Strategies for beating the big-box boys
By Leslie Stevens
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
— Sun Tzu, The Art Of War
They're here… at least for now. I say that in part because Gateway just announced the closing of all its retail stores. Not that we needed to witness another painful crash and burn to prove it's difficult for corporate "know-it-alls" to conquer the custom business. But these days, big-box retailers are not only making inroads into our market, they're also abducting our well-developed talent. Beyond that, they're gearing up for even more action on our traditional turf. As just one example, the information technology association CompTIA, has just announced a new "home entertainment" training and certification program. The objective is to enable mass merchants to penetrate the custom installation market by training huge volumes of technicians across the country. Just what you wanted to hear, eh?
Before serving up some offensive and defensive strategies for dealing with this impending competition, I'd like to play the devil's advocate for a moment. First, isn't it possible that C-tailers can capitalize on the deep pockets of the box movers, which are laden with a bunch of fat? If not for the giants and their correspondingly giant ad budgets, who would have the "cha-ching" to preach the gospel about home theater and integrated systems to the wealthiest people on earth? At least now, average consumers are starting to realize that real home theater is more than a silver HTiB.
The second reason I think that big-box retailers have some merit is that they provide new business opportunities for dealers. For now, at least, box movers lack the know how to design and install quality systems, so they're pretty much at the mercy of custom dealers—like you. Many of these giants are open to subbing out jobs to a specialist. Like you.