Pavane Pour Un Dealer Défunt
A stately pleasure dome decree...---Coleridge
Any resemblance between what you are about to read and any real-life high-end store is, of course, entirely coincidental:
The bank came today and seized the store. They came with a court order, two moving vans, and a team of six movers. After a cursory inventory, they took almost everything: amplifiers, speakers, CD players, VCRs, videotapes, LPs, cables, tools, tone cones, discs, disc dampers, desks, chairs, paintings, calendars, staplers, and note pads. They hauled the Duntech Sovereigns out like old refrigerators and slammed them into the truck. They tossed the Goldmund Mimesis 10 into an open box with a Proceed transport and an SME tonearm. On top they dumped a drawer from the display case; out tumbled cartridges and connectors, some boxed, others open, worth thousands of dollars. The original packaging languished in the warehouse.
The store's shocked personnel stood by like TV reporters watching looters during a riot. The bank's hired hands wreaked havoc with the high-end hardware. What they didn't take got trampled underfoot, their ignorance working to the benefit of those who were asked to "stay and help sort things out." Found in the trash, a Krell KC-200 cartridge; on the floor, a Virtuoso Boron vdH. By day's end they grew tired of dealing with "the small stuff." Accessories, cables, and interconnects were left behind for the cleaning crew. The better items were smuggled out, worn like belts under jackets or stuffed into pockets and briefcases. Some unboxed equipment was spared the indignity of the auction block when bank officers were told that it was "customer-owned goods." Spontaneous scavenging spread like a virus from employee to employee. Guilt never entered the picture---there had been no final paychecks.
It was almost three years to the day since Murray Krebs had opened his Xanadu Emporium of Audio & Video Wonders. The story goes that he had sold a successful business in an unrelated field, leaving him cash enough to live on, if wisely managed, for the rest of his life. He had a big house in an expensive suburb, all the toys he could possibly want, plenty of time to play with them, and a problem: boredom. He missed the excitement of the business world. He imagined himself purchasing a German-auto dealership; Porsches were his favorites. He actually went to work as a salesman for a Mercury dealer to "learn the business from the ground up." Three months later the entire sales staff at this dealership threatened to quit if Krebs wasn't fired. He decided the auto business wasn't really to his liking anyway. Then he heard about a local McIntosh/Bang & Olufsen dealer who was in Chapter 13 and looking for a buyer. Krebs had been fascinated by hi-fi since his college days. This, he thought, was just the thing. The store he eventually bought had a lot going for it: an established clientele, a good reputation, an intelligent sales staff, and a superb service department. It also had the misfortune of being in a ghost-town shopping center, which was hard to find even if you knew the neighborhood. (Audiophiles, of course, consider difficult access an essential experience, like Muslims on a pilgrimage to Mecca.) Another problem this establishment had was its dated, early-'70s look: lots of redwood, dark carpeting, and subdued lighting. Krebs thought, "I'll update the decor, bring in some new lines, and start milking this cash cow."
He formulated a business plan and took it to the bank. They liked what they saw. He negotiated the purchase of the business and got the inventory and fixtures at less than 30% of cost. He hired as his general manager Ira Jackson, a near-legendary local hi-fi salesman with a strong constituency and a propensity for doing business after hours from the trunk of his car. They went to the Consumer Electronics Show. They took a tour of high-end stores from New York to Florida. They pored over promotional literature from the world's most prestigious makers of audiophile equipment. They spent days and nights revising their line-up, which seemed to take on a life of its own, growing ever larger and more imposing with each revision.
At some point their dreaming and scheming escaped the realm of the rational and became a mutual delusion of grandeur. They decided they would create the greatest high-end store that Xanadu---indeed, the world---had ever seen. After all, the citizens of Xanadu had the highest per-capita disposable income this side of Rodeo Drive. Krebs and Jackson shared a unique vision: they would strike it rich selling audiophile products to non-audiophiles! With the feverish intensity of treasure hunters, they stayed up till the wee hours of the morning making extravagant plans, certain they were about to unearth enormous wealth. "The real reason most people don't care about high-end," they told each other, "is that no one's ever presented it to them properly. It's simply a matter of exposure and education."
Xanadu had never seen an operation like the one they would unveil. Its two million citizens would flock to the opening. They would stand in line for days if need be; they would gladly trade their Saabs and Mercedes for a little upper-midrange lucidity. Audio Research in every home didn't seem too farfetched; Celestions in every bedroom, WATTs and Puppies in every den! "These products are so good, they practically sell themselves! All we have to do...is some simple showcasing."
To direct the renovation of his new store, Krebs hired a design team which specialized in traditional upscale residences. He was convinced that if he showed his customers equipment in rooms just like they had at home, or just like they hoped to have, they would easily see that esoteric audio is the perfect addition to Frabel glass and Roche-Bobois leather. His patrons would learn the value of hi-fi by association. "We won't build special rooms to make our speakers sound good," he told his contractor, "because real houses don't have rooms like that." His interior decorator persuaded him that he needed a soft, warm carpet in a pale tone; they settled for a tres cher pink wool wall-to-wall, which would nicely complement a birds-eye-maple credenza crowned by a Lalique glass-and-enamel vase overflowing with silk flowers, beneath a bucolic fox-hunting scene in a gilt frame. The decor would be fraught with icons of upward mobility: Martin-Logan Monoliths standing discretely before French windows draped in Scalamandre damask, a Goldmund Studio atop a Louis XV lacquered writing table. "We'll push all the buttons of upper-middle-class respectability. The rest will be easy."