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From Madman to major high-end retailer PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tom Philp   

ImageNANAIMO, British Columbia – If you were planning to spend $50,000 on a home entertainment system, would you consider starting at a place called Madman McKay’s?

The expected answer to that question sums up why a well-established audio/video retailer is making a modern business transition, Chris Forbes, co-owner of what is now called McKay’s Home Theatre Centre’s, points out. Along with partner Terry Burns, Forbes operates three stores on Vancouver Island with a fourth planned for Victoria sometime next year.

Forbes tells the story of the original Madman McKay’s, a spin-off from once-popular audio/video chain Krazy Kelly’s, both of which were the 1980s creation of Doug McKay. McKay sold his business – which at one time boasted more than 50 outlets across Canada – to his nephew, Pat Burns. Several years later, with the company size now reduced to three stores – one here and the others located in the island communities of Courtenay and Campbell River – Madman McKay’s was sold to Burns’ cousin, Terry and his business partner Forbes.

“The look of our stores is quite far removed from the old Madman McKay’s approach,” Forbes told HomeGoodsOnline recently. “I mean, a lot of times, in the old days, they wouldn’t put a TV on display; they’d just cut out the front of the cardboard box!”

Although the transition away from “box” stores had been made long before the present Burns and Forbes took over, the two entrepreneurs decided to take “a mid- to upper approach to separate ourselves from more conventional stores of this type.” 

McKay's new mascots, Tech and Toyz
“The old mascot was a Scotsman, pretty much implying you could get things cheap,” Forbes says. “Terry and I now use Tech and Toyz (two cartoon penguins in evening wear) to present a different message.”

Walk into a McKay’s Home Theatre Centre today and you may face a difficult choice. Should you sip a cappuccino at the giant coffee bar while listening to a $10,000 audio system, or relax in a deep leather sofa while enjoying a favourite DVD played on a $25,000 HTS?


Customers are encouraged to relax in one of McKay's Home Theatre Rooms

 “We want to generate enthusiasm and excitement in our communities, and we want to make every customer’s experience at McKay’s an incomparable one,” Forbes says.

To accomplish those goals, Forbes and Burns gambled to step it up over the past few years by not only changing the name of the company and the look of their showrooms but by ensuring every McKay’s customer gets exactly the right system for his or her home.

They insist on providing free, in-home consultations before any sale takes place. Their technicians (they have 12 on staff, including an electrical engineer) are all CEDIA-certified experts in custom design and installation. McKay’s hosts Saturday morning “schools” for consumers where anyone can come in, grab a coffee, and learn a lot about current products and industry trends.

“We tell people that McKay’s is here to help them make sense of it all,” Forbes says. “Many shoppers today are still a little reserved, a bit concerned about what I call ‘the sleazy sales factor’ and we work hard to make their experience honest and comfortable.”


Flat panel TV displays form interesting marketing tools at McKay's

Forbes says that despite a plethora of Internet information available to them about CE products, most of McKay’s consumers “don’t want to take the time to research products that way.”

“That’s where our expertise, and nearly 25 years in the business, comes in,” he says.

“You can read all the specs in the world, but your eyes and ears don’t lie to you,” Forbes says. “You’ll know what you like when you see it, hear it, and someone is there to explain how the system works, and how it can work for you.”

Forbes says he and Burns are “the biggest kids in the place” and the biggest boosters of McKay’s. They even started a unique program as an “outlet” for their enthusiasm.

In October, they hosted the second annual TechToyz Audio & Video Extravaganza, an invitation-only, black tie event designed to bring the “latest and greatest” A/V products to Vancouver Island. Two major door prizes were interesting: a $40,000, installed home electronics package and a $5,000 auto electronics package, both given free to a couple of lucky attendees.

“It’s just so much for Terry and I to host this evening,” Forbes says. “It was absolutely cool; great product demos, sushi, lots of wine, we even had a Ferrari out front this year!”

Forbes says Nick Lavecchia, consumer electronics manager for Mega Group Inc “has been awesome” helping McKay’s “stay ahead of the curve” in a competitive industry. The solid business relationship with Mega is also allowing McKay’s to benefit from the marketing expertise and buying power of the group.

McKay's Chris Forbes (left) and Terry Burns are not only business partners, but best friends seen here pursuing one of their favourite off-duty pastimes - biking.

What excites Forbes, Burns and their teams?

“Exploring all the wonderful changes in consumer electronics and getting customers excited and satisfied,” Forbes says. “A few years ago plasma was the rage; now LCD is overtaking it in TVs, and larger screen size seems to be what most customers want.”

What is the number one growth area for McKay’s?

“Custom installation, without question…It’s the single most important part of the business today,” says Forbes. He believes that paying attention to the smallest details will pay big dividends through customer referrals.

“We have a lot of people on the island, business people, who just sold their homes in North Vancouver for $5 million and have built one near Nanaimo for two (million),” he says. “They want and expect the best in a complete home entertainment system; and they will tell their friends about what a great job McKay’s did for them.”

Forbes says he spends “just about every waking minute away from the store” with his best friend, Burns, as they pursue their other passion, mountain biking.

“We like each other, we like our staff, we love our customers,” Forbes says. “We’re two of the luckiest guys in the world.”

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