It's common to think about salesmanship as a form of persuasion, whereby a salesperson convinces a customer to buy something. But salesmanship is more effective when customers convince themselves. In consumer electronics, few categories illustrate this principle more clearly than the remote control.
In mainstream retail, remotes are typically considered accessory products; at large chains, they're often self-serve items. But many retail remotes sell for hundreds of dollars, and can also make home theatre systems easier to use, so they're definitely an important category.
In custom A/V, remotes aren't an accessory. They're an integral part of the system. Depending on how they're presented, remotes can make customers feel confortable with the proposed system, and inspire them to expand their budget to accommodate a more ambitious set up. How a remote is programmed is a powerful advertisement of an integrator's abilities.
Barry Wosk, President, Sound Developments Ltd.: "If the dealer hands a customer a remote, asks what the customer wants to do, and the customer can just do it, that sells some very expensive control systems."
The retail market is dominated by Logitech International's Harmony remotes. Lee Boudreau, National Account Manager for Logitech Canada Inc., estimates Logitech's share of Canadian aftermarket remote sales at 50 to 60%. The best-selling model is the Harmony One, which retails for $280.
Although Harmony remotes can also control IR lighting adapters, Logitech is focused on entertainment systems. Harmony remotes don't have advanced features like two-way communications that are offered on more expensive products. "That's not where we're at," Boudreau states. "That's more of a custom feature."
When Harmony arrived on the market almost a decade ago, the company's approach to remote controls was completely new. No one had produced a remote that users programmed via the Internet. While some high-end models could execute macros, the idea of using a remote to perform "activities" like watching TV and listening to music was new. "Demonstrations were extremely important in the beginning," Boudreau says.
John Stumpf, Sales Manager, Station Earth Inc.: "A remote that ties everything together makes the whole system a good purchase. If the customer can hand the remote to a babysitter and go out to dinner, that creates value."
Times have changed. Major retailers include remotes in their flyers, but few actually demonstrate the products these days, Boudreau says. Instead, the focus is on category management: displays, dummy remotes and signage. "It can be very challenging getting a good demo at a large chain," he comments. "It definitely helps if associates show it. Many independents take it out of the box and set it up."
If retailers are going to show the product, they need to do it properly, Boudreau cautions. That means having the remote properly programmed to operate a specific system. "It's very important to maintain the remote," he explains. "If you don't update it when you change a system, the customer won't get a good demo. It's more detrimental not having the remote work than just showing a dummy remote."
The Comfort Factor
Scot Kerek, Executive Director, National Sales for AVAD Canada, says remotes are AVAD's second-largest category, after video. The company distributes URC (Universal Remote Control), RTI (Remote Technologies Inc.), Philips Pronto and Crestron products. "Retailers tend to ignore the category," Kerek states. "They hand the product over the counter and wish customers the best of luck."
Dan Courville, Product Manager, Consumer Division, SF Marketing Inc.: "Having two-way communications is critical to finding the artist and album you want when you no longer have physical media. You need to look at your music collection in a new way."
In the custom space, a good demo is critical. "You need a simple system set up in your showroom so you can show the customer how easy it is to operate," Kerek says. "This is a really compelling demo when it's done well." Echoing Boudreau, he adds, "If you change the TV in the system, you may need to reprogram the remote."
Elaborates Barry Wosk, President of Richmond, BC-based Sound Developments Ltd. (which distributes the RTI line in Canada): "The interface is what the customer sees all the time. People want to touch and feel it. Top dealers provide a pre-programmed remote for customers to try. If the dealer hands a customer a remote, asks what the customer wants to do, and the customer can just do it, that sells some very expensive control systems."
That's exactly what happens at La Boutique Electronique in the Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux. The store has five dedicated home theatre rooms, each with a working system and a pre-programmed remote. "Remotes are a very important category for us," says Audio-Video Manager Jean-François Gadbois. "It's the first thing the customer experiences. It has to be bulletproof. It just has to work. Remotes are part of every job we do. We always offer good-better-best options."
The demonstration doesn't just show what the remote can do; it shows what the dealer can do. "The manufacturer is giving a raw interface to the integrator," Wosk comments. "How the integrator programs the device dictates the experience the customer gets. The programming side is vital. Customers have a two-to four-button tolerance. If what they want to happen doesn't happen by that point, they're going to get frustrated."
Programming is both an art and science, Kerek notes. For example, many cable and satellite boxes don't have discrete commands, so can get out of sequence with the other components. With a control system with video inputs that can sense the state of the set-top box, the programmer can employ "if" statements. "That makes for a much better experience," Kerek says. "You need to think like a consumer. Will the remote do what the customer wants, or will it complicate the experience? That's what installers are selling - the experience. An expensive remote is a paperweight unless it's programmed properly."
Simplicity gives value to custom home entertainment systems, agrees John Stumpf, Sales Manager at Station Earth Inc. in Fergus, ON. Custom accounts for 95% of Station Earth's sales. "Making it easy is exciting," Stumpf says. "A remote that ties everything together makes the whole system a good purchase. If the customer can hand the remote to a babysitter and go out to dinner, that creates value."
With an iPod docked into URC'S new PSX-2 Personal Server, users can browse playlists, genres and albums on the TV or one of URC's WiFi-equipped remotes. They can also sync wirelessly with iTunes on a PC or Mac over the network, and create playlists from their couch.
Station Earth does not sell remotes over-the-counter, and insists on a programmed remote being part of every project. "We've walked away from projects where the customer refused a remote," Stumpf says.