#SmallBusinessSaturday 11/30/2013

This Holiday Season, Shop Small Businesses (At Least For Batteries)

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

You hear your alarm clock go off at 3:30 a.m. but it doesn’t matter because you were already awake.  Many of the big superstores have been open since Thanksgiving morning, but it’s about keeping the family tradition, right?  It’s also about strategy.  Sure, the early bird gets the worm..but then again… the early worm gets eaten… and who needs coffee when you have 20% off coupons and door-buster deals!

Or maybe you are the type of person who sleeps in on the day after Thanksgiving, and waits for online deals on the following “Cyber Monday”? Wait a second; aren’t you supposed to be at work on Monday?

This year, I suggest you try a new approach to your holiday shopping:  Instead of going from big box store to big box store hunting for the best price on new electronics or other gifts, consider patronizing the small business on the corner.

Local, independent hardware stores, electronics boutiques, gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores and otherwise mom-and-pop stores are great sources for gifts.  I know one guy who gets all his family gifts from a local truck stop. Admit it: when you walk through a truck stop, you always see pretty interesting items at reasonable prices!

Many of these small businesses have an electronics “department” that may only be one display case or mixed in the same aisle as power tools and electric toothbrushes. They may not have the same selection of video games and Blu-ray that the big box stores would offer. There are no blue light specials, rollbacks, door-buster deals, or price-slashing December To Remember events.  No, you will find most items are simply “for sale” or “on sale” at a fair, reasonable price.  The shopping carts will be smaller, the cashier lines will be shorter, and the walk to your car will feel incredible, as you know in your heart, you are doing the right thing.

I am not saying everyone should completely boycott big box stores this holiday (although I must admit I like the idea). These nationwide chains have their place when purchasing the hottest new smartphones, tablets, televisions and video games. When making those gift purchases, its important to have a variety of the latest and greatest hardware models and software titles to choose from.  It’s also beneficial to use the internet to research the products and prices in advance, no matter where you end up making the purchase.

But once you have done your research and know what you want, you should pause before buying everything at the big box store.  Consider getting a case for the tablet computer at the local computer repair shop.  While you are there, ask them about gift certificates you can give your friends and family, that they can use when their computer inevitably needs some more memory, or just some TLC.  Get the batteries and car adapters at the independently owned gas station.  Don’t get so hung on prices, because if you do, the big box stores will always have the advantage.

This Saturday, make a commitment to ONLY shop at small businesses. Tell your families to do the same.  This includes grocery shopping!  Give your warehouse store membership card a day off, leave your car in the driveway, and ride your bike to the local candy store with a big backpack and no shopping list, and see what you can find.  Take your older kids to the local hardware store and have them pick out their own stocking stuffers. Find a source for handmade holiday cards, buy some gift certificates to local restaurants, and/or attend a local craft faire.  You won’t find any “wearable tech” or oversized shopping carts.  But you will find cozy sweaters and lots of gifts made of recycled products.  Most of the time at these craft fairs, the vendors are selling their own wares, so you can easily ask them questions, or place custom orders.

I guarantee you will feel warm and fuzzy while you support local businesses this #smallbusinesssaturday.  If you are limited by weather this holiday weekend, make a list of the local stores you want to patronize.  If you write out your list of stores using a pen or pencil, you are much more likely to do it.  You remember pens and pencils, right?

Don’t Let the 3D Printer Business Pass You By

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

Any professional audiovisual equipment manufacturer, distributor, or reseller knows that the key to continued revenue and growth in an ever-changing marketplace is adapting to the technology disruptions that are often driven by pioneers from a different industry.

For example, a small company named Draper started making window shades for schools in 1902 (before most Americans even had electricity). In 1957, a full 55 years after the company was started, the President of Draper, Luther Pidgeon, secured a patent on an inexpensive classroom projection screen. Draper is now one of the largest manufacturers of projection screens in the world. They also make projector lifts, AV furniture, basketball hoops, soccer goals, wrestling mats, other athletic equipment, and even their original window shades!

One big reason Draper has survived for over 100 years is because they are, in my opinion, “quick followers.” A quick follower is never a technology pioneer, or even an early adopter (willing to pay top dollar to get in “early” on a technology trend or fad). A quick follower is not so quick to jump on the train before it leaves the station. They’re pretty quick to jump on the train once it’s already moving, though, before most others embark.

The professional audiovisual and consumer device industries are full of people trying to convince you that their product is “the next big thing.” Your first question to them should always be, “how many have you sold so far?” That’s exactly what Draper asks. They don’t invent the market, they wait until there is a tipping point, see the need, and come in “fashionably late” with competitively-priced alternatives. Since Draper has been in the education business for so long, people trust them.

Which brings me back to 3D printers…

As I was reading this great post from Lisa Arthur about the disruptive nature of 3D printer technology, I could not help but ask myself, “Sure the potential market for these things is huge, but who exactly is going to be selling them?

The next thing I did was Google the term “3D Printer.” There were a handful of eBay and similar specialty vendors at the top of my results. After a few minutes of virtual window shopping, I deduced that B&H Photo Video & Pro Audio had the best variety of 3D printer models at different price points, both online, and in their store:

B&H Photo 3D printers
B&H Photo Video & Pro Audio is selling 3D printers; why aren’t you?

B&H Photo Video & Pro Audio is a perfect example of a quick follower who recognized the online market for audiovisual equipment and has been taking market share and margin away from traditional resellers for years. Just like Draper, they let others lay the rails, then they were the first to jump on the train before it left the station. B&H is now one of the largest retailers of audiovisual equipment, both on and offline.

So what is stopping other AV resellers from selling 3D printers like B&H Photo, Video & Pro Audio? Don’t give me the excuse of “it’s not audiovisual equipment”, because guess what? Its not “Photo, Video or Pro Audio” either! It’s all technology! Audiovisual distributors and resellers need to become the “quick learners” in this equation, demonstrating the 3D printers the same way they demonstrated projectors for the past 20 years.

Most of these 3D printers work over USB or Wi-Fi. So where does the integrator fit in? I think it’s the same way that Draper stayed in business over 100 years: the education market. A 3D printer in a classroom will make kids excited about art projects and computer aided drafting. Learn to demonstrate the product as part of client meetings and lunch and learns. By becoming a 3D printer dealer (a.k.a. expert) and suggesting 3D printers for specialty classrooms, you will set your AV proposal apart from other AV integrators, who just want to sell projectors and screens, forever. Or was it just window shades?

Big Data MarketingIf you agree with me and Lisa Arthur about 3D Printers, you might also want to check out “Big Data Marketing” in which Lisa covers five essential steps to becoming a successful data-driven marketer. Throughout the book she emphasizes and provides examples about how marketing must collaborate with IT about Big Data in order to serve as change agents. Lisa is the CMO of Teradata Applications, the leader in integrated marketing software, and has pledged to give all book profits to The American Red Cross. Win-win!

To purchase a copy of Lisa’s book, Big Data Marketing, click here.