Thank you For Reading…..
I have been a member here for several years and after a lot of careful thought, would like to offer this thread for any members to post and ask questions they may have about the Consumer Electronic Business.
I've seen a ton of misconceptions in a great many threads over the years that I think set both consumers and dealers/installers/integrators back when shopping for their electronics. There seems to be a lot of animosity towards dealers and manufacturers that stems directly from this lack of understanding and the recent “Audiovox Buys Klipsch” thread once again brought this to the forefront for me.
I would like to offer some help through this thread where people can feel free to ask questions related to the A/V business. I think that many readers and participants on here will find a thread such as this very informative and helpful.
What qualifies me to answer these questions? Here’s a quick BIO. Please feel free to take a moment to read it.
WHY WOULD I DO THIS?
Why would I offer to answer potentially sensitive questions about my industry? Because I joined AH a few months before starting my company in 2006 to learn from consumers and in return try to offer some sort of legitimate prospective help from someone who’s been in the industry, hence the name. I see a lot of people out there with a great misunderstanding and misinterpretation on how money is made, what dealer and manufacturer’s margins really are, how much it actually might cost to display products, why dealers do or do not display things very well, why dealers carry or seem to push certain brands, and on and on covering a great many different business related subjects. This builds a lot of animosity towards professionals in my industry and ultimately nobody wins.
I am NOT trying to sell you guys anything or market my business and you will NOT see my company mentioned by name or contact information for me anywhere in my posts or profile. This is intentional. Not to be coy, but to protect the integrity of my posts & threads. I have a very few times sold a handful of things on the classifieds forum and to members that PM me asking about certain brands. I’ve even traveled a bit to go do larger projects for forum members over the years (three times). I have also a handful of times over the years PM’d or been PM’d by people who had some in depth or sensitive questions that were impossible to answer properly through a forum post. Other than that, I have no other interest than to further anyone’s knowledge on here who’s interested to learn and have open conversation.
One thing that I will try to avoid is leaking sensitive information about any specific company. For example: I will NOT answer questions like, “How much does model XYZ cost a dealer?” However, I will gladly provide general margin perspective on what different types of products cost dealers and how that relates to pricing models, why discounts can be had, etc. etc. I hope that this all leads to a better, more educated shopping experience for all who read.
Now that that’s out of the way….
Please feel free to throw out questions in as much depth and detail or as simple as you would like. I will try my best to answer them in a timely fashion. Some of your questions I might have to answer in a general concept/idea, but I will try to be as thorough as possible. If I do not have an immediate answer based on 1st hand knowledge or something needs clarified I will make a solid effort to do the appropriate due diligence to get an accurate answer.
Thank you for reading and participating!
On the topic of Dealer Education:
1) Are there requirements?
2) Are there expectations?
3) Are there education incentives or opportunities offered by Audio Companies?
I will say that 1st and foremost that there is NO substitute for the education of experience. However, that doesn’t always equal expertise.
For independent dealers… NO, there is no official like, governing body of the consumer electronics industry overseeing the quality or fairness of work and estimates through an education or training requirement.
Sure, there are organizations like CEDIA (by far the biggest) out there that offer classes, but I’m not sure what value they really add at this point. They can be expensive, especially for startup guys, and with technology changing so so quickly and without any set standard ways electronics interact with each other there are very few ABSOLUTES that an org like CEDIA can provide past a certain point. Some of the WORST installations I’ve had to fix were from companies claiming that every tech from them was CEDIA certified. There’s no quality guarantee to any of it.
On top of that, it is rare, and I mean needle-in-a-hay-stack rare that anyone asks for an education or qualifications back ground. Even on large projects going into the $100,000s. Usually, though, they have seen your work or have been referred, so there’s an expectation of familiarity there…. But you’d be surprised at how often that doesn’t even matter.
I paid a healthy sum of money (more than what some people make in a month) to become THX Level II certified around when I first got started. Never has that been a focal or selling point for a client. Most people have no idea what it is, nor do they care, so I stopped paying the expensive dues to be listed on their website. And, believe me, they see the words THX far more often then they do the term “CEDIA”. So, from a purely business perspective, if someone is confident that they know what they are doing, why would they worry about the expense of training or education they don’t perceive themselves to need and their clients don’t care about? This is not me defending a dealer’s lack of education (self taught or professional), but just an explanation as to why it doesn’t happen for some.
Also, a lot of manufacturers are the ones offering education seminars at conventions like CEDIA. What you’ll find is that what one manufacturer does one way, another does another way. So there is no real standard because products can be ASTRONOMICALLY different not just from year to year, but manufacturer to manufacturer and even model to model. It’s impossible to actually have a well rounded understanding of all of these different pieces of equipment and ways to do things unless you’re spending money every year/model change to bring in new tech and work with it. No class is going to be able to educate dealers THAT quickly. I promise you that the minute you come out of a class demonstrating dispersion patterns of center channels and how far apart to set mains, surrounds, etc., there will be a manufacturer having a class showing their latest and greatest and explaining why what you learned was wrong because their product XYZ does the opposite. The rules are ever evolving.
This is what discourages a lot of dealers from doing anything different or carrying different brands. Because they get comfortable doing things a certain way or with certain sales reps and pitching certain product and they sit on that.
National distributors like ADI and AVAD offer a lot of training classes for dealers to go to as do some regional companies. These are taught by company trainers or sales reps. Some of these are really good classes. And sometime the reps and trainers have so limited hands on experience that they are behind the curve by a country mile. Another problem with this is that it takes quite a bit of time out of your work day to go take a class. Time = money if you’re good at your job. Also, distributors aren’t really on the cutting edge, either and are kind of part of the problem as to why people in the industry are “dealers” of some brands.
A national distributor, like ADI (95 locations if remember correctly), was basically a security systems distributor before the big housing boom. Well, they wanted, of course, to get into selling audio video systems to security companies and electricians who were already clients and working in these new homes being built. How do they get to do this? EASY! They call up manufacturers and spend a lot of money. JVC Projectors, for example, are sold almost exclusively through distribution. Meaning: Anyone with an account at a carrying distributor can buy and sell them at a dealer cost regardless if they’ve ever installed a projector in their lives. ADI also carries Denon, Boston, Proficient (a brand of entry level Speakercraft gear conjured up by Speakercraft to sell through distributors without repercussion from unknowing dealers). This is why a lot of installations are a wreck…. Because of products being sold through distribution to business that have absolutely ZERO clue as to what they are doing… they’re just trying to make more money. This lack of education or knowledge leads to a lot of customer service problems for manufacturers…. Especially small ones, which is a part of the reason a lot of things aren’t allowed to be sold online (which is a whole separate issue onto itself).
There are some shady backroom deals going on at distributors from some manufacturers. Changing of model numbers, changing of component quality, etc. etc. so that brands don’t get in trouble with their brick and mortar dealers. This sometimes happens at big box shops too.
Sometimes, though, brands will sell through the distribution channel and have actual requirements, back ground checks, and territorial rules that have to be met before a company can purchase their product. Marantz was like this. I was a direct Marantz dealer but sometimes bought through distribution if I was in a hurry to get product. Even though Marantz knew my company, I had to still do paperwork on my territory through distributor.
The best education, I think, comes from the manufacturers themselves either in the form of very long conversations with tech support, or actual cut-sheets on products explaining why they do things and the proper applications for their products. And, of course, hands on. Manufacturers RARELY send samples to work with, so it's up to dealers to experiment with their own money. Many are not willing or able to do so.
Totem speakers, for example, does a good job of explaining what exactly each speaker is designed to do and for whom. Their training docs have a LOT of marketing fluff to them, so I won't post it, but there is good information in there for dealers who want to learn a bit about Totem speakers. They have no problem saying “Model ABC is for client Y with room Q who listens to G and models CBA is for client Z with room X who listens to P”, although these guidlines aren’t set in stone. Up until recently, Runco required that their dealers go out to CA and take training classes to better understand projector technology. I think that was admirable. There are many more, but I just wanted to give some examples.
Automation companies are pretty big sticklers on classes and continuous training to be allowed to sell their product. So are some of the larger remote control manufacturers. Other than that, very little, if any, education is really required for anything.
BIG BOX SHOPS
You’ll be shocked to know that the big box shops like Best Buy and Circuit City really spend a TON of money and time educating employees. The problem with companies like that are exponential as to why their employees seem clueless. It is definitely NOT because big box shops don’t care or try. I know that CC spent millions and millions of dollars designing a comprehensive, and very technical PC based training system. The system had goals and strict metrics for people to be able to keep their jobs, managers and sales people alike. The company took training seriously…. But to no real benefit.
As far as incentives are concerned, some companies used to offer discounts to dealers who would be CEDIA certified, or belonged to other organizations. It has been a few years since anyone has brought that sort of thing up. There are companies that require a show room and/or a certain amount of their product on display for someone to become a dealer. Some offer “displaying dealer” programs that offer price breaks or marketing material. Magnepan, for example, requires a dedicated 2 channel room and are sticklers for not having a dealer within quite a wide range around you before they will let you carry their line. Companies with guidlines like this are few and far between.
- I hope this answers a lot of what you were asking about. If not, let me know where I can elaborate more and I will. There’s only so much I can cover at once.
Are there requirements?
Certain manufacturers have different requirements for sure. Crestron and AMX, for example, both require dealer education, and hold back certain products to dealers who do not have a certain amount of education. I know Universal Remote Control CONSTANTLY tries to get dealers trained with in-house and online training given constantly. Other manufacturers, not so much, and it falls to the dealers to send people out for training.
Many manufacturers don't offer any training at all. These tend to be the larger manufacturers. So, you can actually expect your Sony, Sharp, Panasonic, etc. not to deliver or offer, much in the way of training.
Denon, Yamaha, and Pioneer I know offer product specific training, but I have also seen 'trainings' end up being more like 'sales pitches'. Which leaves me very frustrated.
Still, certain VERY high end product does offer training, and the industry has several key organizations which offer general, if not specific, training in many areas.
These include CEDIA, INFOCOMM, NAB, and others. Cedia offers classes throughout the country and at the Cedia Expo as does Infocomm. I'm not as familiar with what NAB offers, but I would believe to be similar.
2. Are there expectations?
For training? Not typically, but education about the products that are even available is a significant bit of work with A/V. Keep in mind that A/V design now often includes networking, video over ethernet, audio over ethernet, and a product line that often changes annually from EVERY manufacturer with weekly or even daily changes often being the norm. So, a good manufacturer, that a dealer has a direct relationship with, often tries to come by the office once or twice a year to review new product with sales and staff. While this is often a sales meeting, it is still very informative about what is coming down the road.
Still, product specific training doesn't happen often... But, for receivers most dealers can get it. For speakers? I've not actually heard of a training for these products, though I've had a few audio companies come in and talk about proper placement and a phone call often can help get some suggestions for specific models when dealers do have them.
3. Are there education incentives or opportunities offered by Audio Companies?
Education incentives? For a limited few, education is a requirement to be a dealer, but more often than not, incentives are sales based. The more you sell, the more of a discount the buyers are given. Promise to ONLY work with one company instead of three companies, and an incentive is likely. Thus, why some stores only carry very specific brands. Yet, in the world of education, the incentives tend to be that you can sell more, or compete better if you can knowledgably talk about a product. For the Best Buy crowd, that sales advice is often incorrect, but people don't even know it. For the custom installer, knowledge is key as it builds relationships and encourages word of mouth. So, a sharp sales and engineering team goes a LONG way to helping sales growth.
As I said, for a few manufacturers, having proper training does open some doors. Certified training may allow direct support hotlines to better technical support. Or may allow for a discount on in-house purchases for demos or training. It may open up a few specific pieces of high-end gear which otherwise are not available to those companies.
Still, I am appalled at the number of pieces of gear that I have PERSONALLY been asked to setup, design into systems, and program without one BIT of training and a clue as to what the product really even does. I've been sent to Alaska to install two products which cost about $25,000 and I had never seen or used them before in my life until I showed up on site.
While that's not really encouraging to know, it is the experience of someone who HAS had training in many areas of A/V which helps a company send the right people out who can handle exactly those types of situations.
For example - once you know the concept of how creative frame interpolation works, and you know about a dozen manufacturers do it, and crank it up all the way, then it doesn't matter WHO makes the product, to know you just look in the manual, or through the menus, find the settings and turn it down or off so that the image looks more natural.
If you are sharp, you may even check forums to see what experience others have had with products to see what settings are likely best.
How often do we see new members here who start off by saying "I just bought... XXXXX and was wondering how to set it up or was any good?"
How many more never even get that far before and after a purchase is made?
So, those of us who care and work in this industry as our life's choice, also typically DO get education from all the resources which are available. This includes the manufacturer training as available, organization training (Infocomm/Cedia/etc.) and magazines, online resources, etc.
More than once, I have come up with solutions which the Internet and forums have produced and provided that were not at all available from manufacturers or from traditional training. It is not the education that is made available, but the willingness to learn which is key.
AV Integrated - Theater, whole house audio, and technology consultation during the build and installation process in the Washington DC, Northern VA, and MD area.
If someone isn't in the business in a literal sense, they shouldn't expect to pay dealer cost for ANYTHING.
Never eat anything that squirts out of a machine.
For example, in another thread someone speculated on Bose margins being high or paying higher commissions and this is why dealers carry or sell it. This is not true as Bose costs, proportionatley, around what most any other speaker does.
This is more along the lines as to what I was referring to. Is this objectionable? I do not want to hurt your or BMXTRIX businesses and will not be posting information that would be considered confidential.
If someone isn't in the business in a literal sense - they SHOULD expect to have a much higher level of support and service that goes along with that extra cost (over dealer wholesale). One thing that I've been constantly irritated by over the years is the near-geometric increase in 'ancillary costs' associated with consumer electronics... Now in most cases I don't really mind - I grab the Internet, product manuals and a cup of coffee and get to work. For me that's fun, and a break from the side of CE that I deal with (computers).
However, even with a self-starter like myself it's incredibly irritating to have to pay prices that are significantly above dealer cost - from a dealer that pretty much says "if I have to spend more that 15 minutes selling you $2000 worth of gear... then you're not worth my time". Thankfully in this new economy most of those dealers will be homeless soon - leaving more marketshare for dealers that are happy to work with the customer to garner lifelong repeat business.
My question would be more one of requesting your opinion rather than specifics. I realize that a large part of any consumer-sales business is marketing (at least once grown past the 'word-of-mouth' stage), but how big of a difference is it for distributors (in dealing with OEMs)? Do they give you much less skewed product descriptions and specifications? And are you more likely to look for alternatives if they do not (I would hope so).
It seems to me that the uninformed consumer, who is unwilling or unable to "dig deeper" via the Internet or discussions with experienced dealers - are left with only TV/Print ad copy which in at least 80%-90% is 3 paragraphs of bold-faced lies. Not that I'm saying this is different than with any other product or service category - however, I'm curious if the manufacturers have two separate spec sheets. So they can still tell the consumer "stunning clarity" and tell the distributors "treble is boosted by 6db past 8kHz" or something like that.
An armed citizen is not a replacement for a police force - but it might change who they draw the chalkline around.
As my opinion, I don't think that the dealers who post here are typical CI people. I've said that before here too. Perhaps, I could say the same thing for the consumers here. The type that has posted hundreds of times, or perhaps thousands of times, in AV forums cares more than the normal person.
I've met and talked with at least 5 CI people (all owners/cowners, three different businesses) at a personal level, over beers, etc. If you include some of their employees, then I've lost count how many I've met. Quite honestly, it is only a job to them. They don't really give a crap, IMO. They upsell, and one in particular does a poor job, IMO, in terms of setup. Sure, it will look* good, and your remote will do anything you darn want (and it better, for that much money), but I* have to teach him the dumbest things, and quite honestly, he often simply doesn't care. I'm talking about a lot of work for millionaires, Stewart popup screens outdoors, surveillance, etc. I finally got him to understand what cascading xovers are, and why that's so bad for audio. I recently chided him for not even putting up conduit when the walls were torn down for some big azz job. He doesn't care.
I believe I've failed to convince him to spend under $100 for mic stand/boom/adapter so that he can run Audyssey better (he sells a lot of Marantz and Denon). The fact is, he doesn't even care to run it, and you can bet the consumer doesn't either.
I also asked him why he wouldn't learn more about video calibration, as that could make some nice bonus money, with all of those JVC and Sim2 projectors he sells. He doesn't care and has no interest.
He recently invited me to a big job, well over an hour drive away, so that I could take a look at a Denon 4311. He basically wanted me to read the manual, play with the menu, teach him, and for free. Whatever! I think he was trying to sell it as a favor in that I get to play with one, or something. Well, I'm sure he won't read the manual, or figure it out. Plug n play I bet.
It seems that most work that I hear about is simply whole house audio, some automation, bit of surveillance here and there. Audio performance and video performance, hmm. So what, there are a bunch of TVs everywhere.
On a different note, I remember talking to double digit dealers when auditioning speakers years ago. Double digit. It's sad to say, but I think I know more than all of them, and the sadder part is that I don't really know *all that* much.
So, I think if my experiences mirrors at all the experiences of other members here, you professionals might better understand a lot of our paranoia with some of the folks in your industry (I did not* read the Klipsch thread). OTOH, if BMX or highfigh (who both have a better grasp of physics, at least in certain areas, than many others, and as BMX put it, a higher level of interest in this field) or other certain pros, if they were local, that I had the money, and I actually needed the help, I would hire them in a heartbeat.
Well, I'd like to make a toast to my fellow obsessed hobbyist, because it is THEY I learn the most from. I'm going to put BMX and highfigh in the hobbyist group too. (They could be in that overlapping area of the Venn diagram, hehe.) I mean, highfigh makes his own speakers, c'mon! I could search for years here in my area and not find a single CI guy who does that.
If it's OK, I'll add my impressions of some of the topics.
It's sometimes required, in order for a dealer to sell certain products, or segments of their product line, like URC. If anyone wants to sell the network models, like the MX-5000, PSX-2 and others, they have to take the on-site or web training classes and a distributor won't sell to non-trained dealers. Higher-tech products need trained people selling and installing them because a manufacturers' reputation can go away quickly if an installer is completely clueless and something either doesn't work, or damages other equipment. Equipment sold as doing and having certain features and abilities when it doesn't, will make the dealer AND the manufacturer look bad.
If, as mentioned before, the trainers have hands-on experience and good product knowledge, it can be very helpful but if they can't answer simple questions about the product, it's a waste of time. I have had people at ADI tell me "It might be on their web site" and I asked simple questions. Product knowledge isn't their strong point. FOr that matter, competitive pricing isn't, either. I did a system in '07 and wanted a Denon receiver- the other local distributor, who I was extremely unhappy with at the time, gave their price and ADI wanted $93 more. Aside from being a few miles closer, ADI had no reason for asking that price and when I told them the cost from the other, they dropped it to a difference of $25, which I paid (PO'd at the other place).
This can, and should, be the most comprehensive training available to us. However, my experience since 1978, when I got into the business, has shown otherwise. Often, it's more like a pep rally or sales seminar. That fine, if I'm in sales and need technical training but if I'm in the technical end and need sales training, it's not geared for technical people.
When I was at CEDIA for training, the scheduling manager where I worked, who had no idea what I knew, decided that I should go to seminars other than what I had requested.
'Audio Setup & Calibration', which is something I had done for years, had a description that looked like it would be useful for someone in the field, to help a system to sound good without needing $100K in test equipment. Unfortunately, the guy spent more time telling us how cool he and his company were, how they did mostly 6-digit systems and all kinds of bad info like, "all speaker cables should be the same length, so there are no audible delays from speaker to speaker. How he proposed to reconcile this when people actually move in a room, I don't know. He also didn't like when someone asked if this is necessary when so many receivers and pre-amps have time-based correction.
'Video Setup & Calibration-'
This one I wanted to see. I have always been more into audio than video, so I though it would be useful and a way to learn the best ways to set up a display on-site, without needing to do it at the shop. WRONG! The guy had a quiet, Southern Indiana accent and when the seminar began, he turned off most of the lights. It was 8AM and fairly warm and the combination doesn't mix well, if the goal is to stay awake. At no time, did he cut to the chase and tell us what I wanted to know. I don't need an oscilloscope to know that I don't have a composite waveform. If I don't see it after subbing cables and trying a different input or display, it's not there. No discussion of HDMI, almost none for component video and almost no useful in-the-field information. The way people were literally sliding off of their chairs, it looked like the Dali painting of the clocks melting over the edges of different objects.
Bill, from Jensen Transformers, was very informative, just as he had been when I went to his seminar at CES in the early '80s. Unfortunately, the other two guys from our company who were there were lost. One of them had a mantra- "They sell the dream, I make it happen". Couldn't calculate a simple speaker load if someone held a gun to his head. Looked "rode hard and put away wet" after taking the whole 3 hours for the CEDIA I test. It wasn't that hard, but the prep session was helpful for me.
Some of the better training I have had-
The acoustics class I took at UW-Milwaukee, Denon, Pioneer LaserDisc (yeah, it was about 1980), some of the car stereo company sessions (Alpine, MTX, the company that became Phoenix Gold), Furman, Dave Navone, a couple of lighting sessions, MATC IT Networking class in '06 and Motorola cell-phone certification. I have a stack of certificates from manufacturers and not a single customer has EVER asked about my training. If I wear a CEDIA arm patch or hat, it will only make people ask "What is that?", so I don't.
When I commented that 10AWG power cable didn't fit the terminals on their amps, an ADS rep told me that the terminals were made to accept NASA-spec cable. WTF? How is that a sensible thing to do?
IMO, sales trainers shouldn't conduct technical training unless they have actual experience in that area. Also, URC sends far too much time showing how to change the look of the buttons on their remotes- it would be much better if they did hands-on training for the various models of remotes, with the requirement that certain macros and configurations be programmed.
Never eat anything that squirts out of a machine.
One publication that was a royal PITA in the late '70s and into the early '90s is Consumer Reports. They may be OK with reviews of appliances, cars and other things, but they were clueless when it came to electronics. They were in love with Harmon-Kardon, specifically the 330A/B/C receiver. They blew up all the time, yet people wanted them. Sansui R-series receivers? You bet! Total crap. That series killed Sansui because they biased the outputs too hot and if it was repaired with new emitter resistors, the choice was to blow the am or the speakers. There really was no middle ground.
Honestly, I don't worry about Bose. I don't remember the last time anyone asked me about them and I haven't had to bid against them at all. The lawyer has a passive Acoustimass system in the family room and for bass and voices, they're OK. The bass isn't particularly extended but it's OK since the speakers are really close. His wife mentioned that it sounded muffled and I told her that if she wants it to be more clear and crisp, she can't put books and photos in front of the little cube speakers.
As far as your first paragraph in this post, I would love for people to understand what you listed. I would also like for more people to understand that taking someone's time to set up and demo equipment and then, buying it online or through someone else doesn't give them the right to ask more questions after the sale or complain when they don't like the product.
Never eat anything that squirts out of a machine.