A consumer oriented approach can make you the distribution channel of choice for consumers of electronics too!
In our last visit to this topic in July, we discussed some of the common myths about home theater as well as the myriad opportunities that this category affords residential furniture retailers. In brief, we dispelled the three most common myths about home theater:HOME THEATER MYTHS:
- Home Theater Requires a Big Screen Television.
- Home Theater is Complicated.
- Home Theater is Expensive.
Additionally, we touched on some inherent advantages your stores have over conventional TV/appliance dealers, specialty audio\video retailers and other consumer electronics outlets in marketing this category.
In this second installment we'll cover some basic ideas on how you can get your operations profitably involved in this exciting and dynamic new product category. In particular, we'll discuss how this may be accomplished without making major changes in your stores, hiring new personnel or incurring the headaches and hassles that are often encountered with new product categories.STEP 1: EVALUATE YOUR MARKET:
Before making a commitment to home theater you should become well acquainted with how it is presently being merchandised and sold in your market(s). While this may sound like Marketing 101, it's a basic step that is often forgotten in the excitement of a new venture. Carefully watch for (and clip out or tape) any ads and TV spots on home theater run by other retailers in your area. Personally go visit as many other retailers who offer the category as you possibly can and pay attention to their displays and how their personnel present the category. Most of what you will see isn't for the purposes of emulation. Quite the contrary, what you'll mostly be doing is collecting information on how not to merchandise and market home theater!
If that appears to be a harsh criticism of the manner in which most retailers market home theater then I've communicated it well because it's intended to be highly critical. The consumer electronics industry as a whole simply hasn't been listening to what most consumers really want regarding home theater (maybe it's because most of them haven't asked or avoided asking the question because they were afraid of the answer).
In most of your markets what you will find are retailers who have either:
- Not yet made any attempt to actively merchandise home theater.
- Converted one of their sound rooms over to a home theater demonstration area with multiple systems and lots of electronic components and speakers.
- Gone whole hog and built a mini-theater filled with very expensive video projectors and separate electronics and elaborate speaker systems.
In very few cases will you find home theater merchandised in room settings which represent how this category might actually look and be used in an average American home. The paradox in all of this is that many of the problems facing the consumer electronics industry today are because many of its' participants have forgotten how to listen!
They may well know how to listen for and discern the intricate nuances which differentiate music reproduced by one speaker cable or power amplifier from another but, in most cases, they seem to have lost that most important of all listening talents - the ability to listen to their customers!
Please don't interpret the preceding as a tirade against the deterioration of an industry in which this author has made his living the past 25+ years. The intent was to show the readership of this venerable publication that they have an almost unprecedented opportunity to seize control of an emerging retail segment. It's not a lament, it's a battle cry!STEP 2 - ANALYZE CONSUMER WANTS:
A number of recent surveys of consumer attitudes about home theater have shown some trends which are particularly relevant for furniture retailers. The most significant are outlined in Figure A on page 54.
What is the existing retail channel which has the most factors already in place to capitalize on these important consumer attitudes? Look in the mirror!
When was the last time you heard a friend, neighbor or relative comment positively about the wonderful shopping experience they just had at a local consumer electronics store? How many have you ever visited who treated their customers the way you expect your personnel to treat your customers?
Everything I've seen, read and personally experienced tells me that the primary interest the average consumer has in home theater is to bring the drama and excitement of the movie theater into their home. What they don't want are confusing specifications, complicated installations, mazes of wiring, difficult operation, condescending sales personnel or major adjustments in their lifestyle.
Your unique combination of a comfortable, non-threatening retail environment staffed by friendly career personnel who are already accustomed to serving the lifestyle needs of your customers gives you advantages the average consumer electronics outlet can only dream of. These factors combined with the existence of a wide variety of furniture galleries and lifestyle vignettes and a long history of delivering and setting up large pieces of furniture are further evidence of the incredible opportunity which exists in the home theater category.STEP 3 - SELECTING VENDORS:
Recent changes in the nature of product offerings have made this a considerably less daunting task. It is now possible to do "one stop" shopping with several manufacturers who can provide you with everything needed to make you a strong contender as a home theater source for your customers. Of course, you could always take the route generally followed by most of the consumer electronics industry and purchase TVs here, electronics there and speakers from over there and mix them with the home theater furniture you're probably already carrying. But that option has always been available to you and the complexity of it all is probably one of the major reasons consumer electronics in the past haven't been readily available at your outlets.
A brief list of the major components you should probably be carrying as at least your initial offering can be found in Figure B.
Of these the last is the only category which most of you are probably already carrying. With offerings from just about every major (and minor) casegoods manufacturer this is something you may already have covered pretty well, at least to retrofit the televisions and components your customers may already own. However, keep in mind that furniture designers are generally more concerned with style than acoustics, wiring ease, adequate ventilation or overall ease of use so you'll probably want to carry at least one or two lines from manufacturers who can offer you home theater furniture which features better integration of these important elements.
Possibly even more important is what your home theater vendors can offer you in terms of making it as painless as possible to get you up and running with complete, turnkey home theater solutions. Here are a few key items which should be on your checklist when selecting home theater vendors:
- Complete, turnkey packages (i.e., TVs, electronics, speakers and furniture).
- Easy installation and operation of entire system.
- Built in wiring guides, harnesses and/or terminations.
- Product and Sales Training for your personnel.
- High quality demonstration materials.
- Marketing programs which help you build traffic and close sales.
- Sales and service support to help both your staff and your customers after the sale.
FIGURE A: CONSUMER DATA:
- More than 80% of consumers plan to purchase a home theater system within the next 1-2 years.
- More than 70% of consumers consider furniture an important and integral part of home theater.
- In excess of 60% of all consumers would prefer to purchase their entire home theater system (TV, electronics and furniture) in one place at one time.
FIGURE B: WHAT YOU NEED TO GET STARTED:
- Stereo Televisions, 25"- 40" Direct View
- Stereo Televisions, 40"-70" Rear Projection
- A\V Receivers with Dolby® Pro-Logic
- Cassette Decks (usually dual well)
- CD Players or Changers
- Stereo Hi-Fi VCRs
- Laser Disc Players (usually Multi-Disc)
- Home Theater Loudspeakers
- Home Theater Furniture