We have a showroom, so it isn’t unusual for people to stop in that aren’t really sure what it is we do. We get a lot of people asking about car stereo installations, looking for TV repair services, or wondering if we transfer VHS tapes to DVD (or vinyl to CD). Last week an older* gentleman came into the store and started off by saying, “I’m not sure if you can help me, but I just wanted to come in and ask you a few questions and talk for a bit.”
My first thought was that he was building a house and wanted to feel me out to see if we were the right company for him. Or maybe he had hired some other company and now wanted to see if I could rescue his install. But he looked a bit distraught. Like he was under some duress and was hoping that I might be able to offer an answer.
Turns out that the guy was from up north and owned a company similar to ours that he took over from his father years ago. He said his dad had started the company in the ’70s, and now he really seemed lost. He had been doing it for so long that many things had passed him by, and now he just didn’t seem to know where his true north was. He basically had no love for the industry, essentially hated his customers, described the area where he serviced as the armpit of the state**, had no interest in home theater or streaming audio, didn’t really care to do installations, and basically sounded like he did everything to drive away business.
“My wife and I have been coming down here for vacation for years,” he said, “and year after year we pass your store and see that you’re still in business, and I just wonder how you do it.”
It’s a good question. Why do some of us succeed while others fail? We’re now in our 20th year of business and have definitely seen many other companies in our market come and go in that time. Why them and not us?
Some of it is simple business management, I think. I make sure our books are squared away. We pay our invoices and keep good manufacturer relations. We pay our employees and treat them well. We get deposits for work and then bill and collect when jobs are complete, and we’re conservative with spending. The money coming in exceeds the money going out, so we stay in the black.
Another part of it is a philosophy that my business partner and our company founder, Allen Ryals, stated from day one: “We’re going to do good work and always do the right thing. We show up when we say we’re going to, we do the work we say we’re going to, and we stand behind our work.” It’s really that simple.
By keeping customers happy, they in turn use us again and tell their friends about us, and we garner more business.
But this wasn’t what he was looking for. His store had been around since the ’70s, so it was far more than just keeping the doors open that he was interested in. This was a man that was in the twilight of his career and looking for a lifejacket to keep afloat in our industry, and I could tell that he was really searching for something to give him his spark back.
I started asking him some basic questions about his operation, and it was clear that he had just totally lost his way. Nearly every answer he gave me was like a textbook of what you would do to try and go out of business. For example, he told me that Best Buy “pawned off the customers they didn’t want to deal with” on him, so in response they basically cleared out all of the merchandise from their showroom, stopped demonstrating anything, and basically told people that came into the store to beat it.
I told him that I wished Best Buy would send people my direction. I truly feel that everyone that walks into my showroom that is truly interested in buying something is going to be a sale. If they’ve taken the effort to drive to Best Buy and then to come to my store, they are looking to purchase, and I’m going to sell them something.
He told me they used to have a demo room with a projector and video screen but that he really didn’t care for home theater so they just shut the door and no longer demonstrated it to anyone.
I asked if he did any installs and he said they had a guy that would sometimes go out and install things, but it wasn’t really something they went after.
I told him that installations were the lifeblood of our industry. Whether it was a massive house-wide installation, or just hanging a TV someone purchased off the internet, every house that we set foot into was another customer that we had on our side and another chance for us to make a sale in the future. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: a van in your parking lot is a van that isn’t making money.
Finally we came to the nut of the conversation; the gentleman told me that he just didn’t know if he loved the industry anymore and asked how we kept our passion after being in business for so long.
All of us have a reason that got us into this business—that thing that first drew us to it. Whether it was because you loved music, technology in general, or some technical aspect of the industry, there was something that initially attracted you. And if you feel like you have lost your passion, get back to that thing.
For me it was home theater. I just love watching surround sound movies at home. If our store closed tomorrow, I’d still watch three to four movies a week and continue searching for the best way to improve the experience. Dolby Atmos has been a welcome reinfusion of life into my spirit, as I now have something completely new to demonstrate and be excited about.
If you own a showroom, and it is starting to feel more like a prison than a paradise, then maybe you need to give it a facelift. We completely repainted the interior of our store a few years ago and it brought a whole new life to the space. It also gave us the opportunity to look at displays that were no longer current; a whole wall of in-wall speakers and keypads was replaced with a flat-panel TV and Sonos PlayBar display.
The other way to keep your passion is to stay current and involved. For me I keep up with the industry and others though social media. Twitter, Facebook, Linked In… Having these virtual friends around the country helps me to feel more involved and connected with what is happening and provides an almost limitless number of people to bounce questions or ideas off.
My final piece of advice to this gentleman was that he needed to get out of his store and go to a tradeshow. I told him to make it a commitment to attend CEDIA this year. Sign up for classes. Look through the list of trainings being offered and pick a few that most resonated with him. Walk the show floor. Talk to manufacturers and other installers and see what is working for them. Heck, just go to one of the many “mixers” and grab a beer*** and hang out with other installers.
I’m not sure how things will turn out for this gentleman; our conversation was cut short by some other people that came into my store. But talking to him was kind of an eye opener for me, making me realize that there is still a lot about this profession that I love. Ultimately, though, if you’ve lost your heart for this industry, maybe you should think about moving on to something else. This industry should be fun, and life is just too short to end up 60 and miserable.
* I’m guessing he was 60-ish
** In case he or any of his clients are reading this, I won’t state-shame him
*** He really looked like more a single malt kinda guy, but same-same