This industry that we all refer to as custom is changing all the time, and often not for the better. What began as a hobby for most has become a very challenging business pursuit.
As more money has entered into the equation, what was once simply a passion that you happened to get paid pretty good money to do, has turned into a cut-throat, impersonal grind for many of you.
I was reminded of this unfortunate evolution during several intriguing conversations with members of Niles Audios Dealer Advisory Board during their meeting on a small island in British Columbia last month. More than once I was told stories by these dealers about the nascient days of custom when profits were high and business was based on a handshake. The unbelievable profits gleaned from early plasma TV sales were as much a high point in this industrys history as the dot-com boom was for Silicon Valley. Unfortunately that heyday ended almost as quickly as it started and left many custom business owners scrambling for a new plan when the bottom dropped out.
Several of the folks with whom I spoke at the meeting pointed to Niles Audio as one of the noble few companies that still treats them with the kind of respect that many had grown accustomed to in their early years. By focusing on a collaborative relationship rather than an adversarial one, Niles, these dealers explained, created a mutual trust that is a win-win scenario for all players.
As a journalist, my goal is always to be as objective as possible when working with manufacturers, dealers, and the products that they sell. That said, I could not help but be impressed by just how open Niles was with its dealers (and a couple of us invited members of the trade press) when discussing product development, market strategy, and past successes and failures. Not only were we privy to details for the upcoming CEDIA EXPO, but we were also encouraged to weigh in on what we thought of the companys medium- and long-range business plans. I signed an NDA, so Im not tempted to reveal what I learned, but it was an amazing experience just being part of such an open forum.
When the Niles meetings got underway, I realized how different this process was going to be from other product previews that I had attended. Whereas other events included closed-door sessions for dealers to air their grievances, they never included such an open discussion (with media included) about current and future plans. This was such a novel and refreshing approach.
I can understand why most manufacturers would be relunctant to include press in an event like this. But by inviting a select group into your planning process it gives us a deeper understanding of what they go through and helps us work together better toward common goals.
This may be the beautiful mountains, crystal blue waters, and salmon dinners of B.C. talking, but I think that a lot of companies out there could learn a thing or two from Niles Audio. Talk to Frank or Sparky at CEDIA EXPO, and Im sure theyll share the risk/reward equation with you.
Opening yourself to criticism is never easy, but the return on investment that Niles seems to receive in dealer loyalty and added sales has got to be well worth the risk.