Our custom installation company is fortunate enough to have a showroom for meeting with clients and demonstrating systems. We feel it’s a huge advantage for us, and a differentiator between smaller, pop-up-over-night, one-man-in-a-van outfits because it lends an air of stability and credibility to our company. But deciding what to display is always a concern, as that is money out of pocket that often results in gear that is never sold or sold at greatly reduced pricing.
In our showroom, my business partner and I often debate about what we want to bring in to demo versus what we think we can sell without needing to show it. He has this saying that he likes to pull out whenever I think we need to bring in something new. “I don’t need to show it to be able to sell it!” And it’s often true, as he has this Scheherazade manner of weaving a spell over people, selling them things based solely on the story of a lifestyle and how this new unseen product will be the perfect fit into the 1,001 Nights he is enchanting them with.
And for some things he’s right. I can’t tell you the last time I actually showed or played a Niles outdoor speaker for someone, but yet we sell many pairs a year. Our best-selling TV is a Samsung model that we rarely even need to turn on to demo because customers typically purchase it based primarily on Samsung’s reputation and the aesthetic of the micro-bezel and how the set looks when it’s off. And I recently sold a near five-digit Sonance SLS outdoor audio system based solely on my enthusiasm for the product and my personal experience reviewing it for Resi Systems.
But there are other products that just need to be experienced by the customer for them to truly understand why they are so special. For instance, you’ll rarely sell a pair of high-end speakers just by using a bunch of fancy adjectives like “imaging,” “soundstage,” “realism” or “depth.” Even if you are waving around reviews—and even if you happen to have written those reviews—proclaiming how great the speaker is, that’s usually the kind of thing that people are going to want to experience. I have been incredibly successful selling Definitive Technology’s Mythos Solo Cinema XTR—a near $2,000 sound bar—because I demo it to everyone that comes in looking for a soundbar solution. I have no doubt that I would not have sold half as many if I was trying to sell it on word of mouth alone. I think Kaleidescape is another of those must-experience products. You can tell someone that it is kind of like a giant iPod for movies, but until you show them the interface and how easy and elegant and fast it is, they won’t ever truly get it. There is this “aha!” moment when the stars align in a customer’s mind and all of the things you’ve been describing to them gel with what they are actually experiencing. (That’s the moment when Blake, Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross, would want you to go for the close... Then drink your coffee.)
We have been a VisionArt dealer for several years but had only ever sold one system. And that was to someone who had specifically requested it for a remodel he was doing. Now, on the surface, VisionArt seems to be one of those products that you wouldn’t have to show to be able to sell. I mean, you can easily and quickly describe exactly what the product does. “It is artwork in a frame that covers the TV so when the TV is not in use, you see art. But when you want to watch TV, the artwork rolls up inside the frame and then, Shazam! There’s the screen.”
I mean, people know what art is. They have picture frames in their house. They know what rolling up and down means. And they can visualize the artwork one second and then the TV screen the next. But, I’ll be damned if we sold any of these things even though we pitched them all the time.
So when a couple building a new house wanted a way to conceal the TV in their family room, I pitched it to them. This time the pitch stuck and they decided to make the purchase. When I was filling out the order I noticed that VisionArt had a displaying dealer program that would give an additional discount on any purchases if you had a model on display. This order worked out that I could basically get a demo model for our showroom that would be end up being totally free due to the increased discount on the order. This revelation prompted the following email exchange between Carrie at VisionArt and me:
Me: “Hey, I was just looking at the pricing info, and we'd be stupid not to order a display model to get the extra 10 percent off of our purchase. Plus we'd have a display! I'm looking at something from the QuickShip line. Would that qualify us as a displaying dealer? I'd love to have a working model on a TV.”
Carrie: “Yes, you can order a QuickShip for your showroom and become a displaying dealer.”
Me: “Awesome. Would it be safe to say that I would be a fool to not do that? :-)”
So, our new artwork arrived and we put it up on the wall, and to make certain that people knew what it was, we leave the artwork permanently at half-mast like this:
Since putting it up a few weeks ago, I can’t tell you how much attention this display has gotten in our store. Even without being prompted, it draws people in like a tractor beam. They notice it, then stare at it, then slowly wander over to it. Numerous people have commented on it, come over and raised and lowered the art with the remote, and basically stared at it like it is the single greatest marvel since the invention of the flat-panel TV. All without us ever even saying a word about the product.
“What is that? Wait! Is that a TV? And art? And the art…it goes up and down? In front of the TV?! So when he TV is off you just see the art?! Oh, man! That’s amazing! I’ve got to take a picture of this to show my wife. Wait! No! A video! Can you make it go up and down while I film it?!”
Sometimes I think we forget how cool some of the tech we know about is, and we take for granted that, “Holy crap! That’s awesome!” moment that we all experienced so long ago.
A couple visited our store this weekend and the woman literally swooned over the VisionArt piece. She went on and on about it the way that I would describe an Italian sports car ending in ‘ini” or “ari.” The VisionArt was the perfect solution, exactly what she had been imagining but didn’t know existed, and it was going to solve all of her problems of not wanting a TV to be the focal point of the room and still be able to have artwork over her mantle. She stared at this thing literally beaming. I almost felt like I needed to give her some privacy with it.
She had that kind of excitement where she was still animatedly talking while walking out of our store and all the way out to her car. Will they come back and buy it? Maybe. I’d say probably. But even if they don’t, the VisionArt gave them a gee whiz experience that is getting harder and harder to deliver, and one that I have no doubt they will tell their friends about. In my book, that’s a success even if they don’t come back to buy a VisionArt piece.
Even my partner has had to admit that we missed out on a lot of sales opportunities over the years by not displaying the VisionArt. Also helpful is that the company has introduced many models that are far more affordable—and better constructed—than models in the past. If you have a showroom, I’d suggest checking them out.
If your company has a showroom, what are some of your “must demo” products? Comment it out below….
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.