Why short business hours help keep a hi-fi shop open
Andy Zimmerman sells a lot of speakers in 14½ hours a week.
He’s kept Saturday Audio Exchange, his Lakeview high-fidelity equipment shop, open no more than three short days a week for 31 years.
“The strange hours are very simple — I had a day job,” says Zimmerman, who started Saturday Audio as a side project in 1982 and never found the need to stay open full time.
In recent years, Zimmerman has been selling amplifiers, stereo sets, turntables and surround sound on Thursday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays. Limited hours save on utilities and wages and have enabled him to hire a cream-of-the-crop staff. “I found people that had great jobs in the industry and paid them a lot of money to show up for one day a week,” he says.
Joe Corona is a representative for a consumer electronics manufacturer who also works Saturdays at the shop. “None of us are on commission,” he says. “We’re here really just to help somebody figure out if we have something that meets their needs and then how to get them the best experience from [it].”
In addition, Zimmerman distinguishes Saturday Audio by stocking new and used gear from specialty brands, such as Monitor Audio, Moon and Thiel Audio. “He’s not a general merchandise purveyor, like a Best Buy would be,” says Stephen DeFuria, national sales manager for Thiel and one of Zimmerman’s suppliers. “Andy’s whole position is centered around the rendering of music in the best possible way, and there aren’t many competitors.”
Though the showroom is only open three days — Zimmerman takes appointments and fills online orders throughout the week — Saturday Audio is in the top 20 percent of DeFuria’s dealers and is expected to make the top 10 percent this year. “The advantage I think that he has is being open three days a week,” DeFuria says. “[It] creates a call to action for his customers.”
Chicago retail consultant John Melaniphy isn’t surprised that limited hours haven’t hindered the audio retailer. Hard goods like hi-fi equipment depend less on foot traffic and impulse buys, so weekend hours work for many shoppers. “They’ve got a great business model. It’s hard for other people to emulate it because they’re so specialized,” Melaniphy says.
And though discerning customers and high-quality brands separate Saturday Audio from big-box stores, competition remains with Chicago’s other independent audio stores, Audio Consultants and ProMusica.
“In some respects they are competing for the same group, but at the same time, I would like to think that there’s enough [business], given that there’s only three of them,” says Benj Kanters, associate professor at Columbia College Chicago.
Melaniphy thinks that the part-time hours give Saturday Audio a leg up on those competitors, both of which are open Tuesday through Saturday.
“I think Tuesday’s a dead day,” Melaniphy says. “Even Wednesday, depending upon your business in that industry. I think they’re [Audio Consultants and ProMusica] staying open for the convenience of the customer. But I think they could go to the other model quite easily.”
Photo of Andy Zimmerman by Sara Mays