OWNER, BEING THERE AUDIO
AUDIOPHILE, AD MAN, MUSIC EVANGELIST
Was audio always in the background of your life?
My generation took its cue from our parents. My parents were immigrants from Germany, and the only money they spent frivolously was on records. Each was chosen carefully and played carefully and I think that translated down to me. My father was intimately involved when I purchased my two first systems.
As for music, well I’m not a flower child, I’m 1950’s-raised,… so I’m ’60’s to ’70’s music, late Elvis and then onto the music of psychedelic rock and folk particularly.
Who’s your ideal customer? Who “gets” Being There?
There are a sub-group of people who do need to have a quality playback to get total satisfaction and that’s what my little shop is all about.
I live on the Hockley Road, and in summer you have the cyclists whizzing by… so what makes a good bicycle? When I’m on it I don’t hear it, I just hear the wind. That’s quality, that’s someone who’s put a lot of time and energy and thought into the purchase of that bicycle because it gives them it back with every breath they take.
Audio is the same thing. There is definitely an enriched experience as you step up and begin to deal with quality files, vinyl or digital, and the equipment necessary to play it back in such a way that they’re in the room there with you, or you’re in their performance hall with them. That’s the objective: to re-create.
You’ve written on your store window, Humble High End… what’s the philosophy?
People smile when they read that sign. They relate to it instantly. It communicates that this little store understands you and your reluctance at times to come into a HiFi store, because your experience tells you that it’s full of snobs and million dollar equipment and it’s intimidating and you’re afraid to ask a question. And so it puts people at ease and comfortable and gets across instantly that we’re not here to score points.
You’re not a tech-head, though… that’s part of it.
When I ran a healthcare advertising agency, I knew nothing about the technology of the pharmaceutical industry, it’s irrelevant. What you need to understand are the benefits related to something. That’s not an easy task. We think we understand but we often don’t.
The people who come in are surprised that something like a high-end HiFi shop exists, but people who understand HiFi know HiFi and they seek you out. There’s lots of, “Geez I didn’t realize something as wonderful as this is in our little town, thank you for being.” Part of the game is to create awareness that you do exist, but you also need to create a certain awareness for quality playback and what that’s all about.
So I see my little shop as a playground for buying, advertising creative outlets and games. That’s why I created the store. It’s a personal outlet, taking a hobby and seeing if it can work commercially. It’s a tough time for HiFi because in some ways home theatre and various conveniences like mp3 have not done music a service. Yes, there is a resurgence in vinyl, however, we have to be careful because the numbers are still small.
I was saying the other day to someone that you can’t look at an mp3 for two hours in your bedroom, like you can or could with an album cover.
It’s a very strong resurgence that’s just beginning to take traction, there’s lot of talk about it, but some of those articles miss a key point: to appreciate good music you need to take the time to listen, so what does that mean? It means you need to unplug. You need to unplug your phone, your computer, your television, you need to unplug mentally… and that’s the revolution, in my humble opinion, that I’m mining. A resurgence to music being the central form of entertainment for the family.
That makes a lot of sense, because if you’re going to treat a vinyl record the same way as you treat an mp3, which is just background music, then what’s the point?
That’s how I see it from a needs perspective and a benefits perspective. The music brings a couple together on a Friday night. They are listening consciously, they may have a glass of wine or two, but certainly the music is the reason for being unplugged.
My entire approach in the shop is definitely an artistic environment. I’ve got two rooms: one’s essentially a listening room, the studio living room kind of feel and stuff, very uncluttered. This is not an environment where people come in and say ok, I want this this and this and it’s wrapped and out you go. We don’t have shopping carts. It’s very much a relationship: constantly tilling the soil and adding some fertilizer, watering the plants and watching them grow… and that’s the way the relationship works over time.
And people loosen up and people like talking about their stuff. It’s a commonality. What’s interesting again is that all my customers know their first real stereo purchase. “I remember when I bought it, it was my first paycheque… My dad was with me, I just got out of University…”
It literally is for many their first paycheque, so what’s that all about? It was aspirational, a sign that you worked hard. And you were listening to music, it was a common language so to speak. As a teenager, you’d ask, “What kind of music do you listen to?” You’d go down to Sam the Record Man, you’d come back with two or three precious albums, maybe one was a demo or special 0.99 sale, and you got to look through the records and that way you were exposed to new bands as well. Like going to a library. Well, we don’t go to libraries anymore, we don’t shuffle through the shelves anymore… and so there’s a whole lost world that I think vinyl is re-creating.
It’s a communal thing, listening, as friends, as families.
Now, everybody after dinner — if they even sit at the dinner table — they go off into their rooms. But in the shop, dad or mom will come in with their kids to the shop, and they’re relating at a level that you don’t often see, it’s heartwarming. And so the kids pick an album and they get to play it on Friday night with Mom and Dad. That’s sharing, it’s phenomenal.