At the 2010 RMAF I had dinner with Sally Goff and Ron Cornelius from McIntosh Laboratory. We spent much of the evening discussing how high end audio needed a new sales model. You can't keep selling new stuff to the same people. Audio firms need new customers to stay in business.
During dinner we talked about the Asian luxury mall concept, where small, specialized boutiques exist within a larger store, manned by trained personnel. We all agreed that to sell high-end audio to new customers required an environment where the customer was both comfortable and stimulated. In retrospect, it's obvious to me that the folks at McIntosh had been thinking about this "boutique sales" idea for some time.
Yesterday this PR statement arrived via e-mail:
"NEW YORK, NY, December 9, 2010 -- McIntosh Laboratory, a global leader in home entertainment and ultimate-quality audio for over 60 years, is proud to announce it is joining forces with award-winning men's designer John Varvatos to offer select McIntosh audio products in his renowned boutiques in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. With legendary McIntosh components, including the company's acclaimed MANHATTAN Home Audio System (MXA60), on display in the upscale themed boutiques, shoppers will be able to experience the unique sensibilities of the trendsetting John Varvatos clothing line alongside iconic McIntosh style and elegance, creating an in-store atmosphere suited for true rock royalty! Both the John Varvatos 315 Bowery (NY) and the John Varvatos West Hollywood (CA) locations will offer a McIntosh Home Audio system dubbed the "SOHO II," which combines the unique McIntosh turntable MT10 with high performance McIntosh amplifier and loudspeakers - a perfect fit for the boutiques, which offer an incredible collection of vinyl records for sale. The products are now available in the stores."
I think this is a brilliant idea. And, as with all good ideas, we weren't exactly the first to mull it over. Back in 2006 Jerry Del Colliano wrote, "Home Theater and high-end audio are luxury products, but make no mistake, they are items sold mostly these days by dealers who are more subcontractors than masters of the art of the demo... one trip down Park Avenue looking at women's shoes and purses or one drive down Sunset Boulevard looking at the parade of Ferrari F430s, Mercedes McLaren SLRs and Bentley Continental GTs all suggest that the world of home theater and especially high-end audio spends far too much time marketing to the same customers. Imagine if a consortium of AV companies teamed up to market and sell complete home theater systems in a new venue. I am thinking places like Barney's or, better yet, Neiman Marcus, considering they have more locations. Much like Giorgio Armani and Prada have small boutiques in these stores, so could this consortium."
To get new customers, high-end audio firms must make potential customers aware that they exist and then show them how a high-end music reproduction system will improve their lives. The McIntosh/John Varvatos strategic partnership is an effort to do just that. Will it succeed? It's too early to tell, but I predict that more and more high-end companies will see that to sell expensive products to wealthy consumers they must go to where this consumer shops. And that ain't Audiogon, Amazon, or Best Buy.