<April 25, 2012> Earlier this month Lenbrook America announced a new initiative it has launched in partnership with a select group of independent specialty retailers to roll out a stylish showroom optimized to display and demonstrate high quality digital audio solutions. Called the “Digital Music Experience Center,” the striking showrooms are designed to allow specialty retailers to tap into the burgeoning contemporary digital music phenomenon AND expose consumers to the wonderful (and probably unknown to them) world of higher resolution audio performance.
In a press release announcing the launch, Lenbrook said it has been “concerned about the overall direction of the specialty AV industry,” including its “fundamental business model, the level of business, differentiation from mass merchants, and even the long-term sustainability of the specialty dealer.” The specialty industry needs, Lenbrook suggests, “some new solutions.”
The specialty solution…
And the solution that Lenbrook has come up with is the Digital Music Experience Center (DMEC). According to Lenbrook America President Dean Miller, this is a project that has been in development for many months. Miller has personally led the charge on this project consulting with a variety of experts such as ComputerAudiophile.com president Chris Connaker, Gordon Rankin (creator of the asynchronous USB digital-to-audio converter)…as well as corporate partners AudioQuest and Panamax/Furman.
It was clear to this auspicious group that consumers had come to embrace a new way of acquiring and listening to music, primarily though downloading low resolution digital files and listening to them on their computers, iPods, or other mp3 players. Not only was the world coming to adopt a low grade audio solution, they were purchasing listening devices from mass merchants such as Best Buy and downloading music from the Internet – they were NOT seeking advice and equipment from quality-centric specialty retailers.
Cut out and short changed…
The result was specialty dealers were getting cut out of the equation – and consumers were getting short-changed on the quality of their entertainment. Something had to be done and Miller created the DMEC as the pivot point to reignite the specialty solution – to everyone’s benefit.
In a telephone interview with the ALERT, Miller explained that Lenbrook commissioned a design firm to create an attractive showroom design that “kind of looks like an Apple Store” and is a compact but effective 400-450 sq. ft. so that it can easily be incorporated within an existing showroom. Everything has been designed in from wall treatments and shelving to lighting and wall graphics.
Lenbrook owns the concept and has trademarked the name. Not only that, but it has created a detailed package with all products zones laid out, construction materials ready to ship, graphics and other materials produced and ready-to-go. According to Miller, a dealer can be up-and-running with a fully constructed and stocked DMEC showroom at their store in about three-to-four weeks from agreement to full installation.
Six zones are incorporated into the design that represent the more common ways consumers listen to digital music. Each showroom contains a computer so that the customer can see the way they listen to their music now…and then instantly compare that to higher resolution alternatives.
This gives the specialty retailer – whose staff has been specially trained – the opportunity to do what they do best – explain and demonstrate the dramatic difference between the consumer’s current low resolution listening set-ups as compared to higher resolution, audiophile-grade solutions.
“Many customers don’t even know that they have the opportunity to listen to music that is even higher quality than CD,” Miller told us. But after visiting a DMEC, they do.
The first, and so far only, DMEC open is at The Little Guys, a specialty dealer located about 20 miles south of Chicago in Mokena, IL. DMEC showrooms are also planned for Baltimore’s The Grammophone and Denver’s Listen Up.
According to Miller, there are about ten dealers in various stages of becoming involved with the DMEC showroom project. Ultimately, they plan to have somewhere between 40-60 locations nationwide.
The company is also considering a simpler branding that Miller says is tentatively called i-Fi Zone. This will be a simpler and more succinct brand that should be easier to recall.
The showrooms are phase 1 of the project. Miller tells us that there will ultimately be an online presence that the company plans to use to drive traffic to each of the partners locations. The online implementation will be something along the lines of i-FiZone@LittleGuys, i-FiZone@Grammophone, etc.
If the concept is as successful as early indications suggest, Lenbrook will roll-out freestanding locations as well.
We asked Miller, is he targeting a B&O store concept? [Miller was once President of B&O.] Not at all, Miller assured us. B&O stores are designed to separate B&O, or rather elevate B&O above the masses. B&O is the brand of the store and the product. This is not the case with DMEC or i-Fi Zone. The showroom is branded, but the dealer is also branded.
Also, Miller said, dealers don’t have to use Lenbrook products exclusively. Dealers are free to mix in other brands as meets their needs. Really? A dealer can use other brands in a showroom designed by Lenbrook.
Miller told us that, while a dealer could use 100% Lenbrook products if they wanted to – Lenbrook only requires approximately 60% of the display be comprised of Lenbrook-branded products. According to Miller, they wanted to give dealers flexibility to incorporate their other lines.
Has Lenbrook reinvented specialty?…
We then asked the Lenbrook President if he has reinvented specialty retail? Miller chuckled…
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Miller laughed. “It’s still early and the concept needs to be proven in the real world. We’re all – vendors and retailers – in this together.”
Miller told us that Lenbrook is considering expanding the concept to Europe and other parts of the world. Not only that, but Lenbrook plans to open its own, company-owned i-Fi Zone to use as a sort of a learning lab. This i-Fi Zone will most likely be in Montreal.
Just about everyone that Miller has presented the concept to has endorsed the i-Fi Zone. Especially dealers seemed intrigued with the idea. Even HTSA, which Lenbrook recently became associated with, has expressed interest in the concept. In fact, as word has gotten out about the project, life has become a bit of a whirlwind for Miller.
“It’s really kind of re-ignited the fun in this business for me,” Miller said enthusiastically.
For more information on Lenbrook, see: www.lenbrook.com.