Every time I read a press release that announces that Sony is making “a
commitment to the custom channel and the small dealer” I feel like I’m stuck
in Groundhog Day. Just the other week Sony announced that it was going to be
taking its ES line of audio equipment out of big boxes and making them
exclusive to boutique retail dealers and the custom channel.
Let me just say now that I have a Sony ES AVR that’s almost 15 years old and
still going strong so I have always believed that Sony makes nice, often
under-appreciated audio gear. When I worked for Sony we joked that ES stood
for “Employee Standard” because that’s what we all bought.
That said, Sony has “made a commitment to the custom channel” and/or made ES
an “exclusive line” more times than I can count. I’m not the first person to
point out that Sony’s interest in the small AV dealer moves like the tides.
I’ll tell you right now, within the year ES will be available to the big
It happens like this, Sony gets the bug to go after the custom channel,
makes a big push, sometimes backed by a new product line. Remember Qualia
projectors? Me neither, but the dealers who got burned by installing them
sure do. Other times it’s backed by promises of exclusivity.
Then, after three Quarters or so, Sony sees that the numbers just aren’t
there; that little dealers don’t move the kind of volume that big boxes do,
so they quietly drop the subject and go back to Best Buy and offer them the
I don’t mean to single out Sony for abuse on this subject (well, maybe a
little). Money talks and it’s hard for a vendor to balance principle with
top line sales dollars. More than one vendor has walked away from the custom
channel to chase dollars, sometimes leaving their dealers unsupported and
holding the bag. And more often than not, within three weeks of a company
president delivering a heartfelt thank you speech to all the small dealers
who put the brand on the map that brand ends up on the shelves of national
However, there are vendors and their distributors who remain dedicated to
the custom dealer year in and year out. They understand the market, the
client, and their own dealers’ needs and have chosen to stick with them and
excel at one thing rather than try to be everything to everybody. As a
vendor, if you want to earn the respect of your dealers, that’s the choice
you have to make.