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CE Specialty Retailing Legend, Saul Robbins, Passes Away

In 1955 Robins Founded The Would Be Hifi House

Saul Robbins, a driving force behind the consumer electronics specialty retailing industry and father of HTSA Executive Director Jon Robbins, died earlier today.

He passed away peacefully in the arms of his wife Reina and surrounded by his whole family after a brief illness.

A service honoring his life is being planned and the family will release more information once all the details have been finalized.

Founded in 1955, HiFi House would influence specialty CE retailing for decades

It was 1955 when Saul Robbins left his job in the trucking industry to start selling the then all-new stereophonic electronic components in the back of his father-in-law Morris Freedman’s haberdashery in Wayne, Pennsylvania. He didn’t know it then, but he would eventually come to preside over an empire of – at one point – thirteen locations throughout Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Southern New Jersey.

Those early HiFi Houses had little competition back then, as this was truly an industry that started from ground zero and didn’t exist before enthusiasts and entrepreneurs like Robbins built it from the ground up. The company went on to become an early member of industry buying group HTSA.

Back then, many dealers were small mom-and-pop single store operations. But Robbins thought big and wasn’t afraid to buy big quantities if the deal was right. This made HiFi House stand out from most other smaller dealers and he became known throughout the industry. This renown put him in contact with the industry elite, many of whom he became close friends with, including industry legends such as Avery Fisher, Saul Marantz, Henry Kloss, Bill Kasuga (Kenwood), and Akio Morita (Sony).

HiFi House was a leading retailer of stereo components and became known for selling and stocking many high end, high-performance products. They would focus on lines that were not broadly distributed but were considered premier brands, such as Harman Kardon, Bose, Tandberg, Teac, etc.

One innovation that differentiated HiFi House early on was that it offered showrooms where salespeople had the ability to demonstrate systems. In those early days, competitors like appliance stores offered stereo equipment as well – but they did not have the ability to actually demonstrate their products.

Saul was not just a run-of-the-mill merchant, he had a real knack or intuition of where the market was heading and often led the industry as an early adopter of new technologies. One example of this is while others stuck solely with audio, Saul was one of the first to embrace video with quality brands like Sony.

It was his intuitive sense of emerging consumer trends that motivated him to embrace the Advent Video Beam large screen projection system, leading the industry into the trend towards big screen TVs. Launched back in the 1970s, the Advent Video Beam sold for around $3,000 installed…a pretty penny in those days. Yet Hifi House sold them by the hundreds becoming the largest dealer for Advent in the East.

It was HiFi House’s success with installing the Advent Video Beam that convinced Saul to pursue residential, education, and commercial installations – once again well ahead of most in the industry. Custom installation would go on to become a major revenue center for the company, and for the industry.

Robbins was known to be a demanding boss and a very tough negotiator. But he was also respected as a man of honor – his word was his bond. And for those who knew him closely, they knew the truth … he had a heart of gold.

Long-time family friend and former Pioneer Regional Vice President Don McNair said of his dear friend Saul: “Was he a tough taskmaster? Yeah, he was a taskmaster of the first order. He would beat you up for a quarter, but then he’d take you out for an expensive lobster dinner and wouldn’t let you get near the check to pick it up. To Saul, business was business, and pleasure was pleasure. What he was a real champion of was buying the right deal, and hiring the right people.”

Robbins, along with his twin brother Jack, was born at home on Yewdall Street in West Philadelphia in 1928. They were the fifth and sixth children of Joseph Robbins, a house painter, and Dora Robbins, who ran a produce store at 50th and Market Streets in Philadelphia.

Saul loved boating and fishing and looked forward to opportunities to do both. He also loved to golf, but he would tell his friends that when it comes to recreational sports, fishing had a better “return on investment” as compared to the others because you can keep and eat the fish you caught.

he is survived by Reina Robbins (formerly Freedman), his beloved wife of 66 years, son Jon Robbins (Christine), son David Robbins, son Robert Robbins, daughter Edna Adelberg (Kenneth), eleven grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.