Selling the experience

Are showrooms a worthwhile investment or is it money down the drain? Amy Stoneham investigates.

Showrooms and experience centres are a big investment. Designed to show customers and clients what is possible in their homes, to various different levels, while also making sure yours is better than anything else on the market, can be very expensive and hard to execute.

However, it’s a no-brainer that a showroom or experience centre often leads to more business and many companies are now seeing the value in a showroom.

Some bigger integration companies have their own showrooms while smaller companies often have a distributor with a showroom that they can take their clients to. Manufacturers are also known to have showrooms to showcase their line of products and how they work within the home environment.

“We’ve been in this business now for 22 years,” says Manmohan Ganesh, director at PRO FX Tech Private Limited. “In that time, we have seen the market in various stages. When we first started, we realised that awareness of the category was extremely low. Nobody really knew what home theatre or hi-fi meant, so we had to go through the process of educating people. Now, there are various categories of products on the market, and you can buy very affordable equipment as well as the premium luxury stuff. We then realised there was a need for us to differentiate between the really affordable stuff and quality luxury entertainment because consumer brands have products with specifications similar to the higher-end equipment and people think we are giving them the same thing at a much higher price. So, we had to get people to come and see the difference and really experience it for themselves.”

Similarly, Karma-AV realise the necessity for a showroom to allow customers to experience the technology. Ian Severs of Karma-AV explains: “We’re a specialist distributor selling high-performance AV systems to specialist integrators and their customers, and while the final design is always bespoke, we needed somewhere to show our clients just how good a system can look and sound. At this level of system design, individual products are subverted by the system ‘experience’ in the mind of the consumer. Therefore, our business demands that customers experience exactly what a £200,000 cinema system can do, for example. There’s no other way to show that.”

He continues: “I realise that the word ‘immersive’ is overused these days – even budget systems on the high street are described that way – but no amount of marketing copy could ever do justice to the immersive magic of a high-end system in action. Only when our customers are surrounded by the most advanced, expertly calibrated sound and picture definition, can they appreciate the full meaning of immersion and understand the value of high-performance AV system design and integration.”

Part of Homeplay’s 2,000sqft showroom

Having a showroom or experience centre is not only useful for end users and potential customers, but also a great opportunity for integrators to learn too.

“For L-Acoustics Creations, a showroom is imperative,” says Nick Fichte, director of sales at L-Acoustics Creations. “We use the space to showcase not only existing technologies but also to offer a glimpse into the future. Whilst from an outsider’s perspective, it may look as if we are ‘just another loudspeaker manufacturer’, we strive to differentiate ourselves and get people to think ‘out of the box’. The showroom is also beneficial for integrators to come and take a technical deep dive into our solutions and allows end users to understand the benefits of having concert grade audio at home. Depending on who our audience is decides which ‘language’ we use. If the visitor is from a technical background, then we can go all in on the benefits of our technology, but if they are an end user, we will focus on the experience.”

“In our opinion, there is no better investment you can make when it comes to selling audio than a showroom, with one caveat: it must be well executed.”

Similarly, Invision, a UK distributor, can also see the multiple benefits to having a dedicated home cinema experience for its integrators and their customers. “We know how beneficial it is for our customers to experience the technology that they are installing and to be able to gain a clear vision of exactly what they can achieve within their projects,” explains Mark Taylor, commercial director at Invision. “A showroom was the next step in allowing us to inspire our customers by demonstrating the latest technologies and showcasing a full solution, all in one place. Being able to offer innovative technologies to our customers is what drives us. When we launched our home cinema in 2019, it was the first in Europe to feature DTS:X Pro technology.”

He continues: “The demo room is also a great sales tool for our customers to use. They can bring their clients along to experience the sound and visual spectacle themselves. We must not forget the excitement of being fully involved in the buying process and an end user experiencing a demo can be an integral part of that activity for them. After all, you wouldn’t buy a luxury car without going for a test drive.”

Having a showroom can also allow you as an integrator to ‘trial’ the customer before committing to a project.

“We built our showroom to create a space that would allow us to show what’s possible when we can be involved in a project early in the design phase,” illustrates James Ratcliffe, owner of integration firm, Homeplay. “We want our clients and their professional teams to think of us as a key part of the design team, not just ‘the guys who fit speakers’. We want to demonstrate our technical chops and attention to detail. We want to be pickier about the projects we take on and the people we deal with. We want to open up opportunities to collaborate and work more closely with suppliers and complementary local businesses.”

Invision’s home cinema experience facility


From conversations with professionals throughout the industry, the key to a successful showroom or experience centre is good execution. A showroom built badly is often worse than having no showroom at all because it often demonstrates a poor experience.

“As the owner of two audio companies, I am a huge advocate for the showroom,” says Paul Hales, president and product designer at Pro Audio Technology (PRO) and Theory Audio Design (Theory). “Speakers are a ‘try before you buy’ product, especially when it comes to investing big dollars in a private home theatre or distributed audio system. In our opinion, there is no better investment you can make when it comes to selling audio than a showroom, with one caveat: it must be well executed. It is incredibly important that you do not cut corners or ‘cheap out’ on the design. If you’re inviting customers and potential customers into the space to meet and provide demonstrations, it needs to be representative of your brand and the quality of products you offer. Just like a high-end home, it should be a beautiful and comfortable space where people can relax and enjoy the technology.”

Some companies create demo experiences in retail environments which can be useful but usually doesn’t have the same effect as a dedicated showroom or experience centre has. As Ganesh points out, a showroom needs to create the right ambience for it to be successful.

“It goes beyond just the experience, we have to give it an ambience which the customer can relate to,” he explains. “Most of the people who come here are high net worth customers who live in grand, luxurious houses, so this can’t be anything short of that. It’s very difficult to do in a regular home theatre store because it can sometimes be messy with cables on show and many speakers on display. Customers will also want you to swap out the speakers to compare and contrast and that means you can’t get the right ambience or set up for that high-end, luxury experience.”

In order to get the right experience and ambience, heavy investment in the showroom or experience centre is required. When Ratcliffe was wondering what to do with his 2,000sqft office space, he decided to look at turning it into a showroom. However, it turned out to be much more expensive than he originally budgeted.

“It goes beyond just the experience, we have to give it an ambience which the customer could relate to.”

“I started by thinking we could turn one part of the space into a cinema demo room,” says Ratcliffe. “But it kept growing as I got carried away. It was literally just going to be a cinema room but I then thought it would be great if we could show a media room as well, and then it would be great to have a lighting area, and then a bar and outdoor speakers and so on. Before I knew it, I had spent four times what we set out to spend.

“But now it’s all done, I’m super glad we did it because it’s so powerful for clients to be able to come along and see all the things we do but in a beautifully interior designed environment. The décor certainly makes a difference because typically, the husband is generally the driving force behind the decisions and they drag their wife along, often against their will. But as soon as they walk in, you can tell the wife is pleasantly surprised because they were expecting to see TVs, speakers and wires all over the place, but it doesn’t look anything like that. It looks like a high-end home. Immediately they’re thinking, ‘I really like this, this is the sort of home I want’. It breaks those barriers that can often go up because they think they don’t need all this technology in their house, but we demonstrate that it’s going to make their home more beautiful and simple to live in.”

Karma-AV’s premium cinema experience

One size doesn’t fit all

A showroom does what it says on the tin: it is there to show products in a dedicated environment. However, the approach to that can vary from company to company. Some have a simple area where customers can try out products, while others have more of a mock up home with typical rooms that would be in a standard house, featuring technology and AV that would generally be used in those particular rooms.

Some showrooms also have areas with different levels of budget and performance, particularly for AV and home cinemas, so that a realistic experience for that particular customer can be demonstrated.

Distributor, AWE Europe, has a great example of this with two very different home cinema experiences. Its Performance Cinema is set in a room about the size of a garage – a very common size for a home cinema – and uses high-performing equipment for a great experience. While this cinema is still tailored to the high-end market, it doesn’t break the bank for that kind of client.

But for clients who have a much bigger space, want the best of the best, and where money is no object, AWE have their Reference Cinema which is a huge step up in performance from their other cinema experience. Everything in this cinema is bigger and the best of the best in home cinema, with no expense spared to give the ultimate home cinema immersive experience.

While these are both high-end, high-performance cinema experiences, the distributor and their integrators are able to tailor the experience to the customer’s requirements.

This can be done with other home equipment too. If space allows in your showroom or experience centre, having multiple areas showcasing different budget levels is ideal because the experience can be personalised to the customer and you are not wasting their time showing them things they cannot afford or that simply will not work in their home.

PMC’s cinema demonstrates its speakers that are used in movie making

Karma-AV have taken a similar approach, as Severs explains: “We’ve built our three demonstration spaces to tailor the experiences according to customer budget and space available incorporating all of our brands in a good/better/best hierarchy. All this built-in versatility means that we can demonstrate stereo as well as multichannel at every level from £5k upwards, involving as many as six speakers and four electronics brands in the widest range of configurations – in-wall, on-wall, and freestanding – to deliver extraordinary AV quality way beyond expectations in every install scenario. And because we use the showrooms to introduce new brands to our dealers as well, the demo spaces are an essential component of our sales and value-added service.”

In India, the PRO FX Experience Centre features multiple rooms packed full of AV as well as home technology. The various rooms allow them to demonstrate different uses of AV within the home. For example, they have a multiuse media room, a dedicated Dolby Atmos home cinema, a stereo hi-fi listening room, a large premium custom theatre, as well as a bedroom and lobby. These rooms can be used in many different ways to demonstrate the technology to show end users how they can use it within their own homes.

“One of the most powerful ways to sell a high-performance home cinema is through demonstration.”

“It was our intention to have a good/better/best model but we have found that everyone’s tastes are so different, so what we say is good is some people’s favourite room,” says Ganesh. “It’s also partly because of the kind of products in a particular room or they are relating it to their own home. For example, they might think, ‘In this room, everything is in the ceiling which would work best for me as I don’t have a lot of space’. It’s also a psychological thing and they know what they like and what they don’t like. It’s like with art; an artist shouldn’t try to tell somebody that one is a better painting than another one, it’s all in the eye of the individual.”

Another distributor with multiple showrooms and different approaches is Pulse Cinemas. “One of the most powerful ways to sell a high-performance home cinema is through demonstration,” defines Mike Beatty, managing director of Pulse Cinemas. “When we set up Pulse Cinemas, and in particular when we moved to our new home in Stansted, delivering this vital resource to our dealers was a major part of our business plan. Fast forward to the present day and we now have three separate world-class demonstration facilities that dealers can visit with their clients. We have our own HQ that has three home cinema zones as well as a wealth of home automation equipment. We also have Minotti London, a destination interiors store which showcases integrated home cinema systems. Finally, we have just opened an extraordinary hospitality venue in the UK city of St Albans, in partnership with the Hub on Verulam, which we have furnished with two home cinemas.”

These different approaches allow dealers and their customers to encounter multiple experiences, depending on their budgets, space available, requirements, etc. Each space exhibits a different ambience to suit various types of customers.

PRO & Theory invested heavily in upgrading its facilities last year

Multiple benefits

The benefits to having a showroom or experience facility are obvious. Apart from the initial expense, a showroom is more or less guaranteed to increase your business as long as the space is well done. The showroom can be used for other reasons too, such as demonstrating a particular highlight or feature, integrator training, and special events.

High-end speaker manufacturer, PMC uses its facility to showcase the specific qualities of its products that are used in recording, mixing and mastering studios across the world for both music and movies. “Having a dedicated demonstration facility enables members of the CI industry to appreciate why the ability to specify the same speakers used by the movie makers is the only way to offer their customers the same stunning dynamics and awe-inspiring realism experienced in leading studios,” says a representative from PMC.

“For the integrator, you gain the reputation for supplying the best and that means repeat business, and that is exactly what we are experiencing. Having a venue to tell our unique story of being at the heart of movie creation, and now mixing Dolby Atmos music in our own studio, is extremely powerful and has proven rewarding, with sales of the ci series more than meeting the company’s projections and expectation and necessitating the building of a new production facility for this range.”

Invision also uses its facility, named Innovation House, as a multiuse space for integrator training, events and even to host meet and greets with the brands. “The cinema demo room has increased our opportunities to host our own events, allowing our customers to connect with us and our brands more readily,” says Taylor. “It also allows us to showcase a full solution that our customers can experience. Additionally, being part of Innovation House, a 50,000sqft experience, training and events facility with more than 200 AV, unified communication and collaboration, broadcast, residential, and rental solutions in, our customers get to see different and unique technologies that can inspire them to sometimes think outside the box.”

“It sets us apart from the rest and makes us look more desirable and professional.”

L-Acoustics Creations also uses its showroom to host events. “We are incredibly lucky that artist management, record labels and music industry experts think so highly of our space that they have chosen to launch albums and host listening parties within our showroom. This widens our reach to people who may never have heard of L-Acoustics and allows them to experience our solutions at a truly VIP event.”

Showrooms don’t just have to be about showcasing products and the end experience. It can also be used to go through the whole process of an integration. Homeplay invites all potential customers to visit the showroom and uses the facility to talk them through the process if they were to go ahead.

“Within the showroom, we also have an example design package,” explains Ratcliffe. “It is basically a file of CAD drawings and documentation that we put into a system that we can show customers. The normal way we do things is to invite them to the showroom, give them a tour showing them everything they can have and then explain to them what the costs are of the things they are interested in. We don’t want to spend days putting together a spec for them without talking about money very early on. I give them an estimated price and usually their reaction tells you if they are serious about going ahead or not.

“After the initial cost estimation, if they’re still interested then we run through the next step which is the budget calculator. We sit them down at a computer on a big screen in our showroom and the budget calculator walks them through all the different things they can have for their budget. We put in the square-foot of the house, how many TVs they want, how many rooms they want with speakers, how many blinds, cameras, etc, and it gives them a very approximate budget cost. It sets us apart from the rest and makes us look more desirable and professional.”

One of Pulse Cinemas’ multiple cinema experiences on offer

Selling tool

Ultimately, a showroom or experience centre is there to sell products and experiences. The better the experience the showroom gives, the more likely it is that someone is going to pay good money to have that in their home.

They can also be used to upsell. Many homeowners have a good idea of what they want and how much they want to spend. However, taking them to a showroom, especially a place with different levels of performance, can often lead to the homeowner wanting more than they originally planned. This has been experienced with some of the companies who have a good/better/best model.

“Often, we find that people come into the showroom with preconceived ideas of what they want, but after they’ve experienced the demonstration and spoken with our team, they can leave with other chosen solutions,” admits Taylor. “Having a demo room allows us to sit down with our customers and truly understand what they and their clients require. We can then work together to help deliver that.”

Showrooms have been so beneficial to PRO and Theory that the companies have invested in upgrading them last year. “In Southern California, we have invested heavily in our PRO and Theory Experience Centre,” says Hales. “It is such a valuable sales tool that in 2022 we doubled the size and invested heavily in renovations to make it a seamlessly beautiful and fantastic sounding space. Existing and potential customers often enter the various theatres, gasp, and say, ‘Wow! I’ll take the whole room!’ In fact, every customer that receives a demonstration at the PRO and Theory Experience Centre places an order for a system, and in most cases, a bigger system than they initially intended. As an integrator, what sales tool is more effective than that?”

One to watch

In Germany, a company called ARLED Cinema is about to open a new state-of-the-art showroom, slated to be “the most extraordinary, superlative showroom in terms of AV equipment and technical specifications”. Unfortunately, at the time of printing, this facility wasn’t quite ready to launch but, if you haven’t already seen it, check out our website for full coverage of the cinema.

With multiple outstanding features and three world firsts according to ARLED Cinema, the facility features first-class AV to give the ultimate high-end home cinema experience.

As a tease, ARLED Cinema stated: “With AV preamplifiers from the company Trinnov Audio in combination with special screen loudspeakers from Ascendo Immersive Audio and MAG Cinema, the sound above and below the LED Cinema Screen can be manipulated in such a way that the sound also comes from the centre of the screen. Together with the screen speakers, the MovieCore will also host the world premiere of the new 80” infrasonic subwoofer from Ascendo Immersive Audio. The 2.4m diameter loudspeaker will be hidden behind the movie theatre in a 15-tonne enclosure.

“Just like in real life, we can not only hear sound, but also feel it and this is exactly the kind of sound that this superlative subwoofer can reproduce. It rounds off the extremely realistic sound of the cinema.”

Main image: PRO FX Galaxy Premium Custom Theatre

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