As Seen In CE Pro
12.04.2008 — The industry has certainly voyaged a long way from two-channel stereo, vinyl records, tube amplifiers and 12-inch two-way speakers. It isn't just the electronics industry anymore.
Installation professionals, integrators and retailers have had to sharpen their skill sets to offer everything from lighting control, security, whole-home systems and, yes, even furniture.
When we read luxury lifestyle magazines about the range of theater rooms, it's clear that the core attractions (beyond the winky-blinky marquees, faux ticket booths, velvet ropes and motorized curtains) are those rows of stunning recliners.
Indeed, entertainment furniture is a multi-billion dollar industry. Most custom theater dealers, however, allow the "designer" to pocket his customer's furniture budget -- or worse, he has the client run to the local furniture store and ignores the category altogether!
Here are eight tips to sell or purchase high-end theater seating.
Understand Furniture Quality
The furniture industry seems to intimidate many installers, home theater retailers or integrators.
We all understand the quality and value differences between high, mid and low-performance electronics, flat-panel displays, speakers and screens.
Why do we press pause on our brains when the white shoes, white belt furniture sales-guy from outside our industry is asked to service your customers needs when you should?
How will your customers (the ones that just dropped upwards of $100,000 on their project) feel when they find themselves sitting on collapsed cushions or having the frame poking them in the back?
There are precious few manufacturers that have invested in our industry and work hard to manufacture seating that is on the same level as what installers present as top-notch and high performance.
Know them; know their products.
You and your staff must be trained in every aspect of seating and design.
You should not let your people approach any of your clients until you know they have all the knowledge that your vendors can afford you.
Just as you attend manufacturer and CEDIA type training events for integration, so too must you learn as much as you can about seating.
You must partner with a seating manufacturer who will join you this venture.
You need a manufacturer that not only understands seating, but also understands the custom install business, acoustics, viewing requirements and room construction.
Pick Vendors Willing to Assist You
Choose vendors that become part of your team.
What if you have a problem designing seating that will work with your designer/client's room?
What if the viewing angle, the materials or the platform elevation come into question? Will the furniture company assist you (or even understand you)?
Look for a seating vendor that will work with you, with your client and also with your designer. Find a vendor that will offer design layouts.
More importantly, find a vendor that will deliver right to your client's house.
Budget for Quality
How does an installer determine the cost or recommended budget when it comes to furniture?
Remember: Your clients are going to sit in these seats with their family and closest friends for many, many hours.
The chair is the one element they will, literally be in contact with your client throughout the life of the home theater. That's pretty important. The ultimate “software”.
Figure that this important investment of comfort and style should represent 12 percent to 22 percent of the total retail value of their theater. A $100,000 client could and should invest $12,000 to $22,000 in what would typically be two rows (or 5 to 7 recliners).
This puts a quality recliner (in the $1,700 to $3,500 price range) into your creation.
Or, you can consider the cheap seats -- just think about a $999 retail recliner: It goes from manufacturing to distribution to wholesale and retail, with all the usual mark-ups. It probably costs $200 to $300 (or less) to manufacture and does not equate to a value to investment ratio compatible with the rest of the theater investment.
To achieve that low cost, the manufacturer uses blown-in polyester fill, stapled-together chipboard stick frames, stamped and flimsy three-point mechanisms and a cover made out of some imitation leather or suede material.
By comparison, a superior level of seating quality delivers a totally different set characteristics: Hardwood frames glued and doweled, layered solid core memory foams, seven-point scissor mechanisms with lifetime warranties, European top grain 100 percent leather upholstery, full spring support systems, etc.
Sound a little different?
Avoid the Time/Price Push
Don't place all the emphasis on delivery time and price. You are designing and building your customer “custom furniture”.
Cheap chair companies often promise tomorrow-delivery. They play to the buyers' misconception of importance. They often fail to deliver on schedule, and installers look foolish when they are late.
Instead, promise quality, custom design and a lifetime of comfort. Remember to emphasize that their custom recliners are being built especially for their theater.
Plan early and deliver more than expected.
Commit to the Category
"Hey, that sounds great," an installer might be saying. "I think I'll try a couple in my showroom."
That kind of participation in this category would be like carrying just one display or one or two pairs of speakers.
When clients come into your showroom, you must create the confidence that, along with your extensive audio and video expertise, you are the home theater seating expert, too. That means offering a selection.
Who are the most successful dealers in this category? They are the guys who have an array of seating choices, and the client is compelled to sit in them, admire them and also buy them!
Update that Showroom
Take a good look around your showroom. Those couches, loveseats and director chairs with the speaker company logos! Yeah, they have to go.
Those office chairs you brought in from home! They aren't making any points with your customers either. More importantly, they're not establishing you as a complete solution dealer.
Your showroom offers you valuable space that can demonstrate the complete experience. Take advantage of that.
Build an illusion. A riser with a few chairs, front and back, and a small home theater completes the image. Show them the finished product. Their only question will be, “how much is this room”?
Ever been to a furniture store? They have vignettes (complete rooms). They know most people are design-challenged. People buy the room, not the couches. Help them imagine a complete package.
Befriend the Designer
Include the client, the wife and the designer in your installation. Yes, the designer. He or she will be one of your best assets -- especially once you realize the designer has the homeowner's ear when it comes to budgeting and designing their furniture package.
Allow the designer to use you and your showroom in order to sell furniture to their own clients. Develop a posse of designers in your market, and you will be busier than you ever have been.
Seating is the ultimate attachment sale and completes the experience. You may have the best projector, screen, sound system and processors, but if they are not comfortable it all fails!
The dealer/integrators who take on the opportunity of selling home theater seating will find that they can complete the vision their customers carry.
By doing your homework, studying the category and partnering with experts, installers can widen their attachment presentation and value by being the Theater Room Expert!!
Michael Laurino is president of Premiere-HTS, which specializes in home theater seating and surroundings