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Selling Home Theater - Part 1

Furniture World Magazine


The mythology of the complex and expensive.

The first home theater was most likely a "screening room" in the home of some Hollywood mogul 75 or more years ago, but that's a far cry from the options available to today's consumers. This series will attempt to explain exactly what home theater is and, most importantly, what this exciting new product category can mean to your sales and profitability.

Despite the fact that we've all been inundated with articles on home theater in just about every newspaper and magazine in the country the past year or so, there remain some rather widespread misunderstandings and myths about just what it is that constitutes this latest chapter in the marriage of audio and video.

MYTH #1Home Theater Requires A Big Screen Television.
(usually defined as a 35-inch or larger set)

This is probably the most widespread (and potentially dangerous) of all the myths about home theater. Largely perpetrated by the companies who market rear projection televisions and the "buff" and "shelter" magazines who have devoted the majority of their coverage of the topic to high end home theater installations, it is the misunderstanding encountered most often when discussing home theater. All that's necessary to dispel this unfortunate myth is the following simple statement:

"Home Theater Begins With The Addition of High Fidelity Stereo Speakers to Television."

Many of you will undoubtedly instantly recognize what's missing from the above statement... any mention at all of big screen TVs or multichannel surround sound. It has been my experience that most consumers are somewhat amazed to learn just how much drama and excitement are added to their home viewing of movies and television programs when they make this simple change to their systems.

All of a sudden they discover a new level of enjoyment in both movies and the increasingly large number of programs and sporting events which are broadcast in very high quality stereo sound. And, for some consumers, this is both the beginning and end of home theater for them. They may well find such a tremendous increase in the quality of their viewing experience that they're disinclined to investigate the topic any further. Fortunately for those of you who make your living from the sale of consumer goods, these are a relatively small minority... and even they will be revisiting the home theater category as HDTV and other technologies advances move from R&D and product development into the market.

Earlier I commented that the myth about big screen TV being a requirement for home theater was potentially dangerous. Why, you say? Well, quite simply because even those who find supermarket tabloids intellectually stimulating are aware that bigscreen televisions start at around $1,500-2,000. If you consider this fairly expensive item to be the passport for entry to home theater, then you will probably disqualify a high percentage of your customers from any short term purchase. That's the danger of this (and most of the other) myths about home theater. As an industry, the best thing we can do for the future growth of this category is to educate the public through our advertising, in-store presentations and consumer literature.

Here are the other two myths about home theater you can expect to encounter:

MYTHS #3 & #4Home Theater is Complicated. Home Theater is Expensive.

While home theater can be both complicated and expensive (as easily seen from the elaborate systems featured in many magazines), neither is a prerequisite and, quite frankly, some of the most impressive home theater systems I've been exposed to have been both fairly simple and very affordable.

If you accept my earlier premise about what constitutes the entry level of home theater (i.e., the connection of a pair of good speakers to a TV) these last two myths are easily debunked. While there is clearly a wide gap between this "entry" level and the custom-installed home theater systems featured in some elitist publications, the vast majority of the populace can be completely satisfied by home theater systems which are fairly simple and straightforward. In a future article we will publish a synopsis of the results of several recent consumer surveys which highlight this and other important beliefs, attitudes and preferences.

For now, let's base our initial focus on the earlier assumption about what constitutes entry level home theater and the following additional premise: "A majority of homes in the US already own half (or more) of a home theater system."

Given that color televisions are present in well over 90% of U.S. households, and that most of them sold within the last five years are capable of stereo reception, then this last premise is difficult to refute. Particularly when the high level of market penetration by color televisions is combined with that for home audio systems. What then, may the residential furniture industry offer to customers which combines existing investments in audio and video equipment with convenient access to the drama and excitement of today's home theater technologies?

Simply clench the fingers and thumb of one hand for the answer:

THE HOME FURNISHINGS STORE ADVANTAGE: In addition to having both space for and familiarity with quality home furnishings, there are other factors which could be advantageous for retailers who want to become not only a major but, potentially, a dominant force in the widespread marketing of home theater:
  • Ability to demonstrate home theater in comfortable room settings rather than the often confusing and intimidating "walls" of components and sterile sound rooms found in most electronics stores.
  • Seasoned sales personnel who are generally more mature and professional than the typical high turnover staff found in most electronics stores.
  • Ease with which home theater can be integrated into existing store layouts.
  • Ability to show customers a greater diversity of styles and room settings and to keep them constantly fresh.
  • Broader internal experience in quality delivery & setup.

There are home theater opportunities for stores of every size, geographic area and market segment. Now is the time to capitalize on both the heightened consumer awareness of the category and inability of traditional consumer electronics marketers to change their attitudes and physical layouts to accommodate this new demand.

The vast majority of customers are tired of sales personnel who are either glorified, short tenure clerks or condescending "experts". They also dislike the type of confusing, intimidating retail environment found in many consumer electronics stores. In addition, most consumers could care less about the almost infinite variety of technical mumbojumbo and specifications usually spouted in these stores.

What they do want is easy, non-technical access to the wonderful entertainment offered by today's technologies. The residential furniture marketplace is uniquely positioned to provide them with a refreshing new way to buy home entertainment systems. Together with progressive manufacturers who've been listening to what consumers really want, home furnishings retailers can dominate this product category by the end of the decade!