Too Many Audio Shows? Richard Beers, T.H.E. Show

A Response from Richard Beers, T.H.E. Shows Las Vegas and Newport

The recent outbreak of Audio Shows does, indeed, warrant the question: "Are there Too Many Shows?" The answer to the question cannot be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No". It depends entirely on one's perspective.

This increase in shows does place additional burdens upon the Audio Press and, in some cases, the manufacturers of fine high-end audio products. However, these might be considered necessary evils as the industry continues to evolve and try to find new ways to thrive.

Twelve years ago, I worked with a Public Relations/Marketing/Events company in Las Vegas, NV when I stumbled upon T.H.E. Show at the St Tropez Hotel and CES in the neighboring Alexis Park Resort. As I wandered the halls of both venues, listening and absorbing the unique superiority of "sounds" as I had never experience before, a question kept coming to mind: "Why had I not heard of most of these companies up to this point?" Upon deeper involvement, I discovered an industry that seemed to solely survive on an enthusiastic, yet limited audience. It was almost like an industry had developed and the marketing was left behind. The marketplace seemed to survive only to feed itself, through limited advertising to the mass public and a dealer/distributor system that, by its own definition, limited its exposure to a select few. For those who became almost fanatical in their quest for perfect sound, there were outlets—but, by and large they were unreasonably isolated from the outside world. For those on the outside, the exposure never came. In those years, reviewers, manufacturers, dealers, distributors spoke of a "dying industry" on a regular basis.

It was at that time, and in subsequent years thereafter, when I took full control of T.H.E. Show, I decided to dedicate my control and resources to expanding the audience for high-end audio. Common public knowledge of high-end sound was limited to what was available in large big-box stores, as well as through a few companies who could afford the luxury of wide spread marketing. With limited resources, it was going to be a challenge, but T.H.E. Show would attempt one goal: To add more buyers to these products—period! To help people make an educated, well-informed choice. T.H.E. Show and CES had a wide array of analog and a growing number of digital choices—the challenge would be to enlighten the general public's knowledge of these superior products.

At the same time, more audio shows began to sprout up all over the globe: Munich; Milan; Hong Kong; Shanghai. Here in the US, the Rocky Mountain Audio Show led the way in 2004 with a highly successful audio show for consumers. Not only did RMAF draw "outsiders" from the 4 million population of Denver, but also attracted the industry-savvy crowd from across the globe.

Marjorie Baumert and Al Stiefel, founders of RMAF, attempted to "bring in new blood" through promotions in schools, music organizations, the local Denver Audio Society and other outside groups that "might" gain interest in the industry. The stage was set. The inevitable "expansion" of audio shows became evident.

The reasons are simple: unlike other products to be marketed, high-end audio must be heard properly. It cannot be sold in print. It cannot be sold on TV or radio. It cannot be sold on the internet. A "listening" on an enormous big box warehouse floor is no comparison to enjoying the nuances only a private listening room can provide. One has to experience high-end audio to truly appreciate it. And, as populations have grown the few brick and mortar dealers in a metropolitan area cannot possibly keep up with the desired demand. Even the best of independent dealers do not have the necessary resources to saturate the potential audience that surrounds it. Dealers and manufacturers began looking for more ways to expose their products. Audio shows that promise to help build and widen the purchasing audience are a very viable alternative to doing nothing. With approximately 30 million people living in Southern California, Best Buys and huge Electronics stores can be found around every corner, High-End Dealers get passed by. Customers without knowledge either can't find them, don't know of their existence or are intimidated by the thought of walking into a "specialized" store.

On year one of T.H.E. Show Newport, we sought out and enjoyed the participation of two dozen of Southern California's best dealers, most with 4-wall stores. They brought a variety of high-end products and expertise—all in one place. With an audience of over 5000 "interested" customers passing their doors, the process is now reversed. Customers who experience these products at T.H.E. Show now feel more comfortable seeking out a dealer of choice. These symbiotic relationships make shows work and helps to grow the industry on many levels.

With the cooperation of the Los Angeles/Orange County Audio Society and a large budget for mainstream advertising (local newspapers; industry magazines; "event" targeted promotions; radio spots and a huge social media campaign), the first The Show Newport broke records for attendance.

Of course, like any growing series of events, the Audio Show marketplace has stumbled along the way. Some were ill-conceived from the get-go; attempting only to appeal and subsequently, take advantage of the existing high-end community as a whole. The industry-based shows are in Las Vegas every January. CES and T.H.E. Show, run concurrently and attract those "from" the industry to view new products, debuts and network with fellow manufacturers, dealers, distributors and the best of the Audio Press. While some of the other shows will enjoy a certain amount of "industry" relations, their main goal, as a consumer show should be to help build the clientele and thus, the customer base.

There probably is little need for all Press outlets to send an army of reviewers to cover each and every show. The odds of manufacturers unveiling a new product every month are slim. However, the Audio Press does need to cover these events. News is news.

This can, however, be accomplished with a few reviewers depending on the size of the venue; hopefully someone familiar with the area in which the shows are presented who is up-to-date on recent innovations and developments. To send the full force of personnel to each and every show is impractical in these economic times.

The same scenario actually goes for manufacturers. Manufacturers and dealers should ask themselves before committing to an Audio Show, "What's in it for me?" Does the show organizer(s) go the extra mile to attract new consumers? Is the show presented in such a way as to make it more appealing (less intimidating) to the general public? Are there extra promotions, entertainment events and marketing outreaches into the community to appeal to and gain new attendees? What is the show's overall advertising budget and is it aimed at bringing new people in the door or simply placating the "faithful"? And, to exhibit in the growing amount of shows, manufacturers should perhaps support their local dealers or outlets, without the huge expenditure of traveling and exhibiting individually at each and every show on their own.

Another concern that has developed is the "timing" of shows. There is plenty of room, all over North America and, the world for that matter but the placement dates of the shows must adhere to common courtesy and industry well-being. The Press needs time to schedule and manufacturers need time between shows, particularly those who operate on limited budgets. T.H.E. Show Newport was purposely placed several weeks after the huge Munich show, the weekend following a holiday and well before the shows in Washington DC and San Francisco. Logistics are important to both exhibitors and the Press and should be taken into consideration. A "battle of the shows" does the industry, as it currently stands, no good at all. Splitting the resources of good, but smaller companies and the Press helps no one.

It would be nice if all high-end manufacturers could join together and open High-End Shopping Malls, in all major metropolitan areas around the world—but that is not where the industry currently finds itself. In the meantime, well-run, well-promoted, well-conceived Audio Shows in major metropolitan areas are a must.

There are many, many great audio manufactures planting seeds, if you will, in an ever-evolving, changing landscape. Audio shows could be viewed as the "bait"—assisting to those "fishing" for superior products to find their ultimate and appropriate catch.—Richard Beers, T.H.E. Shows Las Vegas and Newport

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COMMENTS
John Atkinson's picture

Responses to this essay from almost all the organizers of the shows mentioned will be posted shortly, in the order in which I received them.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

sommovigo's picture

Hi John!

So - on this subject. I think the growing interest in regional shows is healthy for the industry, but it is a slog for sure. However, no one is obligated to support every single one of them. But it's not all that much when you look at teh schedule for home shows throughout the year in the USA. You've got folks that are trying to hit all these shows with their widgets because that's how they're putting bread on the table. Check out this schedule for just one of the Home Show organizers: http://acshomeshow.com/show-schedule/schedule

How many Magic Bullet blenders does one have to sell in order to fully monetize every one of these? ;-)

With that in mind we also have to acknowledge that a fair chunk of the market is developing in direct sales, especially when it comes to headphone concerns, and that these regional shows will do more to help promote brand and sell product than more traditional marketing investments might. Nothing beats face-to-face, and these shows are an excellent way to create the kind of social setting that makes it easy and fun to meet the people behind the products - as well as meet the people behind the opinions!

As these shows prolifrate, they will continue to bridge the gap between traditional retail and direct-sale brands, effectively creating a 3-day pop-up storefront for any brand interested in plying their trade directly to the consumer. And while I'd like to see them spaced more evenly throughout the year, I think that regional shows are HiFi's best chance to create relevance among those who might be interested in what it is that we do - but who might not be familiar with it, or might be intimidated by the kinds of prices they see published within any of the myriad HiFi publications from around the world.

Let's face it ... while there are a significant number of people who might think that spending $30,000.00 on a kitchen upgrade is reasonable, there are at least as many who think that spending $3,000.00 on a pair of loudspeakers is outrageous. The enthusiasm that we indulge in may be both specialized and intimidating, however regional shows offer a fairly close look and listen, and might provide the otherwise-intimidated person an opportunity to judge these things on their own merit ... and not just based on a picture and a price in a magazine.

Et Quelle's picture

Too many show is an imposibility. It might be burdensome to the workers but not attendees. To them, there is only 1 show!
But I love electronics, I would love working it too. Im in Nevada, I can see 2 cali shows and the one here which is small
due to CES. People with whatever budget might not go in for a private listening with salesmen 3:1. But thousands: hundreds
is more comfortable. The wife isn't as mad when you buy because it was part of the trip.

jgossman's picture

If at every show you notice it's the same people there, it's just industry showing off and selling to one another.  That's okay, look at the hot rod auto business.  From high end 30's American to high end Italian auto's, if you notice all you do is go to shows, it's industry looking for lots and lots of opportunities to sell to itself.  Because that's the only people with the money to afford what is essentially only marginally better (start the flame war..... NOW) than the mearly great but still affordable high end.  Why do you think there are shows every weekend showing off used and classic Ferrari's and Hot Rods every summer, but only a handful of new car shows showing of the latest midsized car tech from Ford or Honda.

Because even though you the audiophile may hate to admit it, the difference in great and sublime is a PRICE not worth COST.  Because the cost of going from GREAT to SUBLIME isn't worth the PRICE of a very nice house in the midwest.  And the to most people, what we consider mearly great, IS truely sublime.

It's really pretty simple.  Don't overthink it.  Start making better gear, more reliable, and easy to use, then charge a price that doesn't set off bullshit fllters.  You see the "little guy" is simple, not stupid.

Bill Leebens's picture

I understand JA's concerns, and those of the show organizers and exhibitors, as well. Having worked on all sides of Show Biz--with manufacturers, with the media, and as a show organizer-- I think the primary concern of all those involved is cost-effectiveness: simple bang-for-buck, ROI.  Such concern is understandable and warranted, but unfortunately is often reduced to unrealistic expectations of immediate sales, rather than steady, long-term development of the market and customer base.

There is a tendency, during a  down-market, to want to carefully sequester and protect one's own piece of the pie, whether it's miniscule or major. As public awareness of the audio industry has diminished, there has been a tendency for those in the industry to become increasingly guarded and wary of  forces perceived as threats to their share of the remaining market. Those "threats" in the past have included the internet and the iPod; two forces which present huge opportunities for the audio biz, if handled properly.

Similarly, too many shows? Rather than applaud the fact that the industry is experiencing public outreach unlike any seen in the past 30 years, the audio industry focuses on the strain on resources in personnel and capital.

I get it. Times are tough-- but rather than make them tougher with whining and internecine back-biting, can we please celebrate the new opportunities presented to us, and just freaking get ON with it?

 

DoggyDaddy's picture

To me one simple fact limits the usefulness of shows (and ok, I've only been to 1, as I'm a newbie).  It's that you can't listen to equipment at a show the way you would at home.  There's too much noise, too many people.  For generating brand awareness, fine, as well as networking w/ colleagues/competitors.  But it's no environment for listening musically.  For one thing - and this alone would make shows almost useless for actual auditioning - the equipment is usually played too loud.  There seems to be a sort of macho simplistic attitude: see how loud we are!  No one for whom the gear is a means to a musical end (as opposed to the end of showing off your fancy setup) would buy on the basis of a show demo, IMO.

AJ's picture

I doubt there are many (or any) retailers that have 50-100 rooms with 300+ brands of equipment.

As such, these shows are a unique opportunity for consumers to get to hear (not, read about, channel,  imagine, etc.) a much broader variety of products than one ever would in retail stores. The two are incomparable.

For a manufacturer like myself, it's an opportunity to present my product in what most would consider a tough environment, a hotel room. That tends to seperate the wheat from the chaff of sensible acoustic design (something quite often foreign to the "High End", where "bling" and "street cred" tends to rule).

Win win as I see it....and if it cost me an arm and a leg to exhibit, well, perhaps that's the price to pay in todays market.

DoggyDaddy, what is amazing, is how few people bring their own (reference) music, much less ask for a private audition with it, free from the crowds.

cheers,

AJ

Soundfield Audio (USA)

spyder1's picture

I don't think there are too many audio shows. I believe that the existing audio shows can be schedualed with 1 to 2 months downtime in between shows. I believe the audio shows are a great way to inform the consumer about new and inovative products, and teach the next generation of Audiophiles, that their future looks amazing!

Pro-Audio-Tech's picture

The high end audio dealers / showrooms are becoming a thing of the past, so how is this equipment to be sold? If there weren't all these new shows how would people listen before they buy? I believe we need to support these shows or we will see this hobby become smaller than it already is! Remember smaller hobby = fewer advertisers, (-$). 

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