Situated in the heart of New York City, on a Midtown block on 46th St. off Fifth Ave. that is normally populated by a constant pedestrian stream of office workers and tourists, is Audio46, a Dealerscope 2021 Retail Excellence Award honoree. But while the pandemic has somewhat affected in-store retail foot traffic these past 18 months, Tony Aama, Audio46’s vice president, says business is healthy and booming. That, he says, is due to both his many loyal, longstanding customers who appreciate the huge selection of pro and consumer headphones and other audio gear he carries, and to the store’s formidable online domestic and international presence.
Audio46 started out primarily as a B-to-B brick-and-mortar store focused on cameras, and then took a different turn in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, when Aama added online sales capability in 2009. And in 2013, he continues, “we noticed another shift — we were getting customers walking in asking for more audio brands. So we started adding them, and began to carry a lot more high-end audio brands.” The boom in consumer usage of smartphones as cameras also helped Aama in reaching his decision to train Audio46’s category focus more acutely, and in the direction of solely catering to a different set of loyal hobbyists: audio-lovers.
Aama says that prior to the pandemic, over 80 percent of sales were transacted in-store — something that dramatically changed when COVID hit full force. This shift, however, enabled him to leverage his unique advantages as an audio/headphone retailer. “What happened was, Amazon during that time [March and April of 2020] was busy fulfilling essential items. So a lot of audio customers were looking for where to get their products. That’s when they found Audio46. They wanted beyond just the essential products — they needed headphones and audio equipment, and to buy from Amazon, they had to wait 15, 20, or 25 days. They started looking somewhere else, and that was how they found us. And that’s when our online business went crazy, because we could do two-day and three-day delivery times… It boosted our online platform.”
Leveraging an International Reach
One strategy that was adopted to enable the smooth execution of online sales was the addition to the website of online chat in early 2020 — an almost clairvoyant move, given how business circumstances changed for all retailers later in the year.
Audio46 can also boast an extraordinarily strong YouTube social media footprint.
Besides having a robust English-language channel, one of the retailer’s crowning achievements on that platform is its Spanish-language Audio46 en Español YouTube channel, which has attracted 167,000 subscribers. Aama also communicates to buyers via YouTube channels in Korean, Chinese, Russian, and Portuguese; all of these portals enable viewers to dive deep into educational tech tutorials and product reviews about the more than 80 audio brands carried. “And we are expanding that brand number every month,” Aama says.
The retailer offers free shipping for U.S. orders across the continental U.S. with no minimum order required, and provides an option to select FedEx same-day delivery.
“We have both availability and a broad selection, all under one roof,” says Aama, and the store recently added another floor above street level to enable easier social distancing and to provide more room to shoot the online videos. The 4,000-square-foot location includes an office and a warehouse, with 1,500 square feet of that earmarked as showroom space.
In-store browsers are invited to try headphones before buying, but Audio46 adheres to CDC protocols, tracking and then strictly following evolving social distancing and mask requirements, constantly cleaning displays and demo areas, and making alcohol swabs and disposable ear tips available.
Physical territorial expansion is also on the retail roadmap for 2022 for Audio46, Aama says, with plans in the works past the pandemic period to open retail locations in states other than New York.
“When you’re looking to buy a high-end headphone, you lean towards a place where there is a large selection, and where people can try them. That sets us apart from Amazon, and aside from a couple of dealers, there aren’t physical locations like that — and I don’t think many of those have the breadth and choice we have in headphones.”
Aama subscribes to a tried-and-true philosophy that is at the foundation of his smart retail success story. “The name of the game with customer service is that there is no one-size-fits-all — you have to be flexible, listen to customers, and have an open mind. This is how we drive customer loyalty.”
Nancy is a contributing editor for Dealerscope.