The Hub: News, events, gossip: Come the REVOLUTION

Okay: we're at the point where virtually everyone in the audio industry knows that we're not in Kansas any more, or at least not in the boom years of the '70's. Those golden olden days in audio (at least as remembered by the gray-headed boomers so often seen in the biz) saw a stereo in every dorm room and in most family rooms. Now we see iPods and computers.

In our last entry of The Hub, we looked at some of the ways in which audio manufacturers are reaching out to new and burgeoning markets; in this entry we'll take a look at some steps that can be made to reach the 'Pod and 'puter generation, right here in the good ol' US of A. Granted, it might not be like old times...but give it a chance. It could turn out to be even better.

We modestly propose a few nontraditional marketing programs to take Hi-Fi to the people. Some of them, anyway.

COLLEGE TOURS: Back at the dawn of time when BSR turntables were as common in dorm rooms as..umm...HOTPLATES, mainstream audio companies like Kenwood and Pioneer sent traveling roadshows to college campuses. Could it work today?
Why not? Here's the plan, in a nutshell:

Two people drive a truck from campus to campus, and set up 3-4 room exhibits in Student Union buildings, in association with a local dealer(s). The truck would carry only iPod/streaming-related PORTABLE products. The local dealer would exhibit some larger, stationary gear. Room One would have only headphones, of a wide variety and price ranges. Room Two would have iPod docks, boomboxes, dacs, amps, small active speakers, etc. Room Three would have a shrine to audiophilism: Analog, tubes, horns, planars, etc.

There are three goals associated with this model: 1) Give the next generation of consumers a free sample of this addictive drug:good sound. That's all we have to do. Surely, 1/100 or 1/200 will get addicted with their first hit. Sure, it sounds cynical--but mothing works like demos. 2) Sell some products to the students or faculty - not only for some cash flow, but for planting seeds on that campus, so that their friends see the cool new stuff. 3) Enroll student entrepreneurs as 'affiliates', to sell products to their friends for a commission.

The tours would be funded by the manufacturers whose products will be displayed. We would need a large headphone maker as a major sponsor (Sennheiser? Monster?), then associate sponsors with their iPod gear and/or headphone amps (B&W, Klipsch, Schiit,Focal?), and perhaps a few small sponsors with tweaked dac's, small tube amps, etc.

Our next plan is a shameless example of piggy-backing on not just a successful company, but a successful brand. Hey, nothin' succeeds like success, right?

RIDING APPLE'S COAT-TAILS: Consider the typical Apple user. He/she sacrifices software choices, and pays a lot more for the hardware, purely for the sake of a better user experience. From the outset they are pre-disposed to becoming audiophiles, since that is EXACTLY the same behavior exhibited by us audio addicts.

Apple has captured the high-end segment of computing, and an Apple store is where we will find the most-concentrated numbers of consumers with a taste for a 'better' experience. The fiendishly-simple business model: Rent retail space as close as possible to existing Apple Stores (directly across the hall/street ideally).

Use the front display to attract Apple users with Apple-based audio /video systems. Inside the store, have a variety of combinations of computer/iPod related audio gear. Save one room for the audio shrine: a purpose-designed room with analog, tubes, horns, acoustical treatment, the whole kit-n-kaboodle. Try to get each walk-in person to plug their iPod into 3 or 4 things: headphones, a small iPod system, and definitely, the Big Rig.

Secondly, rent warehouse space close to the store. A large variety of high-end audio products are stored, which would be provided by various manufacturers seeking exposure in a market where they have no dealers. Audiophiles could arrange for home auditions of products, which they would pick up at the warehouse/store, and return there (or not). Well-qualified audiophiles could also arrange for an audition in the store's listening room if in-home audition is too difficult.

Walk-in Apple users who show signs of possible addiction would be directed toward products which best fit their budget and tastes, and a system of that type could be set up in the listening room, for a later appointment where we educate them on how to listen. Apple makes in-store appointments for tutorials to serious users, so again the Apple Store visitor is already exposed to such concepts.

There are three goals associated with this model: 1) Each location would attract high-end-leaning consumers from the mass market, and expose to them to the best possible performance for each price point, starting at prices low enough to encourage spontaneous purchases. 2) Each location would provide an audition-site to audiophiles and manufacturers who are without dealers. 3) Multiple locations with a branded indentity would become associated with Apple, their philosophy, and their psychology. Apple consumers would more easily equate/desire better sound.

You, out there: whether you'e in the business or outside it, you undoubtedly have ideas at least as good as these. Probably better, really; we've lost brain cells along with our hearing. Why not share your ideas? Again: let's keep it positive and constructive, please.

Click on "post your comments" in order to allow us to marvel at your wisdom!

I have 2 sons in college. Both love music. Both play music. Both have NHT M-OO speakers with S-OO sub on their computers. They grew up with my system. Both were born at home with Pachelbel's Canon in D playing on my turntable in the adjacent room. They've had music all their lives so it is safe to say that lack of exposure to excellent sound has not been a cause. However, they seldom use my system and they seldom use their own speakers. They both have Grado SR 325I headphones and that is how they listen at home. They use earbuds with their I-Pods occasionally and use their I-Pods through their car systems. They know I'm panting on the sidelines for a chance to load them up with ever more interesting audio, but they prefer their headphones.

So, in light of all this personal experience and in deference to Rdawhitaker's excellent analysis, I have to conclude that you will not be able to bring back the good old days without bringing back labor unions, free form FM radio and The Beatles. Bank regulation and an end to offshore outsourcing could be useful too.

Rdawhitaker is right. The kids don't have the opportunity, advantages or interest that we had. Most of them probably don't even know Hugh Hefner's name, much less Harry Pearson.
Do manufactures and other parts of the industry offer internships to college/tech school and high school kids? Seems like another way to attract interested parties, have them learn a trade and build a base of younger designers that can really get into the minds of younger generations. Its also relatively cheap labor.
Mac: The good old days are gone. That doesn't mean we won't have good NEW days. Things will be different, as they would have to be, given the massive changes in every single aspect of modern life.

I don't think I've ever seen the names "Hugh Hefner" and "Harry Pearson" in the same sentence before. Thanks for the chuckle. FWIW, my kids recognize HH as "that creepy old dude in the bathrobe with all the bimbos". Can't argue with THAT description!

Sherpa: Great idea. Very few audio companies are large enough or (forgive me, friends) enough like real businesses to offer such things. I'm going to look into the subject and hope I am proven to be dead wrong. Again. ;->

Thanks to your both for your comments.
Internships can take on many forms. A "business" need not be large to offer a true learning experience.
However, the business will need to put some things into place depending on the learning institution's requirements. There may also be other regulations regarding age and safety requirements but they are not insurmountable.

Think about it- there are many ways to approach the internship idea. One way given your road show idea-If you include it in the road show, not only do you offer demos and sell equipment but you offer students learning opportunities and career paths. Campuses should embrace that idea. Engineering and music programs at learning institutions can be key targets.

But you need not limit yourself to the road show with this idea. This can be an “industry” initiative. The internship concept circles back to the idea of creating an association that represents high end audio’s interests.
Sherpa: Again, good ideas. Unfortunately, we're back to the same old requirements of somebody, somewhere handling bureaucracy, and bureaucracy requires money.

Not saying that aspect is insurmountable, either; just needs some thought.

Thanks again for posting.