Can You Charge Consumers to Enter Your Showroom?

Houston's MainStreet America and countless consumer-oriented audio shows suggest people will pay to enjoy a destination with various audio, video and home tech demos.

Could you, or would you, charge consumers to enjoy home theaters and listening rooms in your showroom (like this one from Environmental Tech Center)? Check out MainStreet America's approach in the slideshow below.
Julie Jacobson · October 3, 2012

A couple of years ago, some of us were joking on that dealers should charge a fee for consumers to enter their showrooms. Why not? They drink your coffee, consume your expertise, lounge on your furniture, watch your moves, devour your time …. And for what? For a good sampling of products they can then buy online.

We joked about pay-to-enter CE showrooms even before “showrooming” became a household word, thanks especially to Best Buy, which has vowed to fight it. Research suggests that half of shoppers who buy products online first check them out in a traditional store (more showroom research and statistics here and here).

We have talked forever about integrators charging for their services, but that notion usually revolves around traditional “services” such as system design and maintenance. What about the service you provide every day in your facilities, like your expertise and your pricey A/V demos?

What if you didn’t sell products at all and you only sold service? What if you didn’t carry inventory or take orders, but rather created a destination where consumers could enjoy a variety of entertainment experiences – listening rooms, theaters, headphones, outdoor movies, RGB lighting effects, massage chairs and more … at a cost? Manufacturers would pay for the privilege of being there, and consumers would pay to enter the space for sheer entertainment and for the expertise provided by objective technicians who aren’t pushing a sale.

It may sound nutty, but I truly believe this could be the future of selling for all types of goods, from furniture to consumer electronics to cars. In our industry, we’ve seen an explosion of consumer-oriented events in which audiophiles pay a fee to visit scores of listening rooms hosted by vendors. We’ve heard from one big dealer in Florida who says he loses customers to the popular Rocky Mountain Audio Fest every fall. The would-be clients fly out to Denver to test out the products, and then buy the gear wherever they want – certainly not at his shop.

I’ve kept this idea of mine pretty quiet, as CE pros already think I’m not quite right in the head. But the ideas has just received some major validation by a Houston homebuilder who is implementing the very thing in a Disney-like destination called MainStreet America.

RELATED: MainStreet America: Biggest Home Automation Showroom on Earth

The 14-acre “park” is like a Parade of Homes on a single property, with 12 different models in 12 very distinctive styles. Opening this October in Spring, Texas, just north of Houston, MainStreet will charge visitors somewhere in the range of $5 to $10 each to view the homes. Using a customized Android table with RFID, guests can swipe any of the featured products and services in the development to learn more, find a vendor, and even arrange financing.

Vendors provide the builder with all of the gear and arrange for its installation. Then they pay a fee for every lead generated. The developer, Design Tech Homes, plans to promote the destination with events such as tailgating parties and Christmas on MainStreet.

“It’s a unique opportunity for us as a manufacturer to get in front of a new, large group of consumers,” says Mark Aling of Paradigm, which is providing earbuds, speakers and Anthem electronics to MainStreet. “It’s a great combination of a shopping experience tied together with a theme park. We believe we’ll see more of these centers open up across the U.S.”

It’s an interesting business model and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the big brands like Best Buy adopt it in the future.

You heard it from me first!

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Environmental Tech Center)? Check out MainStreet America's approach in the slideshow below." />
  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at

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