Pioneering Scots company Linn has opened a store in Perth, and sent Alan Williams and Robert Wong to cut the ribbon at the official opening. Rod Easdown was there, and discovered the store is an integral cog in Linn’s new marketing strategy… and it’s one that does not include turntables… or CD players!
The hi-fi industry is doing it tough. Brands are disappearing and dealers who aren’t closing their doors are moving into smaller, cheaper premises. We all know this because everyone in the hi-fi industry is telling us so. So how is it that Linn, one of the most esoteric and exotic brands in the business, has doubled its market in the last 12 months?
‘We love a recession. It’s an opportunity in the making,’ says Linn’s sales manager for South East Asia, Alan Williams.
It’s all about technology. Three years ago the folk at Linn figured that CDs were dying and ceased production of disc players to embrace digital streaming. Linn is now leading a charge into high quality digital downloading free of digital rights management. Its entire product offering is based on the assumption that people store music electronically, and anyone who doesn’t will shortly start doing so. Even its turntables are digital-friendly, working in with equipment that stores their music on a drive in FLAC format.
Turntables are important at Linn. The company made its name back in 1973, the days of vinyl, with the Sondek LP12 turntable, an unapologetically belt-driven model launched when the popular belief was that direct-drive turntables would relegate belts into history. It is believed by some that the LP12 was instrumental in re-establishing belt drive as the preferred technology in turntables.
Vastly expensive, if the Sondek wasn’t the best turntable in the world it was certainly the best known of all the price-is-no-object offerings. And for many hi-fi enthusiasts that’s where the Linn brand started and ended. Not many were familiar with Linn’s pioneering work with isobaric speakers that began a few years later and still continues.
Over the years Linn started to widen its product range, offering a CD player in 1993 and extending further into electronics with amplifiers and associated offerings, but its marketing was mainly aimed at the limited, ultra-competitive audiophile market, the type of people who remembered the Sondek and were willing to take a punt on the brand’s skills at electronics. The sales efforts were thus directed at a tiny and, some would say, reducing market. At that point its Australian operations were being handled by a single enthusiast out of his front room in an inner Melbourne suburb.
In 2009 the company abandoned manufacture of CD players and went down the path of digital streaming in earnest. Its reasoning was that people were growing sick of constant technology change, the way that CD morphed into SACD (requiring a new player) and DVD into Blu-ray (ditto). The decision has been its salvation. In concert with this it realised that if it was to fully reach the potential of the Australian market it would need a genuine sales effort, something beyond the capabilities of the single company representative then based in Sydney and servicing dealers and customers throughout the continent.
So it appointed a distributor experienced in high-end brands and, as Williams describes it, got people out on the road introducing dealers to the brand and its products.
And that’s where he identified the retail problem he was up against. The people going into hi-fi stores are commonly older, often in retirement. Further, many hi-fi dealers themselves are at an age where they have one eye on their exit plan. It was a situation hardly conducive to attracting the type of customers Linn wants to attract.
And these customers are?
‘They all have iPhones, they all download their music and they’ve never been in a hi-fi shop in their lives,’ Williams said. ‘With 14 billion music downloads happening last year you can’t say that young people aren’t into music anymore. How is it that downloads have doubled and the hi-fi industry is in recession?’