Last month’s news that B&W was offering portions of its loudspeaker product line to Magnolia retail stores felt to me like the CEDIA dealer’s equivalent of learning that a boyfriend or girlfriend wanted to “see other people.”
I wouldn’t blame B&W dealers one bit if they’re feeling a little unloved or underappreciated. But B&W’s difficult decision was just one more indication that the specialty AV and custom-install channel just isn’t the juggernaut that it once was.
In recent years more and more specialtyoriented AV suppliers have expanded distribution to new channels to compensate for declining sales from specialty-AV and custom outlets. In recent months, Onkyo announced plans to sell select AV receivers and hometheater- in-a-box systems through Walmart.com, high-end speaker supplier Thiel added its third online retailer, Amazon.com, and referencequality audio manufacturer KEF America began a “consumer awareness campaign” in an effort to sell to consumers via its KEF Direct website.
My sympathies are with electronic systems contractors, who must be feeling a little depressed about these developments, yet I can’t completely blame the manufacturers for doing what they have to do. After all, the attrition of custom channel hasn’t really slowed down since the housing market boom went bust several years ago. Manufacturers have to find a way to increase sales, even if that means altering the perception of their brands in the process.
Still, I can’t imagine any of these distribution changes going over well with ESCs and specialty retailers whose success has been based so much on exclusive access to niche products that most consumers can’t price-compare in the Sunday morning circulars.
The only recent news that runs counter to this growing trend was Sony’s announcement earlier this summer that it would be removing its ES line from online and mass-market retail channels, offering it exclusively through qualified dealers in the specialist AV retail and custom channel. Sony’s position as one of the most recognizable brands in the world allowed that manufacturer to have its cake and eat too with broader retail and online sales of some products and exclusive distribution of higher end lines requiring more sales savvy and dealer training.
I don’t necessarily believe that broadening distribution is a disaster for the CEDIA ESC, but I do think it will mean that custom dealers will have to re-evaluate the way they do business. Savvy dealers will continue to focus on adding value by demonstrating their exceptional product knowledge, installation expertise, and unmatched service.
These are, after all, the traits that have always been the hallmark of the best in the business.