An era ends as last independent audio shop closes

The downturn in the economy claimed the region's last independent audio/visual retailer when Wild West Electronics closed its doors on April 29 after a 32-year run.

"I survived Good Guys, I survived Circuit City," owner Brad Bolotin says. "It is unfortunate."

Wild West Electronics in 2003 relocated from its longtime home on South Virginia Street near the Peppermill to Southwest Pavilion shopping center in south Reno. The business model at Wild West Electronics also changed over the years from a 100-percent retail-oriented business to one that focused on audio and lighting systems for high-end custom homes.

The store had its own design and installation team that generated profit through designing lighting controls and audio/visual plans and labor.

However, as residential construction dried up, so did profits for Wild West. Dwindling margins on items such as flat screen televisions further eroded profits at Wild West.

"The custom home business doesn't exist, and it hasn't since 2007," Bolotin says. "That business model was so heavily directed to that industry, and the retail business was suffering from a drop in profitability from flat screens and increased competition from Best Buy, Costco and the Internet."

Richard Glikes, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based Home Technology Specialists of America, says the majority of the industry association's members which included Wild West Electronics saw year-over-year growth of 20 to 30 percent each year in the early 2000s. Profit increases were primarily due to increased affordability in prices for flat panel televisions and accompanying trimmings, such as surround sound and lighting for home theater systems.

But as residential housing stalled, so did growth, Glikes says.

"It has been tough out there; we have been down on average of 20 to 25 percent in the last year," he says. "Most members have been through one to two rounds of layoffs and have had to take look at all expenses. Our business depends a great deal on housing starts, and there have been virtually no housing starts."

Bolotin says 2005 and '06 the peak of the housing boom were two of the best years Wild West ever had, but the business has not been profitable for some time since.

"The investor group made the decision that it didn't want to go forward anymore and continue to lose money. They looked me in the eye and asked if I saw anything on the horizon that the custom home building business is coming back soon, and I said I didn't so they decided to get out clean.

"There is nothing on the horizon that shows me anything will change anytime soon."

The company will not file bankruptcy and all creditors will be paid, Bolotin says. "We are going to leave clean, with no bad pays, no bad blood," he says.

Store closures for electronics retailers aren't new to the region, which lost Circuit City in 2009 and The Good Guys several years earlier. Independent retailers such as Wild West Electronics are becoming increasingly rare, despite best-price-match guarantees.

Bolotin says it's hard to compete against the marketing budgets of stores such as RC Willey and Best Buy, and Glikes agrees that independent retailers suffer from lack of exposure.

"The biggest challenge is visibility," Glikes says. "They don't have enough money to promote themselves and have a big enough silhouette."

Member companies have had to learn to shift advertising strategies as well, he says. Rather than the standard newspaper insert that formerly drew business, HTSA members now focus on Google advertising and Web site development.

Wild West Electronics employed nine and some employees had been with the store for more than 20 years.

Bolotin says he will continue working as an independent audio/visual consultant.

"With the kinds of contacts I have, I have no doubt as an independent consultant I will be able to survive. I feel worse for my employees than I do for myself."


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