Introducing Mike Garner
What does it mean to buy local?
Where do the media and bloggers fit in?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), website design & growing pains
Mike Garner started an online community-building project called LocalHiFiShop.com. Since buying local is important to being green, the name instantly caught my attention, but the site also has a more general goal, that of increasing interest in the hobby, which is also high on my priority list. Mr. Garner’s background is in online marketing and he could not be a better resource for the many vendors and manufacturers that are creating a web presence for their products. I asked him if I could interview him and he was more than happy to oblige – his answers to my questions where thorough, thoughtful, and quite detailed, so much so, that I will need to divide this into two posts, with the second one delving a bit deeper into how this is also green.
This article is especially geared towards dealers and manufacturers. There is so much opportunity online that even the big names are forgetting or simply not aware of what's possible. That said, LocalHiFiShop.com offers something for everyone, including audiophiles and regular folks just getting into this hobby.
Anyhow, on to part 1 of this interview.
What is your personal interest in Hi-Fi? Are you an audiophile? What kind of system do you have at home?
I am an audiophile, and evangelist for good sound. I also own an audio retail store. This is where a lot of my ideas for LocalHiFiShop.com came from. My experience as a dealer has made me intimately aware of the challenges we face communicating with our potential clients, building a local clientele, and communicating with the businesses we buy our products from.
I love my audio system. It allows me to relax, forget about the gear, and get lost in music. It's very therapeutic. The components all come from small, craft manufacturers whom I have great relationships with. I have always gravitated more towards the cutting edge or lesser known manufacturers. They seem to provide more value.
I noticed you are not from California. So what are you referring to when you speak of buying local?
The mission of LocalHiFiShop.com is for audio and music enthusiasts everywhere to be able to find a local audio dealer, record store, repair shop, or audio society close to them. That's why we travel to regional shows.
Our secondary goal is to help local audio related businesses become more visible to the audio community and to the world. So by attending trade shows we have an opportunity to tell both local audiophiles and audio businesses how we are working to help them find local dealers, and grow a local business.
Aside from attending audio shows, how are you reaching out to manufacturers, resellers, and audiophiles to let them know about the website?
I am currently reaching out to audio societies, and audio magazines in an effort to familiarize the industry with LocalHiFiShop.com. Once that is accomplished, we collectively can tackle the task of generating awareness for the hobby and the benefits of good sound. I am surveying the community, looking for input or successful experiences on creating a positive experience relating to sharing our passion. I love the idea of us as audiophiles sharing our interests through DIY projects, or music listening gatherings that are more social and outreach based.
For example, I have recently started a speaker building project. It is intended to be a very easy to build loudspeaker project that audiophiles can share with friends and younger people. The intention is to use the project as an introduction to the hobby. They can help a non-audiophile build the speaker, or build a pair for someone as a gift. It is something that quite a few audiophiles can do to help generate awareness of the benefits of good sound for someone who has never heard good hi-fi.
Where does the audio press (Stereophile, Enjoy the Music, Tone Audio, etc.) fit into your project?
I see them as partners in the effort to raise awareness of our passion for great sound, and the gear that helps reproduce it. We are all in this together. Not just the press, but manufacturers, dealers, audio societies and audiophiles. We have something so good, and we need to share it. Our message has not been communicated too well over the years, and we need to change that. It starts now.
What about bloggers not affiliated with the big names?
LocalHiFiShop is for everyone who supports buying from a local dealer, and I feel it is important for the industry to come together to present a friendly face to the outsiders who will be looking at us and wanting to know more. I welcome guest bloggers who can offer a unique, positive perspective to audio. I have one public group called "Audio Widows Club", one for craft audio, one for generating ideas on reviving the industry, and so on.
You mentioned in your blog post “8 missed opportunities,” that resellers and manufacturers should not let someone else handle their SEO. Wouldn’t it be better to let an expert handle this?
Yes and no. In the good old days, SEO was sort of a "set it and forget it" methodology. Once you had quality content written, your web site optimized, and had a few good backlinks, much of the rest took care of itself. That is no more. You as a business owner need to establish yourself as a local authority in your field. There are very few SEO professionals that can do that competently for our industry. No one knows your business better than you do, and you as the business owner need to be ACTIVELY engaging your potential customers on a regular basis.
I am giving audio business owners the benefit of my 10+ years as an SEO specialist. I am offering them very industry specific information on how to do this themselves. If they are simply too busy to do this themselves, then they need to find someone with knowledge of the industry and SEO, and work very closely with them. This is not inexpensive, so I am guessing that most business owners who are genuinely concerned about growing their business will at least try to manage it themselves before finding a professional to manage it for them.
I’m a visual person. Like many people, I lose interest quickly when there’s too much text on the screen. While your site is a great resource, it’s very text-heavy. What about adding some graphics, pictures, video, etc.? What are the hurdles in doing this?
The site is changing almost daily, and you will see more pictures and video as time goes on. Right now our focus is on making sure the site is user friendly and flows intuitively. There is a lot of work that goes into that aspect alone. We encourage users to give us feedback on what will make the site better, after all we built it for you. I appreciate your feedback and would love more detail on your thoughts.
What’s next for Local Hi-Fi Shop? Where do you see the project in 5, 10 years?
I see LocalHiFiShop.com as the world wide online community for audio and music lovers. It will be THE place where anyone interested in good sound can find out how to attain it, where they can find a local audio dealer to help them, and a community of local music and audio lovers to share their interest with, all in an environment that is positive and supportive.
There will be hundreds of industry sponsored events in schools, at concerts, and other public venues that will bring the experience of listening to good sound to people who might not otherwise get to hear it. There will be a renaissance in the awareness of the joys and benefits of experiencing high-fidelity sound reproduction in everyone's life, and the world will be a better place for it.
Wow, Mr. Garner sure has vision!
Of course, marketing one’s company online is a careful science. It takes work, dedication, and an interest. LocalHiFiShop.com can be an important first step in getting that proverbial foot in the door. Along the way, Mr. Garner and the many people who frequent the site can help provide useful tips as well as detailed information about how to do it right. For enthusiasts and audiophiles, the site provides insight into this industry and the way it is progressing. Additionally, it will provide access to vendors and manufacturers that just may bring the enjoyment of music & video to a whole new level.
In part 2, I will ask Mr. Garner more specific questions about how sites like his impact people directly.