Have No Fear, Circuit City’s Here

By Gary Kayye, CTS

This article originally appeared in the 4th issue of rAVe HomeAV Edition, way back on March 31, 2004! We thought you might find interesting our experiences back then INSIDE AN ACTUAL CIRCUIT CITY STORE and our insight into their operation — 5 years ago.   So, now they’re liquidating and we all probably expected it — even way back then.  But for sure, there are lessons here that any custom integrator can use — and even Best Buy might want to take notice. By the way, before you read this (we have reprinted it below) know that even though we wrote this — in detail — we NEVER got a call from anyone at Circuit City. I am not sure we expected one, but I am suspecting we won’t now either…  Enjoy this article from 2004 below.

I was amused the other day while reading a recent Associated Press article regarding the rebuilding of Circuit City.  In it, the author, Stephanie Stoughton, writes that Circuit City has spent over $100 million “redesigning worn-out stores, relocating poor performers and opening new outlets.”

Where’s the focus on technology?  Are they clueless?  

Look, here’s the deal:  The consumer electronics market is on the verge of an explosion in HDTV.  HDTV will be everywhere in 2004 – no doubt about it.  Virtually every TV in Best Buy and Circuit City will widen to the obligatory 16:9 aspect ratio, and by year’s end almost every DVD player and DSS satellite dish system will include HD outputs.  In fact, it’s already starting. DirecTV, Dish and most cable TV providers introduced its viewers to HD in 2003, and display manufacturers sold more HDTVs and projectors in the second half of 2003 than in the previous three years combined!

Meanwhile, the sales people in these places are dazed and confused – but you can’t blame them.

They aren’t trained, they aren’t informed and they aren’t sure what’s going on – although pretend to be a customer and they act as though they are.  They can spit out specifications and technical resolution terms as if they are required reading to turn an HD set on, but they can’t define any of it.  Can you believe I was actually told that the new Samsung HD DLP rear-screen projection TV used a new technology called, “DLP or Digital LCD Projection that uses a mirror that reflects resolutions up to 5000 by 4000 pixels and is the same TV used to review dailies on the Star Wars Episode II production set”?  The guy in Circuit City who told me that last week was no newbie either; he went on to tell me that he used to work for Sony’s HD camera division and that the professional cameras used on the Lord of the Rings set use the same DLP technology.  Oh, and in case someone from Circuit City reads this, he works in the Durham, NC store.Most of the time, I find it hard to blame these consumer sales “associates” (as they like to be called) as they generally repeat what they have been told, but in this case, he was misleading me, no doubt about it. 

So what’s my point?  Well, I realize that consumers aren’t going to buy HDTVs and DVD players from us here in the ProAV world, but you’d be surprised how far a little bit of education and creativity could take you.  For example: as leaders in technology, why not partner with the local Circuit City, Best Buy, etc. and offer free training to their sales people on HD technology, LCD and DLP projection, plasma and even analog and digital signal routing?  Teach them the truth.  Teach them the standards and what the difference is between DLP and LCD and camera imaging technology and projectors. 

What’s in it for you? 

Well, I can tell you for sure that Circuit City doesn’t offer set-up and installation services of plasma displays.  Of course, they’ll hang it on the wall, but what about getting the signal cables to the plasma?  What about switching between HD and consumer AV signals?  And, of course, what about control?  It’s cool to have one of those plasma TVs on the wall, but it’s certainly not easy to control all the gear connected to it.  You see, most of the people buying plasmas and HD projectors have been using the standard TV for years.  You know the one — it takes an RF input from a VCR or a cable TV box, and you just have to turn it on and switch channels.  But when they went out and plopped down three grand on the latest Philips Plasma and connected their DVD player, cable tuner and VCR to it, now they have to train the baby sitter every time they go to dinner because you don’t just turn it on and change channels.  As you know, you have to switch inputs for each and every device connected, and since it doesn’t have speakers, you also have to turn on an audio receiver and use it to crank the volume up and down. 

And what do you get out of that?

Who do you think “they” will call on to install this stuff?  Who do you think they will call to control all this stuff?  And what about home theaters?  When someone wants to purchase and install a home theater in their home, where do you think they look?  In the phone book under projector or audiovisual?  Doubt it.  I’ll bet they start at places like Best Buy. 

And by the way, guess what the fastest growing segment of AV product sales last year was?  You got it!  The home theater market grew over 31% last year, up from 22% in 2002.  And interestingly enough, we recently did a home theater consumer report for the industry’s second largest projector manufacturer and found that almost 43% of the people who purchased home theaters in the first half of 2003 were involved in specifying or approving AV technology at their work in the firm of training rooms, boardrooms and meeting rooms.

Do those three market segments sound familiar?