Hearne: Who Will Survive? The Sad Demise of Local Audio & Video Retail

In case you’ve yet to notice, they’ve been dropping like flies…

The past 10 years have been agonizingly brutal for area retailers of high quality audio and video goods and services. The sad reality being that Kansas City’s A/V cupboard is all but bare.

What once was a booming industry with a healthy handful of local retailers such as Accent Sound, Audio Mart, Continental Video, BrandsMart, Golden Stereo, David Beatty Stereo, AudioPort and Primus Audio Pleasure has been reduced to a skeleton squad of survivors hanging on for dear life. The aforementioned being dead and gone.

Nor have they been replaced by a next generation baton carriers.

"This industry reminds me of the federal government more than anything else," says veteran audio/video survivalist John Kiefer. "Because we had a wonderful system for – how long? – a couple hundred years. But there are a lot of broken parts to it and when something’s broken, what do you do?"

For the vast majority of Kansas City area A/V retailers the answer was get out of biz.

Even big box retailers like Best Buy – although the chain doesn’t scratch the surface of mid-to-high end audio and video – are struggling mightily for survival, Kiefer notes.

Raising the question of who if anybody will be around locally to serve the public in 10 years?

"Who knows?" Kiefer muses. "I hope it’s us, if my son wants to do it."

Kiefer operates the iconic 51-year old audio video mecca Kief‘s in Lawrence.

In the early days of audio stores – there was no consumer video – retailers ushered forth with sound rooms, savvy techies and in-house service departments.

Uh, that was then.

In 1989 what Kiefer refers to as the "honest retailing" of home audio/video products went the way of the dinosaur.

In today’s marketplace, "You have to have a phony retail price to get a discount," he says.

A word of explanation.

There are no actual in-store service departments anymore, so when retailers like Best Buy get defective gear they simply ship it back to the manufactuer. And with little to no financial incentive, the manufacturers expend just enough effort to get it working again. As opposed to bench testing it back to as-new, top specifications.

The questionable components are then unloaded on unsuspecting consumers at exorbitant discounts.

"The busiest counter you see in all these (big box) stores is Customer Service where there is no service," Kiefer says. "And the lowest prices you see has been and always will be to dump your junk."

It’s the perfect storm for today’s Everybody-Demands-a-Discount economy.

"The customer will always go to where he can get the best price," Kiefer says. "Nobody has ever accused customers of being very bright. The Internet buyer has turned into the weakest, poorest buyer that there is today because he just doesn’t get what he pays for."

That said, to survive Kief’s goes both ways, furnishing top quality spanking new gear to more discerning clientel while unloading manufacturer retreads online like everybody and his brother.

With only a scant few high end retailers remaining is there an end game out there somewhere?

"When are the stores going to become profitable again?" Kiefer asks. "The answer is when there’s more demand for product than there are stores to sell it. Who’s going to be surviving in 10 years? I would say Best Buy will still be around, but I think they’ll be as meaningless as Circuit City was before they closed. In other words, they’ll be on their way out. And somebody we’ve never heard of will be around. It might be a company called H.H. Gregg. They’re buying up all the old Circuit City stores on the east coast."

Never heard of em…

"You’re right, but nobody ever heard of Best Buy in the (late 1970s) when they were going bankrupt,"Kiefer says.

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5 Responses to Hearne: Who Will Survive? The Sad Demise of Local Audio & Video Retail

  1. chuck says:

    When Nebraska Furniture Mart
    came to town (I still can’t believe a store with the word Nebraska in it, ran everyone out.) they sold things at landed cost. They were so cheap, they almost put some distributors out of business.———That shit is OVER!! With the exception of loss leaders, they sell video at 20 to 30% profit and audio at 45% profit. There is no competition and its off to the fuckin races. Those margins I mentioned were unheard of in teh 80s – 90s and earlier this decade.—–Nebraska has deep pockets – they bought the market and ran everyone out. Not a crime, but the consumer is paying thru the nose now.—–The guys who are working there are under TREMENDOUS pressure to sell high priced audio and video cables because the commish on actual electronics have been cut so hard. ——-When you go there, you will be steered, it is what it is. ————-I bet (Athough I dont know) their profit on actual furniture is fuckin out of sight!—-Ironically, imo, a quality retailer with some guts could kick ass right now. The advertising would have to actually center around teh competition asopposed to product, but actually the big guys are very vulnerable to a quick smart retailer with some balls and a decent handle on ad bucks. JMO. ——–In addition, the Installation business is what is driving what is left of elctronic sales, I am surprised Keifer didn’t mention that. It is all about installation, and if you don’t have the right people, your cooked. But it is doable. There are several decent installation companies out there, imo, they are very limited in sales expertise. No slam, they are great at what they do, but I don’t think they have the sales wherewithal to grow a retail store in conjunction with the installation side. JMO

  2. JKLENEX says:

    Didn’t mention Applause Sight & Sound. High end products and installation, good local guys.

  3. harley says:

    i do miss brands mart…
    bought everything there…bill was great and honest.
    Its like everything else…eventually everything will be run thru the
    computer…so we won’t need receivers/speakers/tuners/ etc. because
    computer will allow us to have those via the internet.
    My tv is hooked up to the internet for netflx. And even without
    expensive speakers it sounds great. I’ve heard that you’ll be able
    to order special speakers for your computer that will sound better
    than current surround sound …
    its a fact….everything we have will be coming from the computer…
    so we won’t need cables/receivers and stores selling those
    items will be dinosaurs.
    Again…technology is killing every type of business. Blockbuster and
    video stores are busted. Record stores are gone (except wall mart)
    and a few niche stores. However people will still want the
    theatre experience which they can find but with only one or 2
    stores left.
    Always thought kiefs was way overpriced. I priced their
    equipment for a home theatre and they were 30% higher than
    2 local retailers.

  4. hearne says:

    There’s more to the equation than just price
    Kief’s has a three tier pricing structure depending on the level of service a buyer wants. More importantly, they offer a ton of mid-to-upper end products that Best Buy and Nebraska do not have. If you want many (if not most) of the more esoteric brands, you won’t find them at the Big Box stores. Or if you do, you will only find the entry level models, not the higher end ones.
    Check it and see.
    And many of the new, in-the-box items at the Best Buy and Nebraska are refurbished, seconds. Even though they are not labeled as such. Kiefs will sell you those, too. But they will give you the choice. best Buy has been sued many times over by state attorney generals for doing so and being deceptive by not disclosing this fact. So it’s a case of buyer beware.

  5. hearne says:

    Oh yeah
    Have heard good things about Applause. But mainly only mentioned the shops that have died. Independence Audio still around, too. And SoundFX. But they’re fading fast. And again, the big boxes don’t carry the better gear.

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