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Nor have they been replaced by a next generation baton carriers.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