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Not Such a Black Friday Afterall

While Black Friday is the end-all, be-all shopping day for nearly every major retailer in the Western world, it is a total non-event for us at Custom Theater. The idea of selling things at or below cost to bring people into the door on the hopes that they might also pick up a cable or a remote or even just have a loos

While Black Friday is the end-all, be-all shopping day for nearly every major retailer in the Western world, it is a total non-event for us at Custom Theater. The idea of selling things at or below cost to bring people into the door on the hopes that they might also pick up a cable or a remote or even just have a loose five-dollar bill accidentally fall out of their wallet while they paying is not a selling strategy that works for us.

I’d also venture to guess that this isn’t a day that really holds much appeal for any custom shop that has hung out their shingle and chosen to thinly butter their bread with the hopes of trumping quantity with quality. We decided long ago that in a race to the bottom where the winner is selected solely on the basis of cheapest price, it is a race we have no interest in running.

In fact, instead of ramping up for a big day-after sale, my shop debated whether or not to even be open this year on Black Friday. With most of our install staff wanting to go out of town for a four-day weekend, we decided to not schedule any installs but ultimately decided that, yes, we would have the showroom open. And even though “we” decided to be open, somehow I was the specifically the only one that ended up having to work.

So, happy-happy, joy-joy, I came in at 10 and opened up like a good little soldier and waited for…something. (While waiting, I managed to complete a review, a column, and a blog, so not time totally, completely wasted. And all of that despite the fact that I didn’t get myself into bed until nearly 2 a.m. the night before, hopped up on my own after-midnight DVD/Blu-ray shopping spree.)

So, want to know the sum total of our Black Friday business? With no $1.96 DVD or $499 42-inch HD flat screens to entice people? Two customers. Two. But, as I said, it isn’t always about quantity. When it comes to quality, that definitely goes for customers too.

The first guy to come in was holding an old, cheapie RCA video cable.

“Do you sell these?”

“Composite video cables?”

“That’s what this is?”

“Uh, yes. See that yellow head? That’s a dead give away for a composite video cable. Probably for hooking up a VCR or video game system?”

“A VCR.”

“OK. Sure. We’ve got them. How long do you need? I have them in four-, eight-, and 16-foot lengths.”

“I don’t know. Probably this long.” He drops the cable to the ground and it is about six feet.

“OK. Here you go. Here’s an eight-footer.”

“You sure this is right?”

“Yep, totally positive. I’ve been doing this for almost 13 years and I am positive that this is what you need to replace that.”
“I’d better call my wife.”

So he pulls out his phone and I hear, “Yeah… Uh-huh. Well, he says he’s sure… Yeah. For a VCR.” Then to me, “You’re sure this is right, right?”

“Yes, 100-percent positive. Not even like I’m kinda sure. I’m sure-sure. But that’s just for video…the picture. It doesn’t do the audio, the sound. If you need sound also, you’ll need some other cables to go with it.”

Back to the phone, “Wait, he says this just does video. Uh-huh. We’ve got sound? OK, well, I guess I’ll try it and see. Bye.”

At great personal pain to myself, I am battling an autonomic-level compulsion for my eyeballs to go on a 360-degree eye-roll so massive that there would be a very real possibility of them spinning right out of my head, the optic nerve dangling down my face like that guy’s definitely composite video cable.

So, finally, after the assurance of, “Look, if you get it home and it doesn’t work, I’ll take it back,” the guy decides to make the plunge and I make my first Black Friday sale. A giant, some of the hardest I’ve ever earned, $20.

So a few more hours pass and the phone rings. It is a previous customer whose Harmony remote has gone black screen. We try some basic troubleshooting and determine that the remote has gone to that great system in the sky, so I check my sales records and see that his remote is like five days out of warranty. Like I had to check my watch date window to confirm the date against the computer. So, conundrum… I tell him that if it were ANY other brand I’d be happy to fudge his receipt, but with Harmony, I can’t, because during programming, the remote logs into Harmony’s servers and then they KNOW when he bought it, and there is no changing it. But, I tell him, if he calls them, they almost always take care of the customer directly.

So, he calls them and then like 30 minutes later he calls me back. Harmony confirmed that the remote was five days out of warranty, and that they could sell him a refurbished model for half-off and ship him one in like 7-10 days. (Sidebar: That is just totally lame. This guy was super cool about it, but honestly, you’ve got to be thinking, “Come on! I bought it from you! You’re not gonna help me out here?” And I know, a warranty is for a specific amount of time, but come on, Logitech!) He says it’s not worth it to him to be without it for two weeks to save $75 so he just wanted to come down and pick up a new one. No problem, says I. I’m just here listening to Napster on my horrible computer speakers.

So I re-program a new Harmony for him, porting his programming over and making a couple of tweaks and have it all ready for him. (It is now about 3:30 and raining and I’ve decided that this shall conclude our Black Friday sales for the 2010 shopping season.) So he comes in, and I make my second sale, a crazy near 800-percent increase of $159. (I know; at these rates the next person to walk in might have dropped some real cake, but, meh…) So the guy is about my age and seems pretty cool, and I’m looking for a well-deserved break from blogging and welcome some actual organic life-form interaction, so we get to talking and he asks if it is possible to control a home with an iPad and I show him how the iPad is running the Control4 system in our store. And we talk a little more and it turns out this guy loves home theater, and especially bass. But he’s never really heard anything impressive, and wants something that will really tear his friend’s heads off.

So now I’m thinking, “Hello-hello, step into my parlor, little brown mouse!” and I assure him that I have just the thing for decapitating those you love with pure, packaged bass awesome. I take him into our big demo room and point to our mini-fridge sized Definitive Technology Super Cube Trinity Reference sub. “BEHOLD!” my subtle hand gesture proclaims.

“That’s the subwoofer?” I can tell by the tone in his voice that he is asking me with the same excitement and tone he used when first uttering the words, “We’re really going to Disney World? Like really?!” Part disbelief, part oh-can-it-really-be, part dreams-DO-come-true!

“Yes. That’s the subwoofer. With six 14-inch drivers.”

“All in one cabinet?” His body was still but his voice was hopping back and forth like it had to go pee.

“Yes. You want to hear it?”

So we sit down and I fire up the Kaleidescape and the Runco Q projector, and I whiz through the dancing, magical cover art screens and land on the cover of Master and Commander and pull up the opening battle scene, which he watched in its entirety in stunned silence.

“Want more?”


I pulled up the Kaleidescape covers again and scrolled to “Favorite Scene,” titled “Attack!” from Pearl Harbor.

And when it was over, I brought up the lights and looked over, and I didn’t have to ask what he thought because he just had this smile on his face. This smile of just pure joy and awe and pleasure over experiencing something he had no idea was even possible 10 minutes before. Remember that scene in Ratatoiulle at the end when Ego takes the bite of ratatouille and he is instantly transported back to his childhood? That’s what I was seeing on his face; remembering my own similar feelings of pure, unadulterated awesomeness from experiencing a truly top-notch level home theater system for the first time. And honestly, even if he never buys another thing from us, it is so rare any more that you get to give THAT demo to someone. You know the one I’m talking about; the one where you can tell that you just pulled back the curtain, gave them a full glass of water and the Red Pill and showed them that the Matrix-world of crappy audio and video they’ve experience up until now has all been a lie, but that he can join you and live in Zion!

But, it turns out he probably will buy more from us. Turns out he and his dad are building a 5,000-square-foot house… with a dedicated media room. And he loved our system. And how I took care of him. And could we do something awesome in his home with a budget of like $50,000?

Quality, my friends. It’s all about the quality… So perhaps it turned out to be a Black Friday afterall!