Invaded by the Grays Letters

Letters in response appeared in the August and September 1996 issues of Stereophile

High-end Parables
In the June Stereophile ("Invaded by the Grays," p.78), Barry Willis did a terrific job of pointing out the problems of free enterprise in the High End. What he failed to do was to explicitly define the solution to the problem. Perhaps he thought it was sufficiently obvious, given the many allegories he provided. In any case, I believe that the solution should have been made more explicit.

The story of audiophile Dr. Grinder and his search for the best deal on Peregrine speakers epitomizes the problem. Dealers fight over turf because they are encouraged (consciously or otherwise) by their customers to do so. Can anyone blame consumers for shopping for the best price? Well, yes and no.

The problem, as I see it, occurs at the extremes of the price spectrum. On the one extreme, we have dealers who refuse to give discounts of any kind (or, at best, a token discount such as a free CD); on the other extreme we have dealers who undercut their own livelihood by offering impossibly low discounts (upon whose margin not even a homeless refugee could live).

So if a dealer refuses to discount a product, how can he blame his customer for shopping elsewhere? After all, people are only human (translation: they won't willingly buy at retail). On the other hand, if a customer demands that his dealer match the price of Mr. Sleazy in Iceburg who works out of his basement, then that customer's local dealer is going to go out of business tout de suite.

The plain fact is that people are too greedy all the way around. The only way for the extremes to meet in the middle is for everybody to subordinate the goal of easy money to the higher goal of personal relationships. If retailer Bumble was really doing his job well, Dr. Grinder would never think of passing him over for a mail-order sale because Dr. Grinder would understand the implications of doing so.

And Mr. Bumble, for his part, understands that, in addition to providing a home base for Dr. Grinder---an audio university, as it were, and a source for product---he must also accommodate Dr. Grinder's deeply human need for "a good deal." Once Bumble and Grinder see eye-to-eye, it is unlikely that greed will ever again dominate their relationship.

Every good dealer knows that their most consistent source of income is from return business by loyal customers. The customers are loyal because they value the service their local dealer provides. If not, perhaps the dealer isn't doing his job. If the High End is truly to be seen as a source for better sound, then retailers had better learn that they are not selling carriage-trade items to snobs; they are selling better sound to connoisseurs and music lovers.
---Scott Frankland Wavestream Kinetics, San Jose, CA

News From The Grays
Thank you for publishing Barry Willis's "Invaded by the Grays" article (June '96, Vol.19 No.6, p.79).

I live in southern California, but by circumstance happened to buy my system from a store on the eastern seaboard. There aren't any high-end stereo dealers in my immediate area, so I decided to make some long-distance drives to the closest ones just to say I tried.

After numerous encounters with salesmen who knew less than they thought about the components they were selling, and other dealers who gave you the feeling that you were taking up too much of their time, I decided to try the mail-order route.

I called a store on the East Coast whose owner was about to close up shop. This man was gracious enough to talk to me for at least an hour: we discussed what products I wanted to purchase, as well as a ballpark figure for what I wanted to pay for them. I was going to buy a complete system---receiver, speakers, CD player, amp, and turntable.

We finished our conversation about 8pm (California time), and by 11pm my time this dealer called me back to tell me about the availability of the components, and what their cost would be.

To my surprise, this store was able to save me $2200 and put the system on my doorstep within 72 hours!

I understand the dynamics of a business having a territory. But you must also take care of the customers in that territory, or somebody else will. In the meantime, I'll keep my fedora and overcoat ready in case I have to "score some hi-fi stuff" under a dim street light some night in the future!
---M.A. Amante Victorville, CA

High-end Dealers
I've been reading about the problem with snooty high-end dealers in Stereophile for some time now. Frankly, I've been skeptical. I've had a very good dealer in Minneapolis, Hi Fi Sound, for some time. I've purchased a lot of product from them over the years, and their sales and service staff have always been excellent.

Now I'm in the process of moving to northern California. Last weekend I decided to visit dealers in my new area. I looked in Stereophile for the names of dealers selling your magazine, figuring that would be a good place to start. I also saw an advertisement in a circular published by a local classical FM station. So, armed with my new knowledge and the desire to discuss and buy home audio and video equipment, I drove a considerable distance to visit one particular dealer that carries a product line remarkable similar to Hi Fi Sound.

They weren't very busy when I walked in the door, but no one bothered to acknowledge my presence. I wandered around for awhile, looking at equipment, but no one bothered to ask me if they could be of any assistance. After a while, I decided to see just how long it would take for someone to take the time to say hello. After 30 minutes of being ignored, I finally gave up and left. They carried the products I'm interested in, but I probably won't buy from them since they wouldn't even bother to say hello.

I've been in sales in various capacities for over 20 years. After my experience, I'd have to say that the people working in this establishment had never received any sales training. The store was nice and in a good location, but the unfriendliness of the sales people turned me off completely.

High-end audio stores should invest in some basic sales training for their employees. I've felt for some time that a lot of high-end fans are basically introverts who would rather spend time alone with their rigs than socialize. Too many of them, I fear, work at high-end shops.
---no name given

High-end Service
I recently had a pleasant experience with a local high-end dealer that should serve as a model of proper customer relations. About two and one half years ago I purchased a Linn amplifier from Overture Audio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Very recently this amplifier developed a minor problem that required service. I went back to this store with the amplifier, not having been there in over two years and not having a bill of sale with me. They kindly took the unit and sent it in for service, and provided me with a loaner amplifier with no hesitation whatsoever.

Not only did this store provide me with my Linn amplifier in perfect condition, it also succeeded in garnering tremendous goodwill. If other stores could follow this example, we would take great strides in eradicating "what is wrong with the High-End."
---J. Belen Michigan