Legion are the stories and anecdotes about shoppers who steal the services of the brick and mortar dealer and then place the actual order on the Internet at a savings. Thieves all! Once the potential buyer has his immediate needs sated by a generous and helpful dealer, once he then places a long-distance order for product, he is indeed a thief - a thief of good will, time and profit.
But there's another side to this story equally valid and in need of being recognized as part of the same problem - that of the apathetic, burned-out or snotty local dealers. In my neck of the woods, these are much more abundant and easy to come by than the passionate and caring dealers on whose behalf Srajan wrote Part 1.
Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves. [Dale Carnegie]
In one local franchise of the largest chain on the East Coast, an item was out of stock. I was invited to drive across town to another outlet that had one in stock since they wouldn't sell me the floor model. I asked the sales guy why I would drive across town to a sister store when I could just drive right up the street to a competitor? He wasn't fazed. True, the item in question was not a high-ticket item. Still, what was the message here? "Shop elsewhere, we don't have time for you." What do I tell my cooks who think that grilling a cheese sandwich is beneath them? If you can't perform the little tasks, if you can't satisfy the menial requests, why should the customer come back expecting greatness from your more lofty aspirations? If you can't grill a cheese sandwich, why should someone expect greater care with his pan-seared Rockfish? The thought of spending money on a more expensive item from this store is anathema to me now.
Another local audio salon in my area has experienced profound growth. How or why I have no idea. Walk into this store and it really is a work of art. But don't try to get an interested nod from any of the sales personnel or order takers as they really are. No matter. I'm familiar with the fundamentals of the self-serve demo. No problem. However, on that side of the room are the Martin Logans and where you'd expect a listening chair, there is nothing. Try that love seat all the way over there, the one catty-corner to the wall with the built-in speakers flanking the plasma. Then there's the room with the monitor speakers. "Can I listen to that pair of speakers on a pair of stands out and into the room, please?" Imagine my shock to find out there wasn't a pair of stands in the building. Worse was the salesman's resultant sigh of exasperation at the mere request. One speaker was ultimately propped up on another speaker and the other on a stool borrowed from behind the counter. I exaggerate not. On another occasion and in this very same store -- where I had previously purchased products from Velodyne, Martin Logan, Aragon, Yamaha and Sony ES -- I brought in a friend interested in a projection TV. I was the 4th customer there with only 3 sales people on the floor. We walked the floor in circles for better than a half hour with nary a nod or invitation from anyone to have a seat with the assurance we'd be taken care of shortly. The two of us left never to return.
In still another shop, I demoed a pair of monitor speakers. In the corner, I noticed a Velodyne subwoofer, the same model I owned. I asked if it would be possible to hear the speakers with the sub. "No problem," said the salesman as he walked over and nudged the volume of the already playing subwoofer up just a notch.
Flaming enthusiasm backed up by horse sense and persistence is the quality that most frequently makes for success. [Dale Carnegie]
At still a third local shop, I placed a phone call to procure replacement tweeters for a pair of speakers purchased by me and then sold to a family member. One phone call to my favorite sales guy got the ball rolling. A message from a service tech a couple of days latter necessitated a follow-up call on my part to inquire as to the progress of my order. My favorite guy not being in, another salesman took the call. I explained my situation to a guy who clearly would not profit through any expenditure of energy on his part. I was invited to call back and ask not for the service guy but the original salesman. Clearly, it was beyond this fella's pale to call upstairs, explain to the service tech who I was and why I was calling and get him on the phone for me. Taking a message to have the sales guy call me back would have required reaching across the counter to pick up a pen and jot down my number, a task equally beyond his reach. Ditto for messaging the service tech.
The fact remains, I've made multiple purchases from all of these places. Each time I do, they bank a piece of the pie approximately twice the size of the manufacturer's profit - a manufacturer who probably is passionate and caring and in possession of what it takes to actually produce something. Why is this guy only entitled to a profit half the size of that of the dealers I have described? Why are these lazy, burned-out, snotty sales folks entitled to twice the reward of the guy who actually designed and executed the product and then marketed it in ways that got me to walk into the dealer's showroom in the first place? Does this make any sense?
Do you think the dealer is looking out for you? I was talking to a very successful manufacturer of gear once. He explained the pressure he's under from his dealers to increase his prices. Not to develop different gear (it's already very good) but to increase the prices. You see, the dealers need an upgrade path for their customers. You have last year's $2,000 amplifier? Upgrade it to this year's $3,000 amplifier. Sure beats educating the customer that 2,000 dollars this year can buy you more than they did in years past, doesn't it?
You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you. [Dale Carnegie]
There once was a time when after-the-sale service was the reason to patronize brick and mortar shops. These days few if any keep an actual service technician in-house. Need your product serviced? Pack it up, lug it to the dealer and they'll dial up UPS for a pick-up. Big deal. I can do that myself. But now that the dealer's not paying a technician and has thereby dispensed with a large chunk of his overhead, does he pass that savings along to the customer? Get real.
Another way to cut down on overhead is to offer appointment-only auditions. No service tech, no sales force, even less overhead. Spend a few hours with this guy and when you buy that pair of speakers for ten grand, he puts half of your stash in his pocket. Only fair, right? I mean, he did (hopefully) stock that pair of speakers, which cost him real bucks. Of course, even had he stocked that pair of speakers for an entire year, at the end of that year he still recouped a 100% profit on his investment. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Feeling sorry for yourself and your present condition is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have. [Dale Carnegie]
My point here is simple - if dealers want to bemoan the loss of sales to the Internet, they have one option: reintroduce service. Any dealer who hasn't found a way to discover exactly what his customers experience when they walk through his doors needs to. I've only skimmed the surface of the shabby treatment I've endured over the course of the last 20 years in some of these places. There's no excuse for it. It's why I have no sympathy for most of them. Putting up four walls and stocking product does not guarantee prosperity. Just as it is in any other service industry, you're only as good as your last sale. Prosperity must be earned again and again each day. Perhaps what we are dealing with here is an issue of natural selection. Too many dealers in too small a market, with nobody served well enough. Many outfits don't earn enough to keep a happy and motivated sales force. Some are bound to fail. As Steve Irwin would say, it's nature's way. Perhaps the Internet is the free-market corrective mechanism that will force out the useless dealers to leave an appropriately sized piece of the pie to the fittest of dealers - the ones who never lost sight of their customer in the first place?