In 2014, the landlord for the building that held Hi-Fi Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, for more than 30 years decided to raise the rent by a substantial amount. That turned out to be a good thing, as the company moved into a new space a few blocks away and built a multi-showroom masterpiece that lets them demonstrate a large amount of gear in a condensed space.
Whatever the location, the mission of the company has remained the same. “This is a family business that was started in 1984 by my father, Alex,” says Igor Kivritsky, owner of Hi-Fi Centre. “When he opened the store, there were a lot of entry-level stores in the city, and he wanted to offer something with better quality and higher performance.”
To show off the exceptional gear, Hi-Fi Centre has a T-shaped showroom that holds a host of some of the top names in high-end audio/video, including McIntosh, Sonus faber, Bowers & Wilkins, Kaleidescape, and Audioquest, to name a few.
“We don’t have it designed like an Ikea where you have to start at the beginning and you walk through to the end,” says Kivritsky, “but the rooms are set up with key brands that are complementary to each other.
“When customers first come in, a sales rep greets them and asks a number of questions to find out what they’re looking for and what their interests are. We then show them the products they came in for, but also take them on a tour of every room because you never know what might resonate. Many customers don’t know what’s available — they come to us because of our reputation, our online presence, or a referral, but often they don’t know exactly what they want. It’s like going into a Chevy dealership and someone lets you take the Corvette out for a drive even though you came in to buy a Malibu.”
Taking the Tour
Just past the reception counter, there is a long row of turntables and speakers along the wall. Most of the turntables are from Rega but there are also a few from Clearaudio and Pro-Ject. Clients have a selection of speakers from Bowers & Wilkins, Sonus faber, Totem, KEF, Spendor and QLN.
In the front area of the store is a collection of speakers that celebrate the golden years of Hi-Fi. Brands include Klipsch, Tannoy, and Wharfedale. Also sharing the space you will find electronics from Cambridge Audio, Rega, Prima Luna, and Linn.
Making your way to the top of the T, on the right is a room that holds Hi-Fi Centre’s most expensive setup — over $300,000. The gear in that room — and indeed all the rooms in the store — get rotated out regularly. At the moment, visitors will find brands like Vinnie Rossi, MSB Technology, Aurender, SME, and Sonus faber. “The AudioQuest cables alone in that system are in the $40,000 to $50,000 range,” says Kivritsky.
Next to that stunning system is small room that houses preowned equipment — an unusual juxtaposition, to be sure. “It’s a bit strange to have your used stuff next to your most expensive stuff, but we wound up with this little corner niche that isn’t big enough to be a real sound room. So, we put the used gear there,” adds Kivritsky.
Heading across to the other side of the T you will find separate rooms dedicated to Naim Audio, McIntosh, and AVM Audio. There is also a room that displays Gryphon, Accuphase, Classé, and even more speakers.
Rounding things off is a home theater that features a Bowers & Wilkins CT speaker system driven by McIntosh electronics. The screen is by Stewart Filmscreen and the projector is a top-of-the-line JVC model. Fun fact — the theater has ten 12-inch subwoofers that provide “effortless bass,” according to Kivritsky.
The entire space sits on top of the Hi-Fi Centre warehouse, where most items from the showroom are kept in stock. “We have a huge warehouse in the basement of the building,” says Kivritsky. “In fact, we take up most of the basement. It’s so much easier when a customer says, ‘Do you have that in stock?’ to say, ‘Yes sir we do, I’ll bring it right up.’”
Like all retail businesses, Hi-Fi Centre had to make adjustments when the pandemic hit — changing the store’s hours to “appointment only.” And, like the forced move years ago, that too turned into an opportunity.
“With Covid we changed to appointment-only,” says Kivritsky, “and after Covid we decided to stay that way because it allowed our staff to spend more time out of the store. We field inquiries by phone and email, and the rest of the time the guys are out visiting clients. We found that by working from home, we tended to be more productive. Sales are up, everybody’s making more money, and they spend less time in the store — which is exactly what you want because your closing ratio goes up 10 times in a customer’s house versus when you’re in the store.
“Clients make appointments either by phone or through our website — and then our sales rep can work with that client uninterrupted for as long as he or she needs. Any new inquiries will be handled by another rep, and we make sure that we don’t double stack our appointments so that there’s always somebody there to answer the phone. If one sales rep is locked in a demo room all day, then that’s great.”
With many brands on display and different team member using them throughout the day, Kivritsky offers some advice for making sure you get the expected results every time you press a button or flip a switch.
When customers come in, they’ll often say, ‘I want to try this, and I’d like to compare this piece with that piece. Can you hook it up for me?’ Sure — no problem. But after the demo it is important to put things back the way they were so that the next sales rep is able to deliver a good experience for their customer. If one forgets to put things back or has to run out before he can get to it, the next rep is in for an awkward moment if a system doesn’t work or doesn’t look good. Therefore, “When I arrive in the morning, I walk around the shop and hit ‘Play’ on every system to make sure that we are ready.”
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the customer experience. That’s the only thing that matters. If you don’t get that right, then the chances of somebody buying from you go down immeasurably. We figured this out a long time ago, so everything we do in the store is to make sure that when customers come in they have a good time, they get the information that they want, and they get to experience incredible sound. The amount of gear we have on demo is quite something. For a store our size to have this many products on display is rare these days and we use that to our advantage.”
For more information, visit https://hificentre.com.