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It’s Just Business

“It’s business… not personal” is a cliché that is particularly apropos to the CEDIA channel, where yesterday’s rival often ends up being tomorrow’s colleague. Despite this fact, I too often get caught up in battles between manufacturers within with our very tiny corner of the consumer electronics universe.

You know the rivalries. There is one company that claims to have invented a product critical to the historical timeline of our industry, while a rival argues that it invented the very same thing. Meanwhile most of us don’t really care who created what and when, just as long as both companies continue to innovate and support their dealers today and tomorrow.

Then there are companies that are so worried that a competitor will steal their “secret sauce” that they would rather guarantee zero pre-show buzz rather than announce anything to their reps, dealers, or the press about big product introduction plans for a major trade show.

Yet, in spite of the competitive nature of our part of the business world, it often comes back to the reality that we’re all in this together and are better off as friendly rivals rather than sworn enemies. At CEDIA EXPO 2009 I witnessed a wonderful example of this scenario as I was walking the show floor on Sunday.

Sunday is always an interesting day at the show. It’s the time when foot traffic has decreased and both friendly rivals and sworn enemies step away from their respective exhibits to go sneak a peek at the other’s offerings.

I spoke to an industry veteran about this tradition the other day, and he said, “When I was a manufacturer, I would visit the competition on the last day of CEDIA. If they seemed uncomfortable with me being there I’d tell them, ‘Hey, you may as well show me what you have, because I’m just going to go out and buy it and take it apart anyway.’”

At the annual CEDIA awards banquet on Saturday night I asked Russound’s Michael Stein about his company’s competition with NuVo Technologies within the “no-new-wires” retrofit audio distribution category. I knew that each company had similar approaches but differed on a couple of technical issues. Members of each company also had told me that while each felt their own solution was better, the market was plenty big for both of them to succeed. Stein, however, surprised me a bit when he said that each company had committed to visiting the other on Sunday to learn more about the other’s HomePlug-based audio distribution solution. Because I thought this was such an open-minded and grown-up way to go about business, I was curious to see if they actually followed through on their plans the next day.

On Sunday morning I crossed paths again with Stein who said that the folks from NuVo had, indeed, stopped by for a demo at Russound, but that his delegation had missed connections with the NuVo team at its booth. So much for my utopian dream, I thought. Then, a couple of hours later, as I walked by the NuVo booth one last time, I saw the Russound team studiously listening as their friendly rivals from NuVo presented their side in the “battle” between retrofit audio distribution products. I guess it made me smile because it was so respectful and civilized. No one was talking behind the other’s back and nobody was wearing a phony badge to conceal their identity while they jotted down “stolen” ideas.

Competition doesn’t always have to be cutthroat, especially when we remember that all business really is personal.