Catching Up with Polk Audio’s Al Baron

May 20

Written by: Jeremy Glowacki
5/20/2009 8:40 AM  RssIcon

It’s always nice chatting with an industry friend away from the hustle and bustle of a trade show environment. Such was the case yesterday when I received a call from Polk Audio product line manager, Al Baron, an industry veteran focused on the custom installation channel for the Baltimore-based audio company.

The main subject of our call was that despite tough times with the economy, Polk Audio is “full-steam ahead” with its product development plans right now. Having ridden out many downturns over its 36 years in the business, the company’s executive team has found that when the economy dips, that’s the time to go back in the lab and prepare for the turnaround.

For the time being, Polk is quite relieved to be experiencing successful sell through on a handful of current products. These include a wireless subwoofer (the PSW 225), the OWM Series of multi-application speakers (they can be installed in nine different configurations), the somewhat surprising SurroundBar 360 package (who would have thunk that a retail-oriented product would be so successful in the CI channel?), and finally the Atrium sub/sat combo for outdoor installations. Baron said that he believes the reason these lines have been so successful is that Polk understands that the CI is an applications-based business, and all of these lines hit the sweet spot for dealers.

Although the company took a hit with the demise of Circuit City several months back, the perceptive Matthew Polk and his team had seen that one coming and established a partnership with Best Buy last June, helping buoy retail sales a bit (though custom products remain the exclusive domain of AVAD and direct CI dealers). Baron noted successful dealers such as American TV and HH Gregg, which have larger, more regional coverage, rather than a single shop, as well as his company’s very reliable 13-year run with online value-added retailer, Crutchfield, as other reasons for Polk’s current stability.

So what’s in the pipeline for Polk Audio in this time of intense product development? Baron said that next month the company will introduce a new high-efficiency speaker line, called the MC Series, which will offer four SKUs for lower wattage multizone or second-zone applications. He also pointed out that his company is looking to expand its outdoor Atrium line in 2010.

Additional products in the works include new bookshelf and floorstanding speakers and more wireless speakers to complement the current wireless subwoofer product. Specifically for the CI channel, to which the company has offered eight new ranges of products in eight years, Polk is working on “faceless” inceiling speakers, among other products.

Baron said that Polk Audio is betting on 2010 being a turnaround year for the industry. “We’re cautiously optimistic about 2010. We’ve been through this before and the CI category is an integral part of our success,” he said.

I hope Baron and his team are correct. I, too, am cautiously optimistic about 2010. Let’s get through the rest of this bizarre year, hope for a solid CEDIA EXPO in the fall, and get rolling again after the holidays. Times are bound to get better next year. They couldn’t get much worse!

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