The Digital Dilemma: The Impact of the Digital Revolution on Our Perception of Value: Part I
Like most residential installation practitioners of my generation I was drawn to our business by a love of music. After flirting with rock and roll as a source of income for a few years I turned to a career selling audio gear.
My affinity for the art form fostered a passionate enthusiasm and a high sense of value for all things involved in delivery of the musical experience. That passion remains both foundation and catalyst of a productive and enjoyable career. It also now informs concerns of mine, and many in our business, for the increasing erosion of value placed on the products of our business, by many who once treasured them. Also, more importantly, by recent generations that should produce the new enthusiasts.
I began following the path of audio / video enlightenment (and sales) in early 1977 at a place called Hi Fi Sound in Minneapolis. Hi Fi Sound was a wonderful, almost magical place to start a career in A/V electronics. I learned our business from deeply knowledgeable, highly experienced and really great people. If it had anything to do with audio (and later – video) we sold it. I got my start in “custom installation” at Hi Fi Sound. During my time there, specialty audio shops were abundant across the country. Among Hi Fi Sound’s respected competitors in the Twin Cities was a local chain called Sound of Music. Just after opening, in the mid-week morning quiet, one day in late ’82 or early ’83 I read a trade magazine interview with Sound of Music’s Dick Shultze. In the article he shared his plans to rebrand Sound of Music as Best Buy. The plan converted the audio specialty shops to much larger floors and would sell all forms of electronics and appliances. I thought to myself, he’s turning Sound of Music into a supermarket. With that I loudly exclaimed, “They’re commoditizing our business!” My co-workers and mentors, while surprised by my outburst, assured me it couldn’t happen.
A couple decades later, one of my responsibilities at Harman Consumer Group was to consult with product development leaders, of the (then) ten HCG brands, on how to design products to meet the needs of the residential systems installer and end user. During that time streaming media development was gaining momentum and hard drive based music library management was big. Harman was a prime target for technology developers and we sat through many presentations made by start-ups looking for licensing deals. The majority of these digital media entrepreneurs viewed the PC, or some iteration of it – like a media server, to be the eco-center of the home entertainment universe.