headphones. I think that any HiFi shop that doesn't have a dedicated headphone listening area that offers a multitude of options is missing a prime opportunity to counteract the summertime sales blues. And those options should not be limited to headphones but should include other devices that go with headphones including portable players and headphone/DACs. In addition to hardware, smart HiFi shops should have headphone cable upgrade, replacement, and repair options available for customers - it will give their repair folks another profit center and deliver a level of service that can't be found at a big-box or mail-order retailers.

AR-summer5aa.jpgObviously this idea of a headphone boutique and cable modification site isn't new (what idea is?), and some Internet retailers, such as Moon Audio, have concentrated exclusively in this particular area and had success, so it's not exactly virgin territory. But if HiFi retailers are really serious about the idea of "growing" their business by leading customers to great sound, headphones and personal audio is really the only game in town, especially during the summer. By carrying brands that have strong price support, so that they don't have to try to compete purely on price, brick and mortar operations can offer consumers not only a better and more complete buying experience (customers will know that their headphones fit before they purchase them) but also a place where they can come when they want to upgrade their portable gear and maybe, just maybe, even buy their first, or next, home audio system.

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