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Luxury Week: Are You Experienced in Selling Luxury Private Cinema?

by Sam Cavitt |

The process of selling true luxury home theaters is not the same as sales in any other market.

My friend, Tim Sinnaeve, director of Barco Residential, has a way with words. He also has a passion for private cinema and luxury experiences in general. We share a quest to express both those passions to others to provide more people the opportunity to also share in these pleasures. Tim often quips, “People don’t want to buy a projector from me, they want to acquire what happens as a result of owning that projector.” Tim is speaking of the experience nonpareil found only in a luxury private cinema. The question remains, however, how many truly know that experience?

For those of us in the industry who seek to advance the private cinema, it is a relevant question that we must ask of ourselves. Do we really know that experience? Is our spirit elevated when we participate, be it a demonstration or personal use, in a private cinema experience? Can we effectively share that experience enthusiastically? And what of our audience, the clientele we seek to serve. How many truly understand the advantages and benefits a luxury private cinema can have for them? Without that awareness, it is a tough sale.

A good place to start is with the definition of luxury. A topic covered in my January 2022 Residential Systems column (“Luxury Redux”). To summarize the relevant information, luxury as a designation has become ambiguous. Products and services that bear little resemblance to bespoke, highly developed, and deeply satisfying amenities like a private cinema are commonly referred to as luxury items. Such “pop luxury” items and mentality run contrary to the objective of setting high value on what we do and can provide for our clientele. More tellingly, it runs contrary to what clientele of true luxury will value.

As noted in “Luxury Redux,” true luxury clientele seek a superior functionality (inherent quality), superior experience (elevating, transcendent, inspiring, lasting), and personal significance (deeply and personally meaningful). Such authentic luxury resonates with the true luxury clientele. Conversely, that group will disregard pop luxury as common and undesirable.

True luxury clients are accustomed to making acquisitions of superior quality and expect only such offerings from trusted suppliers. Offering lesser options is not the norm in highly esteemed luxury categories. However, our industry has adopted it as a habit. An often-cited dealer strategy is to offer three solutions — a good option that is likely below the client’s expectations but good enough to get by, a better option that would likely meet those expectations but would not be a stretch, and a third option that is called “best” but is considered by the consultant a “moon shot” and unlikely to be selected.

We have done the same thing in the past but found it to be detrimental when serving true luxury clientele. This “good, better, best” strategy is not effective in helping a client discover what is possible and instead focuses on price. It is not luxury sales.

Many will object to the above reasoning, pointing to conventional sales wisdom of qualifying and budgets. Again, habit has our industry confusing these distinct subjects and restricting not only our opportunity but, more importantly, our clients’ possibilities to a limited set of options.

Let’s talk about qualifying. How are we defining and applying that term? If we mean discovering the level of a client’s interest and his or her perceived value of our services as we provide them, that is a good starting point. If, however, our approach to answering these questions is to determine a budget, the relationship has gotten off to a bad start.

Some will also ask how to get around the budget discussion. The answer is, we don’t. However, to set a budget without adequate information is, at minimum, counterproductive. An honest approach is the best policy. The variables and potential range are too great for any kind of ballpark figure to be accurate, and an inaccurate monetary figure, either too high or too low, is a mistake that many times cannot be overcome. The best answer is to explain that creating the budget to provide everything needed to assure their expectations are met is something you take seriously. You will provide that for them once those expectations are defined. That is done through a process of discovery and conceptual design and is part of your scope. It should never be done without a professional fee. Remember this: our luxury clientele can afford whatever they deem to be important to them. Our job is to help them to understand what that is and make sure we have accurately determined what is required to deliver their satisfaction without fail.

The process of selling true luxury private cinemas to authentic luxury clientele may seem intimidating. It is not the same as sales in any other market. It requires the ability to truly deliver at that level and a commitment to fully serve that clientele. What works in other markets works against us in a true luxury market. In addition, the luxury private cinema category is not well recognized by luxury clientele in comparison to equivalent acquisitions that they customarily pursue. A good example is luxury automobiles. Like the generic home theater, everyone knows what a car is. The difference? There is no confusion between a Prius and a Phantom. Without consumer awareness of the differences, advantages, and value, selling luxury private cinema is more difficult than it should be.

This is why it is so important to build a community of enthusiasts and why I founded The Cinema Connoisseur. It’s well past time to take a cue from our counterparts in the yacht and luxury jewelry industries and do what they do in Monaco and Basel, Switzerland — invite the audience to the show. Luxury private cinema is the experience nonpareil! Imagine how good it could be if the audience could be listening!

This article was originally published on Residential Systems on January 11, 2023.

Sam is the founder and CEO of Paradise Theater, a company that provides comprehensive private cinema design, engineering, and project management. Sam focuses his efforts on maintaining the highest standard of excellence and sharing the pleasures of fine private cinema with the industry and the world.

Sam also spearheads Cinema Connoisseur, the name of our blog but more importantly, an initiative to build a community of enthusiasts - “cinema connoisseurs” - both professional and public to embrace and enhance the world of private cinema and film.