Hearne: The (Near) End of an Era for Legendary Audio / Video Dealer Kief’s in Lawrence

KieferJohn_t640(1)It’s like this…

Damn few living legends that still matter walk the earth once their prime has passed. Time and market conditions change. One minute they’re Blockbuster Video – king of kings – the next, obsolete, gone. Such is life.

Take dinosaur businesses like the record and stereo stores that dotted the landscape of most major cities and small towns for decades. Hey, try and find one now…especially the latter.

These days what passes for halfway decent audio is mostly limited to stores like Target, Walmart and Best Buy. Stores any halfway discerning music aficionado knows better than to waste time shopping at. Because by far and away – with ultra rare exception – the quality of the gear is so poor.

Hey, but that’s life.

Ten years ago there were probably a half dozen mid to high end audio stores in the KC and Lawrence area all of which are now long gone…with one notable exception John Kiefer the owner of Kief’s Audi/Video in Lawrence. Kief’s is a business that has outlasted each and every one of it’s competitors, including esteemed audio/video dealers like David Beatty Stereo and Brandsmart. 

UnknownFor 55 years John Kiefer has been kicking audio (and before that record) butt and taking names. Names like Sam Walton, a longtime customer and colleague of Kiefer’s.

A college dropout and refugee from the impoverished, wrong-side-of-the-tracks in KC, Kiefer began by hustling ultra hip vinyl records nobody else was stocking and selling in the late ’50s and grew his business into one of the Kansas City / Lawrence area’s top mid-to-high end audio and video dealers.

Kiefer’s done it all – car stereo, concert tickets, in-store appearances by major label recording artists., mail order and internet sales, custom home audio and video sales and installation. He even incubated esteemed, high-end speaker manufacturer MartinLogan, by indulging a couple of stereo salesman geeks in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

 

But all good things come to and end almost!

Now John Kiefer is retiring and passing the baton to his son Rob Kiefer.

“So what’s Kief’s going to do?” Kiefer asks. “I own the shopping center we’re in, so we’ll downsize and concentrate on custom, upscale audio with just the good stuff, some mail order and custom installation.

“Right now I’m looking at it like, I could rent this building to a restaurant for a lot of money and there’s no way I can sell (audio) out the front door and make anywhere near that kind of money.”

2edf3cf0-1e6f-4785-8732-c87816b3214b_fullHow soon can Kief’s customers expect changes to be implemented?

“We have a five process plan,” Kiefer says. “The first thing we’re going to do is send out a newsletter or a postcard telling people what we’re going to do. That I’m going to retire, but Kief’s is not going to close.”

Aside from Kiefer’s age – a spry 80 – his reason for dialing things back:

“We’ve lost 6,000 audio and video stores in the last five or six years,” he says.

Times are tough.

Kief's staff early 1980s The way they were

Kief’s staff early 1980s
The way they were

Next up:

“We’ll have a sale on everything we have physically in stock,” Kiefer says. “Now, we’re not going out of business, so we can and will reorder whatever we decide to continues carrying – whatever we’re going to recommend to go in your house. And we’re going to be very knowledgable.”

Right now the plan is for Kief’s to downsize into what used to be the Car Audio space on the north end of the building and lease or sell the remaining space, possibly the entire shopping center, if the right offer comes along.

“I think it would be a nice area and / or space for a really nice restaurant where people can come in and get a really nice steak. Or if somebody wants to buy the whole center, I’ll sell them that – we’ve got parking galore – name me another place this close to the KU campus that has anything like the amount of parking we do – a couple hundred parking spaces or more.”

What then would happen to Kief’s?

“Who cares?” Kiefer quips. “We’ll move somewhere else to a smaller building. We’re downsizing.”

FYI, ultra high end audio aficionados take note, the six year-old A/V Design Studio at 90th and Mtecalf in Overland Park is still alive and kicking.

 

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21 Responses to Hearne: The (Near) End of an Era for Legendary Audio / Video Dealer Kief’s in Lawrence

  1. Stomper says:

    Man, say it ain’t so. Next you’re going to tell us that Ben Asner is closing down Capers Corner. What is the world coming to ?

  2. the dude says:

    Man, high end and even mid end audio is taking a total drubbing in these days of crappy MP3, Ipuds and those horrible Beats audio headphones.
    Well, at least I have my tubes, horns and my Martin Logans and sand state amps to keep me occupied while the audio apocalypse takes place.

  3. mike t. says:

    with you, dude, but I certainly don’t have the high-end stuff. don’t even own a turntable or vinyl anymore. do miss it sometimes.

    I remember going into David Beatty, Brandsmart, and, for awhile, the Bang & Olufsen store on the Plaza, drooling at all the cool, unaffordable gear. ‘one day…’ I used to think….

  4. Orphan of the Road says:

    Bernstein-Applebee and McGee Radio were as high-end as I got in equipment.

    Did read the audiophile mags (not the ones on the newstand) where they reviewed stuff honestly. No adds so no advertisers to placate.

    Has to be a tough row to hoe selling quality equipment when the medium today is so lo-fi.

  5. chuck says:

    I think that is Rich Brown with hair.

    Is it?

  6. expat says:

    Downsizing is the right move. A lot of things that look to be dead to mainstream eyes are becoming niche collector markets: film cameras, vinyl, etc. The capacity to support them as major industries is no longer there but as areas of interest for small time hobbyists there is still money I be made. Ilford will keep making black and white film. Vinyl records are still being pressed even for new music

    http://www.amazon.com/Vinyl-Records-Albums-LPs-Eps

    Hell there is even a niche market for Typewriters

    http://www.mytypewriter.com

    I’m kind of an old fashioned person. If it weren’t for incompatibility between small children and turntables I’d have one.

    • admin says:

      True enough…

      I sold my turntable and most of my records long ago, but I have a new one now. My daughter at Blue Valley is taking a class in film photography. I read somewhere that cassette tapes are coming back (good luck!)…

      But…

      In the meantime audio and video stores are dropping like flies – what’s left of them anyway. And when you get right down to it, having excellent sound isn’t quite like owning a horse and carriage or an 8 track tape. One could make a reasonable case that quite a few people would subscribe to the concept of quality music and movie sound rather than mediocrity and far less.

      Just a matter of how far one will be – or now is – willing to travel try actually listen to the equipment before they buy. Or don’t buy.

      • expat says:

        That’s why I think downsizing is a good move. If you can position yourself as a niche player you have a future, otherwise forget it. Paying a lot for big store overhead is ultimately not helpful. There are enough fanatics of classical music etc that I think high fidelity equipment can make a go of it. Cassette tapes may be asking a bit much.

        Most of my photography is on film. I’m lucky enough to live in a city with rental darkrooms so when I have an outstanding shot I print it myself. The rest gets scanned. I may not be producing Robert Frank level photos but it’s relaxing and the results are tangible.

  7. expat says:

    “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    Am I in a moderation penalty box or does this apply to everyone now?

    • expat says:

      Or is it more than one link in a comment that triggers it.

    • admin says:

      If you use one of the “forbidden words” or too many links, it auto puts you in moderation status. 99 percent of the time I approve the bad words, just had to slow things down a bit awhile back when the smartman was going crazy with the N and C words.

      Rest in peace, smartman, rest in peace.

  8. hot harley says:

    br ands mart…loved bill berg…on trips with him and his wife/others…
    but the service department was the worst…they couldn’t fix anything right
    and the customers knew it. Worst service and repair department ever.
    Bill..was cool….too bad the employees (except bruce) let him down……

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