Inside Meridian’s NYC Showroom, Reference Theater

Meridian encourages dealers to leverage the reference home theater, 10-megapixel projection system in its new New York offices for selling to high-profile clients.

By Arlen Schweiger
April 11, 2011
I’m not sure what impressed me more as I sat for a demo in Meridian’s theater room of its Manhattan offices: the awe-inspiring audio and video performance on display from the Reference Video System or the thought of which power brokers, Hollywood stars or sports idols may have preceded me on the couch and received the same demo.

Last year, the U.K.-based manufacturer strategically shifted its major U.S. operations from Atlanta to the SoHo section of Manhattan in an effort fueled by location. Services such as tech support and accounting remained down South, but New York became the headquarters of its sales, marketing and training. Considering the target audience of a Meridian dealer, the move was a no-brainer.

“We wanted to dramatically raise the bar in everything we do, to recommit to our core values and DNA,” Meridian CEO Peter Wellikoff said. “That meant high-performance and high-quality, including execution in our selling practices. So we moved sales, marketing and training to New York. Why? This is the hub of North America - everything is located in New York, and this is where the movers and shakers are.”

If You Build it …
Wellikoff is right at home in The SoHo Building where Meridian resides. It’s where he previously worked as COO of media server manufacturer Sooloos, which Meridian acquired in December 2008. Sooloos and Meridian joined forces in the building and even had a showroom grand opening last June there, but moved into a larger space that better accommodated a home theater, too, speaking of moving and shaking.

With the introduction of its 10-megapixel 810 Reference Video System a few years back, Meridian had the aspirational video product to match its high-performance audio products. But as a $250K system, few North American dealers could afford the luxury of maintaining an 810-based theater in their own showrooms - the completion of Meridian’s reference theater allowed the company an opportunity to combine its luxury A/V ingredients and create a destination for demonstrating its prowess.

Photos: Inside Meridian's NYC Showroom, Reference Theater

John Arthur and Brent Lambert of Arthur-Lambert provided consultation and project management on construction of the Meridian digital theater, which includes about $500K worth of products at retail alone, according to product management director Ken Forsythe. Of course, the centerpiece is the 810 Reference Projector and 10-foot Stewart Filmscreen CineCurve screen, but the audio is just as important to completing the experience, and includes: a pair of flagship DSP8000 loudspeakers as main left and rights, DSP7200 loudspeakers as surrounds, a DSP7200 horizontal center speaker and 861 surround processor. If it’s just music to be demoed, the Sooloos Control 15 system comes into play, while a Savant system controls the room.

Before firing up the presentation for me, Forsythe noted the importance of the theater as a showcase for Meridian, as one of only a few showroom theaters in the country featuring the 810 reference system, not to mention the slew of other Meridian gear. “Making this level of investment, especially in a whole room dedicated to one brand, only a handful of dealers could do that,” Forsythe says.

‘Out-of-the-Box Selling’
So dealers can come to Meridian instead, and the company’s showroom and its team members assist with the sales pitch. Integrators from as far away as Florida and Texas have brought their all-star clientele to New York to have a seat in the reference theater. “The dealer can book an appointment with us and accompany the client, but we do the presentation,” says Forsythe.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a Manhattan dealer looking to send a client over to test out a set of DSP8000s, or if it’s an A-lister that’s flown in and given the red carpet treatment. “We have some clients that just come here and play PlayStation 3 for an hour,” Forsythe says.

Wellikoff adds that because of the stature of some potential clients, Meridian takes extra care in making special arrangements - perhaps one of the reasons the company won the platinum honor for customer service in our first-ever readers’ choice Quest for Quality Awards.

“If clients are extra high profile, they can be flown into New Jersey on a private aircraft, with a limo service to take them to New York, in through the back door with security detail, and up the freight elevator to our office,” he explains. Not surprisingly, Wellikoff says Meridian is scouting locations in Beverly Hills for a second showroom.

Meridian will also take measures to go the opposite route if clients don’t want to go to New York. “We’ll go to their homes, which is a solid two or two-and-a-half day commitment, and we bring the 810, the 8000s, even the screen which we don’t even make, and leave it there for 24 hours,” says Wellikoff, who adds that “at the end of the day, we always go through the dealer” on that sort of deal.

It’s part of what Wellikoff calls the company’s “out-of-the-box selling” program that encompasses every aspect of the sales process, something he has helped overhaul during his tenure as CEO. He says that critical decisions included dramatically reducing both distribution and product lines, both by 50 percent, to focus on more of a “systems approach” in a down economy. He says business actually grew 14 percent in 2010; Forsythe adds that from June 2009 to June 2010 Meridian has averaged one 810 reference video projector sale per month (in some cases as part of a full system, in others as a projector upgrade).

To keep pace in the luxury market, Wellikoff adds, the company has hired staff members that bring such cache to their positions. New marketing and communications manager Holly Wesslhoft and sales administrator Jessica Winarski, for example, previously worked for De Beers and Harry Winston, respectively.

Another out-of-the-box pitch includes the Meridian Select 250 custom color choices available for loudspeakers, of which about 10 percent are sold with, says Forsythe. It’s such a wide variety that even Wellikoff jokes, “no matter how good or bad your taste is, we can offer it.”

Spine-Tingling Performance
So how is the Meridian Digital Theater demo? It’s certainly worth the price of admission, and will give your clients an experience that blows away that of a commercial theater. Forsythe enthusiastically walked me through some scenes from two animated films, How to Train Your Dragon and A Christmas Carol.

The video delivers what you would hope to expect from a $250K system, as the 810 Reference Projector revealed stunning black-level detail on aspects such as the dragon scales and image depth that really brought out elements in the landscape. For the CGI-produced Christmas Carol, detail like the facial wrinkles, wood grain and iron gates made the image seem incredibly lifelike.

“The goal is to trick you into thinking that you’re watching 35-millimeter film,” Forsythe says. “The thing that always gets me is that about 80 percent of that image we’re creating from the processor, because the projector is 10 megapixels (4096x2400) but Blu-ray is 2 megapixels (1920x1080).”

The sound quality delivered dynamics to match, exemplified by the extreme silence during quiet passages and extreme intensity that made me jump from my seat during one scene in A Christmas Carol. Combined with the attention to detail like chains rattling, floorboards creaking and Scrooge’s labored breathing, the DSP8000s and DSP7200s that comprise the theater’s surround sound complete this powerful package.

That’s why Meridian invites dealers to bring their uber-affluent clients to the headquarters in New York. “The showroom has proven to be a valuable asset to us,” says Robin Bogle of Advanced Home Theater in Miami. “We’ve already used their space to close a high-profile client on Meridian who was otherwise not interested in stepping into a retail store.”

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