In 2020, audiophiles often report that they have a love-hate relationship with their local audio salon. That is assuming that they still have one nearby that isn't predictably named Best Buy or Magnolia. Long gone are the other national AV chains that eased us into the hobby, including the likes of Circuit City (remember when they sold MartinLogan CLSes?), Tweeter (or Bryn Mawr Stereo as I remember them from Philadelphia), and Ultimate Electronics (sellers of an awful lot of Krell in the late 1990s and early 2000s, believe it or not).
These stores got more ink for being mainstream electronics retailers, but they, like the Magnolia stores crammed into Best Buy big-box stores, also sold high-end audio at some level or another. The effect on the overall hobby was a meaningful one, in that anybody with enough nerve (and it didn't take much) could waltz into the "high end room" and hear some pretty cool audio gear. It might not have been the cutting edge or most esoteric of gear, but it was a start for many of us. Now those stores are gone, as are many of the best regional chains or even mon-and-pop audio salons.
In the comments section of a related HomeTheaterReview.com article a few years back, I was shocked to see the anger many AV enthusiasts directed toward their local AV dealers. These relationships over time haven't been well maintained and there was clearly some bad blood. There are the legendary tales of pompous Manhattan dealers who wouldn't talk to a young Goldman Sachs executive who made a $1,000,000 commission on a day-trade because he didn't have an appointment.
A dealer in the Southeast never forgave one of our legacy writers for doing reviews on HomeTheaterReview.com, thus pretty much told him never to come back to his store (and he didn't, nor did said reviewer ever send this regional chain another client recommendation, either). Custom installers will "order" you whatever you want, but generally don't stock racks and racks of audiophile gear like classic audio stores from yesteryear. And online retailers are willing to deliver product right to your door, which has changed the game for many enthusiasts looking for maximum value. It is a well-established fact that things have changed in the world of audiophile retail.
If you have a local AV retailer, even a "hybrid" custom installer/audio shop, do you support them as American Express suggests when they encourage you to "shop local"? Does your local audio salon or AV dealer provide you a specific and unique value? Do they calibrate your new OLED TV for the Nth degree of performance? Do they recycle your old non-4K plasma? Do they have really well constructed audio and or home theater demo rooms? Do they invest the money to actually floor the best brands and models of today's cutting-edge and more value-oriented audiophile gear? Is the staff friendly when you drop by? Will they spend time with you without an appointment? Will they give you fair trade-in values so that you don't have to work Audiogon.com for the best price and deal with all of the headaches there? Will they lend you gear over the weekend to audition at home? Do they ever specifically thank you for your business? This is all on them, as some audio retailers can be pretty lazy and entitled. We saw the horror stories in the comments in that old HomeTheaterReivew.com article.
On the other hand, what do you do to nurture your relationship with your local dealer? Do you bring in new clients from your network of friends and family, even if for small AV systems and custom installation projects? Do you ask/demand for more than 20 percent off retail discounts thus leaving the dealer making a sale but a sale with not enough margins to sustain commissions, overhead, and the cost of flooring gear? Do you allow them room to make money reselling your used gear so that it makes sense for them to deal with it for you in a no-fuss no-muss way?
If you have a local specialty AV dealer and value them for what they do. perhaps it is on you to support them so that they can stay in business long term. On the other hand, the remaining dealers need to provide you a better-than-Amazon experience that delivers you not just always-improving performance but ever-evolving value. Because if they won't, the online guys will. If the online guys don't float your boat. used resellers on Audiogon.com and to a certain level eBay.com will. There are unlimited places for an audio enthusiast to buy gear to build the ultimate audiophile system. Much like a marriage, work needs to be put in on both sides to make for a successful relationship.
For those who say "forget my local dealer; they've done this, that, and the other thing to me," be careful what you wish for. It doesn't take much for even the best dealers to close their doors for good. And as we learned with Tweeter, Circuit City, and Ultimate Electronics, they can be replaced with non-experiential retail locations such as at Costco, Target, and Wal-Mart. With all due respect to these warehouse stores and the crude values they they often offer in bulk--they can't offer the white-glove experience that a true high end audio salon can.
Is it worth spending say 10 percent more on an audiophile component investment versus buying it out of state or from the Internet to support your local dealer? I would suggest that in 2020 it is. It makes sense for you to let your local dealer know that you support them in a marketplace where it is easy not to. For said loyalty, you expect to be treated less like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and more like Richard Gere when he walked into the Rodeo Drive locations with his credit card blazing. He demanded "kiss ass" survive and got it in spades. Shouldn't you get the same if you are loyal to your local dealer?
We've talked a lot about traveling and how important it is to hear new and exciting gear, be it in a new city or at a regional audio show. But what if a little therapy between you and your local dealer can get you back on track and keep the audiophilia hobby alive near you? Is that not worth a little extra effort and money? It sure seems so.
What is your relationship like with your local audiophile dealer? Have any closed near you that you miss? Have you ever gotten really good service and support from your local audio salon or are they hard to deal with? Do you travel for audio and video experiences, be it to shows or to other cities with more demo options? Let us know how you roll in the comments below.