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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

This day is trying my last, damn nerve!

Posted on January 7, 2011 at 3:15 PM

It’s been a while since we’ve had a nice good rant – the digital equivalent of a loud, barbaric “YAWP!” as the sweaty-toothed madman chokes you with a stare that pounds your brain -- so let’s dive right in, shall we?

This day. THIS day. So you’ll recall a while back I had a most depressing encounter with an ex-Special Forces (Green Beret to be specific, so let’s just call him GB, shall we?) prospective client. I met with him and his builder at the jobsite. And, oh yeah, another way lower-end alarm/central vac/”Hey, we do audio too!” contractor was there as well. So a long, fa-reezing meeting that ends with GB saying he has seen lots of outstanding – repeat twice for emphasis – video projectors for like $600.  

OK, so you recall that.

Then you’ll recall that the very next morning that GB’s wife called me and wanted to schedule a second meeting. At my showroom. And that I had a long meeting with them in the store – the Sciacca home turf, where deals wined and then bedded with a Gordon Gekko level of ruthless efficiency – where I felt like I totally turned things around. Lighting control? Pow! Eight zone touchpanel audio system? Ka-cha! The fact that a $600 projector looked *nothing* like our $15,000 projector? Slamm-o!

Yes? You recall that as well?

Good. So since then I prepared GB a ten – TEN! – page system proposal encompassing everything we discussed and coming in right in the wheelhouse of “somewhere between 50 and 60 thousand” projected budget. So I sent this off to his builder before Christmas and then...waited.

OK, now we’re up to speed. So, today. THIS day. The builder calls me, and he is actually kind of sheepish. “I’ve been putting off making this call, because, frankly, I’m a little embarrassed by it.”

OK. Already this is starting off way, WAY wrong. Because A) I know that this is not going to continue with some kind of bizarre, aberrant sexual revelation  or proposition or B) a request to pick him up at the airport at 2 in the morning or C) to buy a case of Girl Scout Thin Mints to support his daughter’s troop. (Though, I DO love Thin Mints. They are the magic of the cookie world. So thin AND minty. Wait. Back on topic.) So, I know that it isn’t going to be any of those things, and it is only going to be about GB’s job. So he goes on. Turns out that GB has taken my proposal – all ten pages of it mind you – and gone to Internet. And individually, a la carte, looked up the pricing for each item! Scouring the Interwebs to find the lowest pricing he could on each item. Then saying that he can get the whole system for like $10,000 less. And he wants the builder to ask me if he can just have the gear shipped in and then have me install it.

As you can imagine, my initial reaction was stunned silence. Then a rage-fueled eye-twitch. Then an immediate blurted out, “Look, we sell complete working systems. I’m not interested in doing this job if that’s what he wants. If he wants to just get a bunch of boxes shipped to his house, let him get someone else to put them together.” Then, the initial magma pressure valve released, I took a much needed deep breath, stepped back and continued talking to the builder. He totally understood my position and figured that would be my response.

But before boot-grinding this deal into total and complete bone marrow paste, I asked if he would send me GB’s e-mail with the prices marked on it so I can see what I can see. And before hanging up the builder tries to cushion the blow – like putting a nice, flannel pillowcase around a baseball bat – by saying, “GB said he really wants to work with you. He told me that he really wants you to do the job.”

Oh boy howdy and gee willikers! That’s just swell! Thing is, after this little stunt, I’m not so sure I want to work with HIM! This isn’t exactly the way I like to start a project and certainly isn’t filling me with an overwhelming sense of, “Oh, what a great and wonderful long-term relationship we’ll have. Customer and installer, arm-and-arm, skipping and tra-la-la’ing off into the sunset together.” Because when you take on a job of this scope, it’s a marriage. We are going to be together for a long, LONG time. As long as this guy owns the house. And then a virtual defacto marriage to the next person that buys it. Because this isn’t going to be the kind of system that some other installer is just going to waltz in behind us and be all, “Oh, look! We’ll just totally redo the entire programming from scratch because he wants to change his Jazz favorites to a new station!”

So, I get the e-mail and immediatly see that he has just arbitrarily lowered pricing on some things like our prewiring. Wiring for his projector, 7.1-channel surround system install in his dedicated media room? Hmmm, let's say, well, I don't know, how about $400. Wiring for the audio system throuhgout the house – all 17 rooms of audio – should cost, oh, well, let’s see, divided by 2, multiply by .3. $1200. Yeah, that sounds good. $1200. For all of it. Wire all 17 rooms of audio – parts, labor, materials – for keypad and touchpanel control and speakers in 18 rooms for $1200. A lot of his prices were correct – and the prices I had quoted – but others were just totally random and plucked from unicorn island. Like he priced A URC remote but not the SAME URC remote. Times three. And he priced ONE speaker and not the PAIR. And he priced the lowest, cheapest volume control possible and not the one with override that we need for the job. And the pre-amp version, not the amplified version. And so on. So, I worked up this letter:

Mr. GB:

I’d like to thank you for considering our company for handling the technology needs of your new home. Your builder forwarded me your e-mail and I’ve gone through it and thought I would bring out a few points.

[Several paragraphs where I tell him how crazy some of his whimsical pricing was omitted because, well, I fear I’ll lose the lesser hearted readers amongst us.]

Regardless, I can understand your desire to get the best value for you money on this project. I hope you can appreciate that what we offer is far more than just a bunch of boxes that you purchase on the Internet. There is a design and implementation that goes with the components to make them function cohesively as a system at the end of the day. Additionally, a system of this scale is going to require a good bit of support to handle any issues with the system following the installation. If something breaks, if something needs adjusting, if you need to add a new component, etc. We provide this on-going service and support after the sale; for YEARS after the sale.

I hope that you got a sense of what our company brings to the table and the kinds of systems that we install and support during your visit to our showroom. We have been around for 15 years and plan on continuing to be around to service our clients going forward. To do this, we simply can’t match the lowest prices found on a la carte items on the Internet.

I’m happy to discuss what our company offers further, or to provide you with the names of clients that we have worked with over the past 1, 5, 10, or 15 years.


John Sciacca

Custom Theater & Audio

So, I fire that off and then in comes this guy from a few days ago. (Note: We are segueing into a flashback here. Just a little tip to help you keep up.) He was having a jukebox installed in his restaurant and he walks in and immediately hits me with what is probably one of my all-time, mostest hatedest lines, “Oh, man! I totally didn’t know you guys existed! Oh! Bummer! We just bought a bunch of TVs and sound systems for our new place and I totally would have used you! But now all I need is a few cables!”

Wow! Awesome! I’d totally love to sell you a couple of cables instead of all the TVs, mounts, speakers and sound system for your restaurant! Absolutely!

So I’m talking to the guy he DID go with on the phone and it quickly becomes apparent that I don’t think this guy has ever hooked up anything. Ever. He doesn’t know how to describe ANYTHING he is doing. Like, there is a jargon that is universally understood by anyone in the industry. Like, I could walk into any audio shop and say, "I need a 1meter stereo RCA cable" and I know exactly what they will hand me. Or, "I need a 2meter component video cable." Again, simple things that EVERY person who does this is just going to know. Except this guy.

“I need a cable. To hook up a juke box.”

“What kind of cable is on it? Analog or digital? RCA end or Mini-jack?”

“It has a regular looking plug end on the back of the jukebox. Like you would find on a regular cable. For a stereo.”

Oh, Jay-sus! “OK. That’s *probably* an RCA cable. So you need one cable?”

“Yeah. One.”

“But like a stereo pair, right? For left and right?”

“I need ends on both sides of the cable.”

“Yes. But how many ends? One or two?”


So we make up the cable. And the guy comes and picks it up. And he comes back today. (Note: This concludes our flashback time.) And hands me the phone again to talk to his Heckle and Jeckle installer.

“I need a part for like two ends to go to one.”

“A Y-splitter? Like a mono-to-stereo splitter?”

“I have a single plug on my juke box and two cable ends. I need to get those two ends into that one end.”

“Umm, yeah, OK, that’s a Y-splitter. Do you need 2 male to 1 female or 2 female to 1 male?”

“I need to plug those two cables you made into this jukebox.”

So, I hang up and look at the guy that is standing before me. “You totally didn’t need that cable I made you. I made you a stereo cable. Sounds like you only needed a single, mono cable. And I don’t think your man knows what he’s doing. I’m going to give you these Y-cables, but I’m going to see you again because you’re going to get there and he’s going to realize that instead of using this to turn my two cables into one cable, he can just use one of the two cables I made you.”

So, that’s exactly what happens. At least my foresight prevented a needless credit card charge and reversal. It's pretty sad when that is a highlight of your day so far. Sigh...

THEN this old, OLD timer comes in. And he’s carrying a manual. And OLD manual. Which is always a sign of trouble and a long, slow-talking encounter a brewin’.

“I’m wondering if you can help me, young man.” His Polk subwoofer is broken. Sounds like his amp has gone out. It’s making these loud, your-amp-has-gone-out noises. I tell him so. He says that he called Polk and they told him the same thing. My genius is validated. Then he says that Polk wants $50 to fix his amp. What can I sell him that is cheaper?

“Cheaper? Than $50? Nothing. Repairing that is really your best option.”

“But it is going to cost me at least $10 to ship it. Both ways.”

“Yeah, still, that is your best option. You’re not going to find anything that will be better for anywhere near that much money.”

“But can’t you just sell me a part?”

“Well, we don't really sell parts like that. And my cheapest subwoofer is $400. Nothing I have is going to get you working for less than what Polk is charging, which is *very* fair in my opinion.”

“I searched on the Internet and I found some woofers for $29. How do you think they would sound?”

“A) I doubt those are even complete working subwoofers, and probably more like a component driver. B) Depending on your system that probably won't even work. And C) I think it would sound like garbage. There is no decent kind of subwoofer for $29. You should get the Polk repaired.”

“But the shipping… I might be wrong. It might be more than $10.”

“Yes. It might. Still. I really can't say it any more plain. That’s your best option.”

“But I only paid $250 for the entire system. Why do you think it would cost $50 to get it fixed?”

“I don’t know. But, again, that’s really what I would recommend."

"Well, where else do you think I could go?"

"You could try Best Buy."

"What kinds of audio systems you figure they sell there?"

"I don't know. I don't really, you know, shop there."

"Oh me either! I hate going there!"

"Well, that's the only other place you could try. And I'm going to tell you already that they are NOT going to have a subwoofer for $50. You really just need to get that repaired. Like we've been talking about. So...” This long trail-off is a technique that I employ that silently says, “So...I guess we’re all done here. Ba-bye!” But clearly the older gentleman’s hearing was preventing him from catching the silent trail off.

“I’m an 80 year old man and I don’t hear so good." Pow! There it is! "I just don’t need to spend a lot of money on this thing.”

“Well, you could always just not use the subwoofer at all. Problem solved. If you can’t even hear it, why pay to get it fixed? Or you could send it to Polk and get it fixed and be back up and working. Which is what I’d do.”

“Well, maybe you have something just lying around here that you want to give to an old man.”

I swear. He said it. I’d like to tell you that we live in a world where he didn’t. I also wish I could tell you that Andy fought the good fight, and the Sisters let him be. I wish I could tell you that - but prison is no fairy-tale world. And neither is THIS day. He said it.

“No, sir, I’m afraid that I don’t. We don’t keep old things just lying around here.  But thanks for coming in. Ba-bye!” Then on his way out, he *narrowly* missed tripping over a Definitive Technology SuperCubeIII subwoofer “just lying around” on the floor. A $699 sub. Probably would have killed him if he knew.


The hits, they just keep a rollin'! Another guy just walked in -- well, really it was more a slump shouldered shuffle -- and asked me for directions. Directions to...drum roll please...ONE OF MY COMPETITORS! How awesome! And it's not even 4 PM yet. I've still got two fun-filled hours to go! Huzzah for THIS day!

Categories: January 2011, Rants, CTA

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1 Comment

Reply paul b
9:59 AM on January 22, 2011 
John, if the old man couldnt hear, why didnt you send him my way for a pair of "Bionics"......