Ravings of a Mad Man … Inside the Big Box Store

Volkswagen-New-Beetle(Ravings of a mad man or hard truths about the company … take it as it is or not … I didn’t work there.  I’m not judging, but how often do we get a chance to talk to someone that was in such a position?  I am curious.)  And speaking of the tragedy of people that parrot rather than understand, it is not restricted only to the world of the enthusiast.  I had a long conversation with a person that worked until just recently at BB/FS as a field supervisor on the Best Buy Calibration and Future Shop Calibration service.

Just a bit of background history first.  It should be noted that in Canada, there are two country wide big box chains, one called Future Shop and the other, of course, is Best Buy.  Prior to Best Buy’s entry into the Canadian market in 2003 with actual retail stores, they had already purchased the Future Shop chain in 2001.  Many Canadians are still unaware that the two stores are the same and mistakenly think they are “Shopping Canadian” when they go to Future Shop. That store likes to display a big red maple leaf on the front of the store.  So talk of Future Shop or Best Buy is essentially one in the same.  Best Buy has their Geek Squad and Future Shop as something called Connect Pro.  For years now, the company had a good habit of opening both Future Shops and Best Buys rather close to each other.  Sometimes within a block or so of each other, many times in the same mall complex.  In Ottawa, there are a pair literally right next to each other, just cross the two lane street.  The strategy is to get the comparison shopping over and done with right away.  Go to Best Buy … look at a tv … go to Future Shop and buy it there for the same price, but be happy in the “fact” that you think you are supporting a Canadian company.

So back to our supervisor guy.  He had been through their ISF training and Cedia training as well.  I asked him how many calibrators were used in the city of Calgary and he said four.  He then told me that the number was reduced to two just recently, but the most surprising thing was that none of the four “calibrators”  were actually ISF trained or certified.  He said he taught them the basics of calibration and they are trained only to hit that D65 point on the software at which point they are done and they leave.  They don’t look at any reference material and never look at things like one to one pixel mapping.  They were even encouraged to finish the jobs as fast as possible.  20 minutes in some cases and certainly no education.

I had heard a lot about the quality of their calibrators, but I was not expecting to hear much of this.  Not even ISF certified at all.  Within the calibration field, the joke that we often threw around about how the ISF would even think of certifying stores and not people was all too real now; that it was possible to send a janitor over to calibrate the TV because of this … and it was a joke.  And here we had confirmation that our joke was not far from the truth.  No education for any of the clients … and how education was only given when clients complained about the work and wanted refunds.  Sure they officially had a two hour window for each client, but that also included travel time and no doubt breaks too.  And with four clients a day, we can see how a lot of this was actually playing out.  Do the math and you can easily figure out just how much time there really is for the real calibration.

[notice]I had another first hand look at their handiwork mere days ago.  I was in a client’s home working on a TV in their rec room and the wiring and he mentioned that BB had taken care of his 60″ Samsung LED unit in his bonus room.  I asked if I could take a look at the work out of morbid curiosity.  He said it cost him $100 so that is why he did it.  So I make the trek over to that room and he powers up the TV.  It says 1280×720 detected.  “Oh, your cable box is set up wrong, should be 1080i versus 720p in these parts … especially for a 1080p tv.”  When the set fully comes on, he is watching in dynamic mode.  He doesn’t know any better as the BB guy never told him anything.

A quick look at the TV menu and Cal-Day/Night modes have been activated.  Calibration appears to have been done there, but only in Day mode … not Night.  TV screen mode is still 16:9 … and killing 50% of the resolution.  I point this out to the owner.  He had heard enough and seen enough.  He tells me to just recalibrate the set for him.  I set up the gear and bring up some grayscale patterns and take a reading in Day mode.  “dE 14” … Calibrated … not dE 3 or less .. dE 14 … person even dabbled in the CMS area with a  $150 meter not designed for that kind of stuff.  Turns out the Cal-Day/night modes in this set are actually broken.  Calibrated results look all wrong.  Movie mode is the best place to set this up right where people actually look right.  Seeing is believing here and had I not had my conversation with the supervisor, I would not have believed what I was seeing.[/notice]

So who were these calibrators anyway?  Turns out that the installation crew were also the ones wearing the ISF calibrator hat now.  Saves money to have the same people doing both jobs.  That was a new one for me.  So if you end up spending about 20 to 30 minutes on a calibration job, that is time you can bank, especially if your next job is an install job and you are not sure how long that one might take.  Twenty minutes on one job buys you a lot of headroom for that next install job.

So how often did the supervisors and the stores have to deal with botched jobs and redos and refunds?  The answer here was interesting.  Not too much at all because most of the calibration work that was being done was free and included with the TV purchase or just priced at $99.  At this price point, he figured that most people just didn’t want to deal with it and would write it off and just reset the TV back to dynamic mode and be done with it.  He said that the stores rarely sold any calibrations at the $300 price point.  Things picked up at $199 and under.  Part of the reason for this, lack of proper training for the people on the floor.  They don’t know what calibration is actually about and no one is teaching them correctly.

It has also been speculated that we only find people saying bad things about this BB calibration service on the internet and rarely anything good because happy people tend not to go onto the net to write about it.  The extension to this is that there are also a lot of properly performed jobs out there as well that are not being reported on.  Well, the calibration job that I discuss above was not a case where the client was unhappy with the BB calibration service.  It was $100 … and he didn’t have an issue with it.  It only became a problem after I took a look at the TV out of my own morbid curiosity.  He thought it was calibrated.  (Albeit, he was watching in Dynamic mode)  This case simply demonstrated that the poor quality work was more across the board and that customers who don’t know any better, were not in a position to judge whether the work was done right or wrong.  As customers, it really shouldn’t be our responsibility to know more about something than the service provider.  [important]Why should I have to know more than my doctor, my mechanic, my lawyer?  That’s why I hired them in the first place with the assumption that there is some reasonable level of competence.   [/important]

The Calibration and the Installation division lost a collective 8 million dollars last year.  This explained the scaling back and letting all the most experienced people go.  Wow … fire all the experienced people because they cost too much money.  Corporately, they were finding that the general public was simply not buying the service packages like installation and calibration.  It was a tough sell. (Poor training kind of contributes to that.)   Most of the calibration work was actually part of a make work project just to keep the people busy; make work by giving away the calibrations for free or at $99.  Even the computer geeks were severely trimmed back as well as most of the computers were now all shipped out to be repaired and very little was handled in stores any longer.  The geek squad was becoming little more than a shipping and receiving department.

Then he talks about things like safety training and how the company won’t pay for things like that as well so people are crawling through attics and breathing in who knows what because they don’t know any better either.  Health issues down the road, but hopefully those guys will also be long gone from working at the store by then.  Now you start to feel sorry for the guys as well.  No training, no experience, no protection from health issues.

Where does this all lead for them?  The guess was that the company could not keep losing money like this on a yearly basis.  It would have to end, likely sooner rather than later.  Maybe they would try to outsource the calibration and installation work … to save costs, but the onus would still be on them to try to sell the service to people in the first place.  Is the ride coming to an end soon?  The answer is a big “Maybe.”

The sad future for their calibration and installation service may bode well for the independents out there that have managed to survive so far.  But like everything else, there is no free ride and independents will have to work hard for this business as always.  Provide good service and exceed people’s expectations is a great place to start.

Updated June 24, 2013


Michael Chen

Michael Chen is the only THX Video Systems Instructor in Canada, and beyond these borders, is one of just two THX Video Instructors in the entire world.  He has actively consulted with Spectracal and ChromaPure and has created numerous education videos on the calibration process with still more to come.  His Video Calibration Training Series has quickly become the most comprehensive and simple to understand learning tool on the market today.  He has also taught classes for both the ISF and Spectracal as well and is now spearheading his all new TLVEXP calibration training program.


  • You mentioned in the article that the N/D modes were broken but Movie mode was not. What exactly was the problem with those modes?

    • Humans do not look right after playing with the CMS in the D/N modes. Strangely, this effect does not carry to the movie mode.

  • I have an appt wiith best buy for tv calibration now i dont think i should after reading this article i live in the San Francisco bay area fremont ca can you recommend a calibration service thats very trust worthy and really knows there trade?

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