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Love the smell of napalm in the morning! (UPDATED)

Posted on August 30, 2010 at 11:25 AM

(Scroll to bottom for update... )


Alternate title 1 : OK. I guess that’s REALLY how you want to play it.

Alternate title 2 : The bridge, the bridge, the bridge is on FIRE!

 

Well, it’s been over a week since I posted my little missive about being unhappy with how a company had just suddenly decided to cut us off from being a dealer. (If you haven’t read that post yet, this will make A LOT more sense if you start there. So, click this link, read that story and then come back. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It’ll give the company a few more minutes to call me. Go on… Well, what are you still doing here? You’ve read it and now you’re back? Yes? OK. Then let’s go on.)

 

So, it’s been over a week since I posted that and I’ve basically been waiting to hear from the company chairman. Because, well, he said he was going to call me to discuss. So I’ve waited. And I’ve waited. And while waiting I reached out to some other industry people and asked, “Hey, am I totally out of line here?” And overwhelmingly what I got back was….support. That it was nice to see someone standing up for themselves. And that why would I want to be with a company that would treat me this way? Plus the story has been read by TONS of people. So, I waited. Hoping that I’d get a call that would be the retail equivalent to the governor grabbing the phone just before midnight. And I sent my blog and a huge Linked-In discussion on the topic to the PR rep to make sure he knew where I stood, and he said that the CEO was travelling. So I waited.

 

But now I’m done waiting. Seriously, unless he is traveling to Pandora and he is ensconced in hyper-sleep, at this point there is NO reason why he hasn’t been able to buy out a couple of minutes – no matter HOW busy his schedule – to call me. And I’m pretty sure that they have cell service in just about any country that he’d visit. Or that he could task an executive secretary to ring me up on the telly. Even to say, “He wants you to know that he is still looking forward to talking with you.” I also imagine that no matter the time difference, he could find 2 minutes to jump on a computer and shoot off an e-mail. In the 21st Century, if you can’t make time for an e-mail, then there is only one reason why.

 

It’s because you don’t want to.

 

So, no call actually tells me more than a call probably would. He doesn’t care.

 

So, now I’m over it. And I’ve got no reason to not tell you who the company is. So, thanks, Bowers and Wilkins, aka B&W! Thanks for all the years of business where we invested so heavily in your brand! Thanks for measuring our company’s support based on our flagging numbers in what is probably the closest thing our generation will face compared to the Great Depression. I’m sure that the Best Buy stores will really help grow your brand and that their stocking your 600 series speakers set up in a static display are going to really just fly off the shelves next to all the theater-in-a-box systems. Because, everyone I know heads on down to the Best Buy for a really killer audio demo. No doubt, ditching a third of your specialty retailers – you know, people like us that carry your 802Ds, your CM9s, your defunct 700-series product, your entire line-up of 600 models and a representative sample of your in-wall product – for the Big Box chains and Apple stores – with their Zeppelin, headphone and computer speaker sales – is going to really pay off in the long run.

 

So, Mr. Joe Atkins, B&W Group Chairman, I’m sure you’ve got chunks of guys far better than me in your stool, but this chunk is going to be irritating on the way out. This chunk is going to call you out on your decision since you wouldn’t call me on it.

 

Let’s get into what I don’t understand, starting with your letter to dealers dated July 16 when you said, “At the same time we are also confident that the increased brand exposure will benefit our existing dealer partners and enhance their ability to continue to drive profitable and sustainable retail revenue. Over the next few weeks your account manager will visit to discuss the implications of this development on our business relationship and future prospects.” So, I guess when you said those things, what you meant by “discuss the implications of this development” is that I’d get a certified letter saying you were terminating our account? Because I got that discussion loud and clear. Received 5 by 5. Or that by “benefit our existing dealer partners” I guess you meant the ones that were STILL existing following the termination letters.

 

And when you explained that you turned to Magnolia outlets to fill the geographic gaps left by your shrinking dealer base because, “Consumers need to hear most of our products before spending, and they're not going to drive four hours to the next large urban center to listen.” I guess you were talking about the other 49 states besides South Carolina, because with the removal of us as a dealer, you know, one of the dealers who actually had your highest-end product on display for consumers to sample, there are now a total of 3 dealers remaining in the state.

 

And I guess I TOTALLY mis-interpreted this quote, "We're certainly not giving up on independent A/V specialists. We're working harder than ever to help them meet their challenges." I guess all your hard work resulted in a form letter to me, and – from what I’ve been told – many other dealers. And, I gotta tell ya, that unless by helping “them meet their challenges” you were using a kind of “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” kind of tough love, then I’m not really feeling all that helped.

 

And since you eliminated all of your independent reps like 6 years ago and decided to represent yourself directly with dealers, our company has been visited a total of…three times. (Compared to our awesome independent rep – Dave, you know who you are! – who sees us every few months.) Now I’m not saying that’s a reason why our numbers are down, but I am saying that the whole support thing hasn’t really been a two-way street. Also, the first visit was an absolute insult. Where we spent days sprucing up our showroom for a visit from your USA Executive VP. Then when he finally showed up, he stepped about three feet into our showroom, turned his head from side-to-side, said he could see what we were all about, pontificated for a bit and then left. Didn’t even check out our high-end room which we were so proud of.

 

Then when our new rep showed up he basically challenged us with “you need to decide who you want to do business with.” Really? We thought we decided that when we kitted our store out in all of your gear. By supporting and buying the brand and displaying the best that we thought our small market could support and then in turn supporting those customers with the highest level of customer service. Then new rep said that we needed “to commit to the brand” and show who we wanted to support. Essentially telling us we needed to drop the in-wall speaker line we were using that was also giving us combined speaker and electronics discounts, in exchange for…? Buying your new line at a higher price with lower margin and losing the discount on the electronics needed to drive them? Oh, and he couldn’t offer any details on when the new in-wall products would be available, or exactly what it would cost or when pre-installation frames would be ready. But, yeah, we should totally commit our business future to “gonnas” and “soon.”

 

It’s all such a change from a few years ago when your Executive VP, Chris Browder, said, “A few years ago, our largest dealer and two other key dealers were sold to a national chain. We terminated our relationships with all three and gave ourselves a multimillion-dollar-a-year haircut. It was an important ‘gut check’ and reaffirmation of who we are and what we believe in. Back to the first point, the increasing shift from retail to custom has enabled many more people to get into the business with few, if any, barriers. Less business from many more dealers seems to be the future for many suppliers, to the point where many have given up on any sensible distribution plan. They've turned their brands over to distribution and don't even know or care whom their customers are. So the shift to custom puts our limited distribution model in increasingly sharper relief from everyone else. We like that.” Guess you don’t “like that” any more. And I’m sure that you’ll totally know who your customers are now. They’ll be the people buying the sub $1000 52-inch flat panel talking to the super-knowledgeable high school kid in the blue shirt who is busy thinking about his next break.

 

I guess what I’m really left with – when you take away the pissed off and the frustrated – is confusion. Why? Exactly why are you cutting us off? It isn’t like you are looking to sign anyone else up in our territory. So ANY business that we give is just plus money. And every day that passes is another day where we might sell another 800 series speaker system. And to hear that “it costs you too much money to keep us on” is a financial position that I just can’t understand. Take away the 3 rep visits we’ve had. (Really! Take them away! They NEVER result in bettering our relationship.) Don’t send us any more literature; people want to just go to the Web anyhow. So now you are down to sending us products when we order them, charging us for the shipping and then sending us an invoice. Is the $.42 for the stamp too much? You could e-mail me the invoice. We have NEVER not paid a bill to you on time, so we haven’t shown ourselves to be a financial risk. Is it too expensive to pay the accounting department to open and process our checks? I could set you up on Pay Pal if you like. I guess having our name on your Website is taking up like .00001 kb of data, so I’ll send you an extra penny to cover that. In fact, I’ll send a whole nickel.

 

So, now since you seem to be done with me, I guess I’m also done with you and your brand. I will recuse myself from any product reviews involving your company. (Which actually isn't really that big of a problem since I've never reviewed a speaker to date. ) And you’ll not see B&W mentioned here anymore. No more telling people about your XXX of XXX which I totally pimped earlier. No comments about the great XXX speakers in our 6-figure media room. And while I’ll never dog your product – A) because I’m above that and B) because the caliber of your product hasn’t changed -- yet -- because of your dealer partnership decisions; it is really kind of like the cute kids that are caught up in a divorce – you’ll never see it mentioned here again.

 

To quote our new (I guess now he is our old… ) rep a final time, “In these times we need to make choices on who we are doing business with.”  So, you’ve made your choice, and I guess mine too. Just dollars and cents, nothing personal.


UPDATE:

9 minutes and 3 seconds later...

OK. So, I just got off the telephone with Mr. Atkins. And though I thought the conversation was headed off in the proverbial handbasket when he opened with, "You're a very impatient fellow" it actually has left me feeling... resolved. I guess. Certainly a good bit less frustrated. (It hasn't left me feeling any more like a B&W dealer however... ) He reiterated that he'd been traveling throughout England the past week and that he knew that this wasn't going to be a 5 minute conversation (it was actually 9 minutes and 3 seconds).


He explained B&W's position quite succinctly. That they don’t establish relationships with the expectation of ending them. That any dealer on the active list represents time and effort for their company. And while he certainly isn't trying to kick people when they're down, they have a lot of accounts and they are constantly auditing their list to see who should remain in the fold. And that from a dealer's perspective, the fewer the dealers the better. And as evidenced by our few rep visits, they have to have their guys focused on the dealers that are bigger and capable of offering a bigger return.


He also said that I certainly wasn't the only person that wanted to appeal this decision though my "methods are different than most and I'm not sure that they’ve helped you in this case." (Though, to be honest, it didn't seem like ANYTHING would have helped short of a giant, last minute PO. ) But that it ultimately comes down to the numbers. If a dealer can't reach a certain sales level per year, they're either very, very small or they've found another product to support. And that while sometimes there is a reason to reconsider the decision to terminate a dealer, he didn't think that was the case here.

 

He left me with the potential olive branch that businesses grow and change over time and that there are a lot of dealers that for a period of time or circumstances have left B&W and then returned to be dealers later on. He offered that he certainly didn't want to burn any bridges and that he would welcome us back as a dealer if our circumstances change. And that he took my blog as a bit of a compliment; that I would have so much passion for the brand to be so up in arms over losing it.


So, that's the end of the story. And while It didn't play out the way I was hoping, I DO appreciate the closure of the phone call. There was a respect to it. Of personally telling a long term relationship that you were no longer right for one another. And that's the way the ball bounces in the real world, I guess. Not much actually gets wrapped up with a nice bow of living happily ever after, and this bit of drama is certainly no different. At least not for me this day...

Categories: August 2010, Rants

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7 Comments

Reply Steve Zaboii
12:46 PM on August 30, 2010 
You have stated your case admirably. Rest assured that the gods of commerce will do the rest.
Reply Chris Westfall
1:10 PM on August 30, 2010 
The confusion is the part of the story that really gets me. At the end of the day, there's a communication issue here, and it could have been resolved with a conversation(not necessarily a pleasant conversation, but a necessary one). You deserve more respect, John. Your story inspired me to write this post: http://bit.ly/cylRr4 "The Right Way to Say Goodbye" Westfall & Associates Blog
Reply Jay Faison
8:16 AM on August 31, 2010 
John,
You may not remember me, but I was in your store with Peter deVries about 3 years ago. I have a beach house down the road from you. As a dealer (and a manufacturer) myself, I think of B&W like the New York night club that is really hard to get into. More people want in the harder it is. We passed on B&W years ago because of the stocking requirements - we didn't think it was very dealer friendly then. So, the above is not much of a surprise, but I do sympathize. As a dealer, and a pretty large one, I hardly ever heard from the chiefs of our industry. Knowing all of their numbers and systems now, I really can't understand why. Dealers are the life blood. Being a dealer is a harder existence than being a supplier. It can be very lonely as a dealer fighting it out every day. SnapAV is now one of the largest companies in our space, and I love to talk to dealers. My mobile is 704.400.7385. Come have a beer with me at my beach house Friday afternoon. How's that for a different attitude towards dealers? Best of luck out there. I know its tough.
Reply John Sciacca
10:40 AM on August 31, 2010 
Jay Faison says...
Come have a beer with me at my beach house Friday afternoon. How's that for a different attitude towards dealers?

Jay:
Thanks for the kind words and the offer of a beer. I could use one right about now!!! If nothing else, I'm taking away an overwhelming amount of support from others. I've already been approached by other BIG manufacturers -- K, P, and M -- to step up and be thrilled to replace B&W in our store. So, the big wheel of commerce -- and life -- continues to turn...
Reply Bob Lydecker
9:53 AM on September 2, 2010 
Hey John, I just read the update. Very short sighted on B&W's part. They recently stabbed a good friend of mine who has been a long time (since the eighties) dealer, after he committed to taking on the in-walls and going to training.
Nice way to run a company.
Reply electronic integration
2:39 PM on September 3, 2010 
These are tough times. Dealers want exclusive distribution from a supplier with great products and that are always developing new products. Manufacturers want dealers to support them as they grow horizontally into new categories.

The real issue is we are in an industry that is becoming a commodity and B&W type of speakers and specialist retailers are becoming a rare breed.

The only new products with any real heat in the last 5 years are from Apple.

Digital products have leveled the playing field for audio and video products so that for the same price all experiences are close enough that there aren't large differences for most customers.

Yes B&W and Klipsch sound very different but at the same price both offer valid value propositions. The hobbiest customer is mostly gone.

We are entering an era where we are more analogous to electrical contractors or appliance sales people. And no, 3-D with glasses isn't going to change this.

So John, yes B&W has a great history and product line up but you can replace the products in a short period of time and most customers won't care that's the sad fact.
Reply Bill Green
2:57 PM on September 15, 2010 
Yep I was one of the 150 something dealers kicked to the curb. Maybe B&W will train the 18year olds on how to bi amp their speakers and how to explain the imaging. My rep Jim Scatena wanted me to sell the new Rotel when i have 10 opened Broken ass Rotel rsx 1067's on my shelf and he would work them in. All those units were brand new and out of pocket that i had to replace to make customers happy. If i could ever get their tech support on the phone it was a miracle. They didn't even take my stock back when they kicked me to the curb. Then, My rep fires me then goes on to another job in the company. I hope B&W fall on their ass like Nancy Kerrigan.