Re-Tales #36: Two Dealerships Expanding
Often it seems we’re living at a time of hi-fiindustry contractionthat expansion in retail, if it exists at all, is online, and the number of real-world dealerships is shrinking. But at least two California dealerships, San Diego’s Alma Audio (top photo) and Pasadena’s Audio Element (bottom photo), are expanding in the actual, offline world.
Why expand? For the reasons you’d expect. The two dealerships want to expand their reach and capitalize better on the advantages that brick-and-mortar retail affords, especially when it comes to selling more expensive goods. They are aiming to reach more people in new locations with a more personal, experiential approachmuch different than reading specifications, looking at pictures, and clicking the “buy” button online. Both dealerships are aiming to sell higher-end stuff at their new locationsthe kind of sales that don’t work as well onlineto new customers in new places.
Owned by Alex Siufy, his wife Julianne Feres, and their partner Fabio Storelli, Alma Music & Audio has been in business for about eight years in the Kearny Mesa section of San Diego. Siufy and Feres recently moved to Sterling, Virginia, where Alex serves as general manager of Alma Audio East, which opened in June. Storelli stayed on to manage the San Diego store.
Alma is considering additional locations in other regionsa delicate business in an industry where brands grant resellers exclusive territories. “Whenever there was a conflict, we let go of the brands,” Siufy told me. Current Alma brands include AudioQuest, Bergmann, Chario, Elac, Estelon, HiFi Rose, Luxman, Technics, Vinnie Rossi, and YG Acoustics. Siufy believes this lineup sets the store apart from other dealerships: “Our brands aren’t in every corner. People are genuinely curious.”
What prompted Alma to expand to the faraway opposite coast? “We were getting enough calls and interest,” Siufy said. “It felt right to do something” on the other coast. Siufy thinks the DC area is relatively underserved while greater San Diego is oversaturated. Lately, California has seen heavy discounting, he told me: “People are buying whatever they can get cheaper.” That’s good for customers in the short term but destabilizing for the industry.
Siufy takes a social approach to business. “People who come in are regulars, people who are more than clients. They trust us in what we do, and they become friends.” The new store is taking a similar approach. At the same time, he aims to keep the place approachable for newcomers. The big, main room in the old store displays entry-level equipment. “They won’t feel like, ‘If I break this, I’ll have to sell my house.’ I try to be approachable.”
Another California dealership is opening a second showroom, this one closer to home. Pasadena’s Audio Element, which set up shop a decade ago, is expanding to Carlsbad in San Diego County, some 90 miles south of Pasadena. Audio Element is owned by husband-and-wife team Brian (president) and Jennifer Berdan (director of finance and operations, footnote 1; both shown above with son Griffin). Brian was, in hi-fi terms, to the manor born: His mother Sheila and late father Brooks opened Brooks Berdan Ltd. in Monrovia, just east of Pasadena, in the late 1980s. Brooks was a turntable-setup expert known for hot-rodding ‘tables. Brian apprenticed under Brooks. Still owned by Sheila, Brooks Berdan Ltd. recently went online-only.
Brian continues to serve some of Brooks Berdan’s old clients, Jennifer told me; some have been customers for more than 20 years. Much of their business comes from referrals and word of mouth. “It’s really about those relationships you grow with clients,” Jennifer said. Audio Element sells Boulder, Cardas, Clearaudio, Dan D’Agostino, dCS, Grand Prix Audio, Transparent, and Wilson Audio, to name a few. The business has grown every year since it opened a decade ago, Jennifer said.
Audio Element’s Ian Forte described the new branch location as “an opportunity to better service those clients we have and expand the net a bit wider.” The new showroom’s three listening rooms offer a “homelike” experience. One smaller residential style room, one larger for more serious listening; and the third is more playful, with several setups in a warehouse converted into a lounge/game room. For now, the Carlsbad store is open by appointment only in order to provide “a more exploratory process” for customers, allowing them to spend time listening critically without interruptions, to best tailor their system to their needs and sonic preferences.
Like Alma Music & Audio, Audio Element will keep its original location open. The Pasadena store continues to offer a range of components and approachable systems that work well together priced from around $1000 through to cost no object.
Jennifer said that people today buy differently than they used to. Customers can learn a lot online. “They can get a lot of info on the internet, but the expertise we have transcends what you can read online. We’re not the cheapest around, but the value we add is our service. It’s a fun field,” she said. “It’s never dull, right?
Footnote 1: Not to be confused with Brian’s sister, Jen Berdan Green, from Brooks Berdan, Ltd.
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