Where the Rubber Meets the Road

There's one phrase a Ferrari dealer never hears from a potential customer: "Ferrari? What's a Ferrari?" Marques such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati are so embedded in mainstream culture that their dealers never have to introduce an unfamiliar but exorbitantly expensive set of wheels to their prospects.

But outside of our tight little audiophile community, high-end audio is virtually unknown—I'm sure at least 98 out of 100 of the Carnegie Hall or Blue Note jazz club faithful are clueless about even the most prominent high-end brands. To succeed, those companies must not only produce great-sounding products and earn positive reviews, they must also rely on an active dealer network to reach most of their customers—folks who never read an audio or home-theater magazine but appreciate the difference a superb system can make. The dealer is the all-important link between audiophiles and "civilians" and the manufacturers.

To learn more about high-end retailers' modus operandi, I met with three of New York City's key players: Michael Kay of Lyric Hi-Fi & Video, Andrew Singer of Sound by Singer, Ltd., and Elliot Fishkin of Innovative Audio Video Showrooms. These retailers have not only survived countless bear markets and upheavals in the high-end industry, they've prospered. I met with each man, armed with the same set of questions, and as you'll see, they have very definite opinions about where the high-end industry is and where it's going. I'd worked as a salesman for both Singer and Fishkin, but I'd had little interaction with Lyric's owner, Michael Kay, and so began my interview sessions with him.

These interviews took place in late August, before the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001.