One of our loyal readers, Chad Green, recently asked how I go about setting up demos of equipment. He’s noticed that I regularly test gear, and has some needs for doing the same. Now before I get into the hows and why’s, let me issue a few disclaimers. If you are in a smaller church, I probably have a significant advantage when it comes to demo’ing gear. I say this not as a point of pride, but to let you know that you may have to work harder at it than I do. I have three things in my favor that many do not; I’m at a good-sized church, this blog has been reasonably successful and I have someone who works for me who loves to demo gear (Kevin Sanchez) and is relentless in setting up demos. Because our budgets are larger and we buy more, and because manufacturers want their equipment reviewed here, I can get stuff pretty easily. With that said, you too can get demos of equipment. Here’s how I go about it.
Start with the Manufacturer
Whenever possible, I start directly with the manufacturer. If it’s a big company, they will refer me to the local rep. The rep sells the equipment to dealers, not end users. One of the reasons I go to trade shows is to meet with manufacturers. It’s a lot easier to get a demo when you have a name and a face at the company. Once I’ve seen the gear I want to audition, I’ll contact the company to see about setting up a demo. Smaller companies will typically just send it out, larger ones work through the rep.
Local Reps Are a Great Resource
When I don’t know anyone at the company, I’ll work through a local rep firm. Typically, reps work for multiple manufacturers. Good rep firms will work with you to find the best fit for your needs and point you to solid dealers from whom to buy the gear from. Good reps know that end users buy equipment, and that means dealers buy equipment. The rep firm’s job is to sell gear to the dealers, and if people are buying from dealers, everyone’s happy. For example, I’ve gotten to know the local Shure and QSC rep firm out here, so when I need to look at something from those two companies, I call them.
Good Dealers Can Also Help
I do a decent amount of business with Rat Sound, and they’ve been very helpful in setting up demos for me. My contact there will often reach out to the rep and have the equipment sent over. If I like it, I buy it from Rat. As a side note, don’t ask a dealer to set up a demo, then buy from someone else—that will be your last demo through them. Get to know your local dealer (or a national one if you don’t have a good local contact). Relationships are the key to this business, and taking the time to get to know them goes a long way. Referring others to them helps, too.
Without going any further, I feel as though I should throw out some warnings (lest I make every manufacturer, rep and dealer in the country crazy!). First, don’t demo frivolously. That is, don’t start asking for demos of every cool new piece of gear you read about in a magazine or see online. I make it a rule to only demo gear I’m actually interested in and capable of buying. Sometimes plans change, but I don’t ask people to set me up with gear I know I won’t buy. Now if someone gives me something to play with, that’s a different story, but from my end, when I need a demo, I’m serious.
Second, always support the demo chain. In other words, if a dealer set you up with a demo, buy from that dealer. If a rep set you up, buy from one of their customers, not a dealer in another zone. Dealers and reps make money by selling gear. Don’t abuse them by trying to save a few bucks. Believe me, having dealers and reps on your side makes a huge difference when you’re in a crisis (and that day will come, believe me).
Third, demo realistically. I don’t buy every piece of gear I demo. Sometimes it’s not what I though, sometimes another product wins the shootout, and occasionally the project is cancelled. But like I said in rule #1, I’m serious about what I demo. For example, when looking at audio consoles, as much as I would have loved to play on an SD7 for a weekend, I demoed the SD8 because that’s what I could afford, and what we bought. If you’re a 200 seat church in the rural Midwest, don’t start asking for a demo of a Meyer Milo line array system just because you want to hear it. Make sure the demo gear fits realistically within your budget.
Finally, demo with care. You don’t need to demo every piece of equipment you buy. Quite often, you can make really good educated decisions based on talking with others, your dealer’s recommendations and reading. When you start demo’ing gear, do so with bigger items that you are really going to buy. This builds good will with your contacts. Don’t go crazy asking for mic demos from everyone. Be strategic. And ask nicely. Never threaten, become adversarial or go postal on anyone you’re asking to help you. Remember, they are helping you, don’t abuse that.
Demos can be a great way to make sure you get the proper gear for your church. Just be sure to do so with care and caution and it will be a great experience for all.