Solid Signal shoppers put the niche retailer of specialty electronics gear squarely on their radar screens in fiscal 2008. The web-only retailer reported $14.6 million in web sales for fiscal 2008, up by 104% from $ 7.15 million the year before.
Solid Signal has molded itself into the place to go for specialized audio and video equipment and advice, much like hardware stores of the recent past, Jerry Chapman, owner of the 7-year-old company, tells Internet Retailer. “We’re the experts,” he says. “Consumers can’t go to just any store to learn how to put up a 15-foot antenna. We can recommend techniques on the web or by phone and hold their hands while they do it. Our success—our secret sauce—is to give step-by-step instructions on the phone and on the web.”
SolidSignal.com’s products include TV antennas, satellite television and radio equipment, cable and wire, and installation tools, along with TVs, GPS devices and cell phone equipment. Consumers can get information from an online product and installation library with links to equipment manufacturers’ instructions and diagrams. Each product listing also features a tab linking shoppers to a form on which they can pose technical questions by e-mail. The company also understands that specialized shoppers need to return products often and so is positioned to receive as well as ship, Chapman says.
Customers range from technologically adept consumers to professional communications gear installers. The company isn’t a head-to-head competitor for big boxes like Best Buy Co. Inc. or hardware chains like Ace Hardware, but it’s serving some of those companies’ customers. “We’re pulling bricks-and-mortar shoppers onto the Internet,” Chapman says.
While Solid Signal might swipe some business from the bigger electronics players, 60% or more of what it sells, shoppers can’t get elsewhere, Chapman says. And in some cases Solid Signal is just doing a better job of selling more readily available products, such as digital TV converter boxes. The boxes are needed to make the switch to high definition broadcasts for non-cable or satellite system users.
Solid Signal, No. 493 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, saw that market coming early in 2008, built up its inventory and sold about 100,000 converter boxes in the second half of 2008, Chapman says.
Even after the digital converter box business fades, Chapman is optimistic about 2009. The company plans a site redesign for this summer and has ventured into new product areas, including more mobile entertainment such as satellite TV and radio for recreational vehicles and boats.
Despite the lean economy, Chapman expects Solid Signal to log sales of $18 million-$20 million in 2009. “We help people feel the online purchase experience is as good as if they actually picked up and held the item in the store,” he says. “We’re product-driven.”