The Focal powered by Naim Store: The Future of High-End Dealerships?
High end audio faces an imperative: to expand its market before traditional customers age out, young prospects opt for ultimate convenience over superior sonics, and well-heeled, middle-aged professionals succumb to the more discreet aesthetics and intuitive usability of CI. (For those unfamiliar with that last acronym, it stands for “Custom Installation.” CI is a massive field in which the bulk of high-end manufacturers play no role.)
Every producer in our industry is aware of the imperative to expand the customer base. Most are addressing it in the form of new products aimed at attracting new customers. Thus, we see even uber-high-end purveyors like Goldmund offering headphone amps and compact integrateds. Yet while moving into new product categories is clearly a necessary step, is it sufficient?
In particular, is the traditional audio dealer—dimly-lit, dark-hued, bursting with intimidating gear stacked on industrial-looking racks—where Millennials and affluent families really want to go to drop a sizable portion of their discretionary funds? Perhaps not. The younger crowd is accustomed to Best Buy, where they can find Sonos, or Bose shop. And, as already noted, those middle-aged couples building their dream home are highly susceptible to the comfy environs that CI dealers offer. Maybe, then, in addition to a broader product range, high-end expansion also requires a rethink of the traditional dealer.
That’s certainly the premise behind recent moves by the VerVent Audio Group, owner of English electronics manufacturer Naim and French speaker builder Focal. VerVent is working with its worldwide dealer network to create new, dedicated places to showcase and sell Naim and Focal products. The new spaces are called “Focal powered by Naim” stores, and, though they may be located within or adjacent to existing dealers, they are very different from those traditional outlets.
To create a store, VerVent shares the cost and workload with a partner dealer. Specifically, VerVent dictates elements (color scheme, graphics, etc) that define the store’s “look and feel.” The company also generates an initial store layout, optimized for the available space, and proposes an initial equipment configuration. Both are subject to the dealer’s revision and approval. Finally, VerVent provides financial assistance for both constructing the store and populating it with demo gear. The end result is owned, staffed and operated by the dealer. Once the new store is up and running, the relationship between the manufacturer and the dealer reverts to normal.
The benefits of this approach are easy to glean. Because the look of these stores is centrally controlled, Naim and Focal maintain a consistent, recognizable visual presence worldwide. At the same time, the stores cement in the customer’s mind the close relationship between Naim and Focal. Finally, unlike other schemes being tried by some high-end manufacturers, such as direct or online sales, the VerVent approach ensures that it is never in competition with its dealers. Most significantly, this model gives both VerVent and participating dealers an opportunity to create an entirely new environment attuned to the tastes of a broader audience.