I’ve been here before (never left?), but some new things have popped up.
Firstly elsewhere @elk suggested, perhaps tongue in cheek, that all dealers are doomed to fail. Well, they may well be if all manufacturers decide to sell direct, but as someone else pointed out, high-end manufacturers have not gone online-only en masse. In fact I can’t think of any who have done so at all.
Moreover, in the UK I can’t think of any dealers who have closed down in recent years. I do know several that have started up, and apparently very successfully. Other electronic products are comparable. Sony went from having loads of Sony stores to selling mostly online, whereas a premium brand like Leica has opened a large number of flagship stores around the world, with two new ones in London alone.
This issue is often discussed as polarised between dealers or online. It is obviously far more complicated.
This thread was started after looking into a new dealer in Central London called Audio Lounge. It’s very expensive looking and high-end. Walked past many times, never been in. I noted:
- Audio Lounge is owned by an Indian group called Cadence
- Cadence has acquired a number of brands, including SME, Siltech, Crystal Cable, Gerrard, Loricraft, Spendor and Timberworx.
- These and other brands are distributed in the UK by a business called Padood. The ownership is unclear, but the guy who built Padood from a start-up in 6 years is now Global Sales Marketing director for Cadence at the head office in Pune, India. So Padood and Cadence appear related.
- Besides Audio Lounge, the biggest stockists of Padood brands is a dealer in Cambridge, where Padood is based, called Criterion Audio. That dealership started at the same time, 2014, and is expanding it’s already substantial premises.
Padood distribute several brands other than those owned by Cadence, including Boulder.
It seems an eminently sensible business model to have manufacturers, distributors and retailers under common ownership or control, so everything is co-ordinated and products can be sold through the most effective channel, whether online, retail or off the back of a horse and cart. No matter and no one is upset.
There has been some aggregation, for example McIntosh Group includes Sonus Faber, Sumiko and someone else. It’s more efficient, but still the same old business model.
Devialet get a lot of flack, but it’s pretty much the Apple business model applied to audio. Take a brilliant product, better design, make it 100% reliable, keep the product range very small, flagship stores and premium retailers and ignore what everyone else is doing.
There are lots of interesting things going on the audio world, it seems far from dead, but it seems to go far beyond sound quality. For example, looking at the Stellar range, there are two products I didn’t buy simply because they are physically too big. People on lower budgets often live in smaller spaces and so things like the Strata don’t make sense because look inside and there is so much fresh air taking up space in someone’s apartment, compared to the lovely little Sprout. I owned a PS Audio GCPH, purchased in significant part because of its small size. I didn’t buy the Stellar Phono partly for the same reason, got the much smaller format EAR Phonobox.
Another approach is pure branding. IAG, also based near Cambridge, own Quad, Wharfdale, Audiolab, Luxman and various other brands. Mostly designed in The UK and Japan, all made in their own state-of-the-art production village in China. They bought the Leak brand and last month issued some Leak branded products, looking just like the 1970s originals. The product is very similar to designs from the same team under different brands, namely the Quad Vena and the Audiolab M-One, but the styling is unique and attractive.
It’s easy to be defeatist and just accept the whole world has gone online. Strangely, it hasn’t. The Cadence model seems a very sensible development, don’t know if it’s been tried elsewhere in audio, but it exists in other industries.