How Do You Know When to Drop a Product Line?

Mar 13

Written by: Heather L. Sidorowicz
3/13/2014 11:35 AM  RssIcon

Some AV integrators are consistently on the quest for the right solutions and others are just doing a job.

Which are you?

I’m always searching for the best products to make life better for my clients. This means that we have to remain flexible and change with the times. Often we pick up new products as we find they’re the right fit for our clientele, whether that is Sonos for the “average Joe” that wants music throughout his house or Kaleidescape for the true movie buff. There are the proper solutions for the right people if one cares to pay attention and do their homework.

Unfortunately, we also have to watch when a product is failing in the field in case we need to head in different direction. I experienced this recently with my current receiver company. I won’t mention the name of this company, but let me assure you we have given multiple chances for this company to show their long-term worth, and now is the time cut the ties.

How do you know when to drop a product line?

Bad Product
Every manufacturer will sell a dud from time to time; I always imagine it was on the factory line late on a sunny Friday afternoon. I’ve seen this happen with cars, TVs, and of course, receivers. However, what happens when you see the entire model line keep going down? I called the company. Bad receivers may cost more than any other unit when they go down. It will usually take an hour to swap out a receiver the right way, and if this a good client, you’re not going to let their system be down for a week or two while the unit goes in for repair. This means you’re taking a new unit out of stock to give them for the “time being,” then going back to replace it once their unit is repaired. Chances are that any profit you originally made on the unit has now eroded away. (Is it just me or does this always happen to clients that live the furthest away?)

As I mentioned, I called the company (the national sales guy, actually) when I started to see the entire model line go bad. I still cringe every time I hear that model number. I was assured that they knew and understood they had an issue with the line. I was then told that this new model was a better release. So life went on. That is until I started seeing another model line go down. This goes well beyond a mess up on a specific unit. It even goes beyond a bad model line. It is now about the core of who this company is and how well they make receivers.

Bad Rep
Reps can truly make or break a product line. Some (few) are great, and will go the extra mile to solve the issue. However, this sometimes feels like a dying breed. Other reps just regurgitate information from the mother ship (yet they feel if they put it in fancy fonts they’re doing their job). One of my favorite lines from a rep: “Once you’re a dealer, all ordering and correspondence will go through the company.” Not sure why a rep then exists in this set up; just decrease the price by five dollars and loose the dead weight.

You can also spot a bad rep by sheer lack of interest in solving the issue or his/her desire to talk more about the weather (or anything else) than the product. I’ve had reps who’ve driven far and wide to tell me nothing new, yet I'm sure they got they received “credit” for their “dealer call.” Don’t come in unless you have something to say. We’re busy running a company, and time is our most valuable asset.

Again, I’ll say there are great reps out there. I just spent two hours with a rep and the manufacturing company talking about their product line, and this was time well spent.

Bad Customer Service
By customer, in this instance, I am speaking about us, the dealers. We are the customers that are buying product from them, the manufactures. Will they support you when you do have an issue? The firm in question, I am sad to say, has not. If I get three bad receivers in line and have to run around replacing these units, then send me one to install for the client in the meantime. If a receiver starts a fire at a client’s house (true story), follow up and make sure that I (the dealer) am happy as well as the client. Please note this company is a higher end company; we’re not talking cheap stuff here, we’re talking a grand or more for these units, not $199 AVRs.

As dealers, it is our job to take a step back and make sure that we are providing the right equipment to our clients. This is how we’ll keep them coming back throughout time. Having multiple units go bad with a company that just doesn’t seem to care isn’t how we move to the next level. It is just not how it is done.

I am happy to report we have picked up a new line and so far, we’ve been very happy with them. Remember, people are buying you, not a specific product. Don’t sell yourself short.Heather Sidorowcz
Heather L. Sidorowicz is the president of Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.

6 comment(s) so far...


Re: How Do You Know When to Drop a Product Line?

You are absolutely right. Being an international distributor/dealer, it means I have a service shop and when I started my business 19 years ago I made a requirement of one set of service manual for every model I bought. So far I´ve dropped just a few product lines: a speaker line because I had to spend hours over several weeks on the phone to get service parts, and after I received them I got an invoice requesting payment, of course I didn´t buy again; the other company never supplier the service information and I never made a second purchase; the relationship with the last one was good for a few years but frequently didn´t have the product I needed.

By Rolando Cordero on   3/13/2014 4:55 PM

Re: How Do You Know When to Drop a Product Line?

Thanks for the nice essay. We had similar problems with a receiver manufacturer back in 2005 and 2006. After carrying the line for almost 20 years, we finally said goodbye. The product was failing but both the manufacturer and rep told us that they "were not having problems." When this brand's reliability issues were brought up during a CEDIA seminar, there were laughs throughout the room. At that point, I knew I had been lied to for many months by the manufacturer and the rep. The upside is that we've replaced this problem child with a line that's so much better.

By Gary Stein on   3/13/2014 10:03 PM

Re: How Do You Know When to Drop a Product Line?

A person that has been in the in the integration industry for over 10-12 years (we have been in for over 25 years) knows and feels how the industry has changed. When you get a sense of being "out there on your own" from a product manufacturer that you have been doing business with for a length of time, it is time to cut the cord. We had this happen to us, recently with a product company, that in our estimation has bitten off more then they can chew. Unfortunately, we were with them from the start but started to see changes at the top and changes in representation that raised a RED FLAG and we do not design in or integrate their products any longer. I guess, It is part of the cycle to update the focus of your business.

By Bob Lieto on   3/14/2014 1:48 PM

Re: How Do You Know When to Drop a Product Line?

I think one of the greatest disservices we can do to fellow custom installers and clients is to allow these companies to remain anonymous. I'm not suggesting giving someone a bad reputation for a problem or two. But for repeat offenders, we owe it to ourselves and our clients not to suffer in silence and allow a company that has shown it values profit above all else to continue ripping people off.

By Chuck Woolery on   3/21/2014 1:17 PM

Re: How Do You Know When to Drop a Product Line?

Very well written article Heather. I've been in manufacturing side of this business for over 30 years. I worked for Luxman back in the 80's - we were the first Japanese vendor to offer multi-room - multi-zone receivers, integrated amps and such. We quickly learned that in the CI business - as in any contractor - labor based model, customer service is king. Always has been, always will, if a vendor does not respond to your needs, just once, or they have a non-responsive rep, drop 'em like a hot rock. Move on. There's plenty of brands that will earn your business. Yes, I realize there are switch costs, but what costs will you incur by losing a client, or worse yet, paying the ultimate price - losing your trust with your market, if you keep the brand in your mix. Remember, brands are like people. Trust is everything. Great brands bust their ass to keep their promises - great brands know that the decision they make today to help you - is NOT about today, but about the years of partnership that your relationship represents. A $1000 decision - costing the vendor - to get your client satisfied NOW, is a mere drop in the bucket when considering how long a business relationship will continue - I contend that if both parties deliver on their promises - the relationship should last forever. Today, building a sustainable business in this crazy CI business is not for the faint of heart. Manufacturers who don't realize this are just walking dead.....If you want to know what kind of supplier you have, call their tech support or customer service people and give them a challenge - then watch how they handle it.....if they hesitate, or have to find out how to handle the problem - chances are they are not empowered to "get it done". Those vendors do NOT deserve your business. Sounds tough, but you know, customers DEMAND the best from you. Vendors who can't deliver THEIR best don't deserve your business. One more thing....vendors who hide about problems - or deny they even exist, (yes, there are still those who do this) - should be taken out to the shed and well,,,,you get my drift. Mediocrity should NOT be tolerated. In this day and age when consumers have lots of choices...both in brands and CI dealers. You spend lots of time, resources building your reputation as THE place to buy...why on earth would you put up with anything but the best practices from suppliers? You don't need to sacrifice to do business anymore - YOU have choices too. And I will close by making a suggestion - when beginning a new relationship with a vendor - set expectations up front. Get them to agree - get them to sign something to that effect. It will establish a base line of business relationship that both parties live up to. Remember, this is like any relationship. Establishing clear communication, expectations early, and being committed to those things, will create a long, trusting, mutually profitable business for years to come.

By Mark Weisenberg on   3/21/2014 6:56 PM

Re: How Do You Know When to Drop a Product Line?

Your article was great! I have found, during the many years that I have been in this business, that just doing a quick survey of other dealers that are carrying a line you are considering is extremely helpful. Just as helpful is contacting dealers that have dropped the line you are considering.
I also have found that building a good relationship with the factory people is more important than dealing directly with the reps. A good rep, however, is an extremely important asset!

By Ann Gallimore on   3/28/2014 3:07 PM

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