The rest of the country (including our esteemed Editor) calls a writer of articles in this series a “Spy.” We here in the Republic of Texas would call him or her a “Ranger.” Chuck Norris jokes aren’t jokes here; they’re words of inspiration. We’re proud of how Frank Hamer nailed Bonnie and Clyde without wimping out and reading them their “rights” before he put an end to their infamous career.

This Ranger, or “Spy,” won’t be so over-the-top as Mr. Hamer was, but the winner this month will really have to earn it. We’re going to investigate from the top down, going beyond the call of duty if we have to, and we won’t quit until we get the job done.

The Chief wants me to find the best place in the Dallas area to buy a wireless microphone system. The fictitious story—my “spiel,” if you will—that I’ll use is this: I don’t know anything about these things, so I need all the help I can get. I want a wireless mic system, preferably a handheld, but I’ll consider a headset even if that Okie Garth Brooks uses one. I’ll use it for my valiant attempts at performing at gigs that don’t pay me anything, or maybe at business presentations. I plan on spending about $500. Although I’m not an expert on modern electronics like this, I am tech-savvy enough to go through the complete sales and marketing process of modern times. The retailer that’s most on board has the best shot at getting my business.

That means, to begin with, I do an online search, utilizing the power of the Internet. This narrows it down a bit, so I don’t spend all day in Dallas traffic wasting precious gasoline (or tiring out my horse). I don’t care who you are—MI/electronics dealer or seller of hubcaps and shoes—you need a Web site. And, the more useful and informative it is for me, the better it is for you. So, I start Googling….

Ah-ha! An old name pops up: Brook Mays. Used to have great service from them, whether buying stuff for an old fiddle or renting a band instrument for the youngsters, but they closed their brick-and-mortar stores a few years ago, concentrating solely on band instrument rental online, at least for a few years.

In the last year, they reopened a few stores around town. I see a wireless mic system or two mentioned on the site, so I call one Brook Mays location; they refer me to the flagship store, so I call there. I get a phone tree…then a real human finally answers. They say they sell wireless mic systems only via their site, and then they patch me over to someone who can help, but whose voice recording begs me to leave them a message.
This won’t work…no one ever returns phone messages, right?

I might be unfair here, since Brook Mays has just resurfaced and may be working out some bugs. They might not even concentrate on this kind of product. I really do wish them luck; they were truly great once, and I hope they can be great again.

In my further online searching, mediocre sites coupled with mediocre phone contacts did not pass muster with this Texas Ranger. Good sites with good phone contacts—or really good on either one—yielded me a few more potential places to do bidness.

It’s time to see whether these four finalist cowboys can wrangle.

Dave Anderson’s Zoo Music
11224 Garland Rd.
Dallas, TX 75218
They have a site under construction (hurry up, guys!), but this chain of three stores has a longstanding reputation in the area. I call one location, and the guy on the phone is friendly and helpful, recommending a couple models they have in stock within the price range I was looking for.

I pulled into their parking lot, which has plenty of room and easy access off Garland Rd. The neighbors include a tire store that seems to have seen better days and an old house that seems boarded up. The outside of this Zoo Music location looks funky enough. You’re instructed to “Push” inward on a door without a handle.

Once inside, it’s still funky but functional, in a comfortable way: amps, speaker cabinets and drum kits stacked all over the place; guitars, basses and other instruments, both new and used, dangling from the walls. I was greeted quickly and amiably by one of Zoo’s associates.

I gave him my spiel. He showed me over to the counter and, true to what I was told on the phone, presented the two systems they carried: both single mic systems. The Shure PGX24/SM58 sold for $399, and the Peavey PV1 was $149. He said both were reliable and had not had any customer complaints, with the Peavey being the more basic system. He opened both boxes to show what came inside, all the while saying that, for the purposes I stated, either model would be fine.

He said they would have to order dual or multi-mic systems, because Zoo Music normally did not stock these.

After chatting a bit, I asked if they had any literature on these two models or if the boxes had some sort of scan code; they didn’t have either, but the associate invited me to snap a picture of each box to keep handy. He mentioned also that one could find info on the Shure and Peavey Web sites (which I did), and this is something I hope they consider when their Web site gets back up and running: simply provide links to their manufacturers’ sites.

Did he have a business card? I asked, but no. They had temporary slips of paper with all the contact info, and I added his name to the one he gave me. Hopefully they’ll have some new cards along with the new Web site.

Upon leaving Zoo Music, I had trouble trying to pull the door shut! It was 105° that afternoon, and I doubt they wanted to cool the whole outdoors.

Guitar Center
7814 N. Central Expressway
Dallas, TX 75206
As many other cadets from MI Spy Academy have noted, chain stores like this can be a mixed bag: Some locations are great, and some not so much. And, sometimes, the same store can present two different scenarios! This location is usually pretty solid in my past experience. Their Web site, of course, is fantastic, they being the industry leader.

Phone-wise, the Guitar Center response was very good. Someone answered, switched me to the electronics department and someone there picked up after a ring and a half. They told me they had five or six models, perhaps three in my range, and almost always had them well stocked.

As with a lot of businesses along the frontage road to N. Central Expressway/U.S. 75, getting in and out of the parking lot of this particular Guitar Center is tricky. The big sign overhead gives you a general sense about where to turn, but overshoot the entrance to their parking lot and it could take going halfway to three state lines to get back. Adjacent businesses warn you with signs that their parking is for their patrons only, but so does Guitar Center. This Guitar Center’s lot is a bit smaller than others in the chain are, and lacks elbowroom, but, luckily, there were enough spaces to make parking easy on the day I arrived.

The usual GC greeter greeted me, and I was familiar enough with their layout chain-wide to find the Pro Audio department quickly. After a minute or so looking at the wall behind the counter and various placards advertising wireless mic systems, I wandered a bit and was greeted by an associate who introduced himself, also asking, “Can I help you find something?”

I told him I was gathering info on wireless systems.

“How will you use it?” he asked.

I gave him the same scenario—amateur performances; business use—that I had used at Zoo Music.

“OK, let me show you where they are. I have to help check out this other guy first, but look around. Keep in mind that the price will depend on quality and the number of channels you wish to use,” he helpfully explained.

I looked at the array behind and in front of the counter and, within a few minutes, he was back. He pointed out two choices—a Shure PGX24/SM58 single-mic system and a VocoPro UHF-5800 with four mics. They were probably the best values at $289 and $389, he explained. And, they should be able to do the job for which I needed them.

“Has anyone brought any of these back, either because of workmanship or because of quality issues?” I asked.

“No, these are pretty solid,” he attested.

He did not open a box or have either model on display, so I just had to judge by the box. The VocoPro was on the floor, so it was easy to pick up and read the specs on the outside. The Shure remained behind the counter about seven feet up on the wall.

Acting the complete dummy, I asked if one could use a standard corded mic with some kind of adapter if the situation might call for a special sound. “No…but keep in mind you can always adjust the EQ in the PA system you use to get the effect you want,” my GC salesman explained.

Did they have any literature, a scannable code or something like that for these two models? The associate said they might have some info at the exit, inside the latest sale brochure. (These two models weren’t in that booklet, but other models were.) Also, he reminded me I could find all the details I wanted on the guitar Web site.

Upon researching the Shure and the VocoPro on their site when I got home, both were listed as bestsellers and had decent product reviews overall. Price online matched the store price within $10 or so. If I’d seen at least one of the two boxes open up, it might’ve given me more incentive to buy in the store, as opposed to online. Although the salesman was friendly and courteous, it seemed he was stretched a bit thin and on the lookout for other customers who might have needed help.

Overall, Guitar Center was a decent shopping experience, efficient and personable, but, with so much gear on their floor that one can look at, even if through a glass showcase, I would have liked to have seen more on these systems than the outside of the box.

The next two stops were pro audio dealers/showrooms that also sold to the man (or woman) on the street.

Crossroads Audio
2623 Myrtle Springs
Dallas, TX 75220
Although this audio superstore’s Web site doesn’t have a shopping cart per se, they do have links to many of their manufacturers’ sites and info. The phone experience was excellent. The guy answering asked as many questions as he got. (Showing interest in lil’ ol’ me? Well, what do you know?). He said there were three or four models that might be right for me. He recommended a Sennheiser ew 100 G3 in particular and gave me the price…but said he had a decent Shure model in that range, too.

Pulling into their parking lot adjacent to their freight bay, Crossroads looked like the rest of the businesses in the neighborhood (warehouses, mostly). Opening the door, I stepped into a small showroom: product on gondola fixtures and end caps, and plenty of stock lining the walls, with adjacent offices where the sales crew operates at their desks. I took about five steps inside before I was greeted by one of them.

After telling him what I was looking for, he showed me over to the counter, where they had four to five wireless mic system models stocked in decent quantity. I’m not sure this salesman was the same one whom I talked to on the phone, but he, too, recommended the Sennheiser as being the best bang for the buck overall at $599.

This salesman also pointed me in the direction of the Shure PGX series at $375 (they had five Shure models overall), a MIPRO model and, on the lower end (at $99), a one-channel model from Audio-Technica.

He explained the uses of frequencies and how the 700 bandwidth is no longer being used, the values of metal versus plastic construction (the Sennheiser was all-metal construction, and therefore more durable), and many other helpful lessons on buying wireless mic systems. At the end of a detailed pitch, he, like the other stores, gave me the impression the Shure PGX24/SM58 was probably the best model for my needs. One thing he pointed out that the others stores did not, however, was that the Shure came with an adapter clip for mic stands. Neat! I do have a mic stand and usually have my hands full when playing music.

He gave me his card and recommended I find more info on the manufacturers’ sites. Crossroads’ site, as mentioned before, has links to many of their manufacturers’ sites. But, alas, not to Shure or to Sennheiser. They did have a link to Audio-Technica, but I could not locate MIPRO on the Crossroads site’s menu of “We Are Dealers For….” Links to more manufacturers would help their site a lot.

Sound Productions
6631 N. Beltline
Irving, TX 75063
Sound Productions’ Web site highlighted various specials they were running at the time, but had, like Crossroads’ site, no shopping cart. It was packed with info nevertheless, acting as a portal to the manufacturers they carry…many more links by percentage than Crossroads’ site had had.

Sound Productions’ site claimed they’d “beat any price.” I called and got the receptionist, who patched me over to someone who could help. This expert took a while to pick up and, when he did, the phone volume was pretty low, so I could barely hear him. (Come on ya’ll! You’re in the business of making people heard!) But, he was very good and knowledgeable, mentioning models in my range from Shure and Sennheiser to Audio-Technica and more.

A side note: Sound Productions’ keyboard logo has emblazoned many an equipment road case for some of the biggest touring bands since 1973, much of that time in a relationship with Showco and Vari-lite. So, quite a reputation preceded them before I paid a visit!

Sound Productions recently moved their offices/showroom/warehouse from the area near Crossroads to the vicinity of DFW Airport. Their address was a bit deceiving, but I eventually found them among a group of four or five large warehouses. There was ample parking. I wandered in the front door and two receptionists were talking; they told me to come in and look around. They paged for a salesman to seek me out on the floor, twice within a minute.

The showroom is basically the areas around a bunch of cubicles housing the salesmen. Gear sits on the floors and hangs along the walls, and it was one or two minutes before a salesman sought me out. He gave me a friendly greeting, and asked what I was looking for. So, I gave him my by-now-well-worn spiel.

He went into the warehouse out back and came out with the Shure SLX24/SM58 model, similar to the other Shure products I’d seen but for about $100 more ($475). So, I’m assuming it’s a bit of a step-up from the PGX series. He mentioned headsets and body packs were optional extras with this model, and said that their “walk-in” customers found it reliable. Most of Sound Productions’ business is to contractors and professional sound technicians; some of them even found this model handy. He did not open the box or have a model on display.

I was only shown this one model, in spite of the phone rep saying they had several others. Although I’m leaning toward a Shure at this stage of the shopping process, I wonder if the salesman could have shown me at least one other model. Keep in mind that most of their products were in their warehouse out back, with employee access only.

The salesman gave me his card and referred me to their Web site, where they do have links to every one of their manufacturers.

The Sale
Each of these four stores recognized I was a greenhorn, but none tried to sneer at, talk down to, gouge or oversell me. All stores also were very efficient. I was in and out of each within 15 to 20 minutes.
It’s a dead heat among these four stores, as each has weaknesses but all compensated with their strengths. The perfect store would have Guitar Center’s prices, Zoo Music’s down-home friendly vibes, Crossroads’ know-how and Sound Productions’ legendary reputation. In addition to this, the best Web sites were those of GC and Sound Productions, whereas in-store “bedside manner” was aced by Zoo and Crossroads. Competitive intel would serve these four retailers well, as even the best can always find a way to improve.

Based on all this, I’d have to say the product I would buy would likely be a Shure model PGX or SLX, and the store getting the sale would be Crossroads Audio. The combination of expert advice, broad selection and fair pricing made up for any flaws. But, as mentioned above, if each of these stores learned from the other three, my decision could be a coin flip six months from now.

Today, it takes more than hanging a sign out front to get anyone’s business in any retail endeavor. The decision-making process involves Web presence and good phone skills, along with a physical visit and, in some cases, service after the sale is made, too! Stores nurturing this entire process will certainly win here in the Lone Star State…and the rest of the world.

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