Distributors have done much to help local integrators increase, streamline, and improve their businesses. By providing a wide array of product lines, shorter shipping times for just-in-time inventory management and local support, a solid distributor relationship can help push a company to the next level of success. One distributor that many companies in the Southeast U.S. turn to is 21st Century Distributing, and this weekend the company held its annual dealer expo at Kingston Plantation Resort in Myrtle Beach, SC.
The informal nature of the expo gave dealers a chance to engage with manufacturers and reps, providing the opportunity to ask any questions they might have and to learn about a product.
21st Century, a member of the PowerHouse Alliance, has been in business since the early '80s, and services Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida. The company is headquartered in Garner, NC, with additional warehouses in Charlotte, NC, Orlando, FL, and Atlanta, GA, meaning that they offer next-day shipping to the majority of their dealers, with shipments going out daily until 5:30 p.m. With more than 110 product lines, this can be the perfect solution for last-minute jobs or when you forgot to order some must-have part for an install.
Vanessa Zitzmann, 21st’s marketing and sales coordinator, told me that more than 80 dealers registered for this year’s expo, including at least one from every state that the company covers. In addition to the dealers, 21st arranged for a strong group of 28 vendors to attend. These vendors covered the custom installation gamut of automation, security, audio, video, distribution, wire, tools, services, and infrastructure. In attendance were such marquee brands as Polk, URC, Core Brands, RTI, KEF, JVC, WyreStorm, Luxul, and Yamaha.
Since the event was literally in my backyard—and (full disclosure) our company, Custom Theater and Audio, has been doing business with 21st Century since 1995—I decided to stop by and take a look at this year’s expo and meet some of the vendors and reps.
Eric Feus, from Carolina Controls Group, demonstrated Sonance systems, including the outdoor SonArray SR1.
Prior to even walking into the event, I ran into Eric Feus from Carolina Controls Group who was demonstrating Sonance systems, including the outdoor SonArray SR1, which I previously reviewed for Residential Systems.
Feus told me, “This expo gives us access to a level of dealer that we can’t get to on a regular basis as the product rep. It also gives us the chance to directly demonstrate products to dealers they wouldn’t normally get to experience, like the SonArray.”
I also spoke with David Penley, account manager at Sound United, who was at the expo representing Polk. Penley commented, “There are still so many small to medium custom installers that just can’t afford to take a week off to attend CEDIA. Local events like this give them a chance to see things without having to close their showrooms and take a week away from home and losing ‘billable hours.’“
Penley was demonstrating Polk’s new S2 wireless music system with Play-Fi, an open-platform wireless technology from DTS that will work with products from a variety of companies, including Definitive Technology and others.
“I met with and talked to quite a few dealers that I had never met before and spoke with a lot of dealers that had never heard of Play-Fi or even knew that such an open-ended system was available,” Penley said. “The expo was definitely a successful way to introduce them to Polk’s new offerings.”
Dave Robinette, a local rep from High-Tech Network and Jason Davis, regional technical specialist with Core Brands
Like a miniature CEDIA Expo, 21st Century made sure that there were a lot of training opportunities for dealers in attendance, with eight different training sessions scheduled throughout the day.
Zitzmann said the expo is a way “to connect dealers with premium manufacturers for an inside look at products they have wanted to get their hands on, but haven’t yet had the chance,” and these trainings give dealers that opportunity in an informal, stress-free environment.
Core Brands regional technical specialist, Jason Davis, goes over Niles Auriel with a dealer.
The trainings definitely focused on the products that were of interest to many dealers including, an RTI preview of new Integration Designer APEX programming, Niles Auriel multi-room audio system, Panamax Bluebolt remote power management, URC ccGEN2 system design, Sonance iPort and SonArray, Elk M1 Security and Automation control, Luxul networking, and WyreStorm HD distribution.
Jordan Thomas, president Port City AV, in Wilmington, NC, was one of the dealers in attendance. Thomas has been in business for eight years and has worked with 21st Century for more than two years. Due to business commitments in September, they weren’t able to make it to CEDIA this year, but Thomas feels like this event is a “mini version,” letting them experience the upcoming technologies they missed.
Port City AV does a lot of business with 21st, including Wyrestorm, Panamax, Polk, NuVo, and Luxul. Thomas told me, “21st Century has been great to work with. They have a person in place to help you to get answers to any questions you have, and will even do the research for you to find any information needed. There have even been times when they have driven orders to us that have been really time critical.”
I spent a couple of hours walking the expo and spoke with several manufacturers. What I noticed was the informal nature of the show really gave dealers a chance to engage with manufacturers and reps, providing the opportunity to ask any questions they might have and to learn about a product. Often at a big show like CEDIA EXPO, there are so many people and time is so compressed that you don’t get a chance to really talk to anyone.
Here were some of the items that stood out to me:
Aquavision’s CEO, Larry White, holds one of the company’s ultra-thin in-wall mounting brackets.
Aquavision was a company that was new to me, but they offer some very cool in-wall waterproof TV solutions that would be perfect for a bathroom or shower application. The company caters to the custom installer by selling products in a two-step process for rough-in of bracket and power supply during construction and panel during the final install. All sets are manufactured in the U.K., using 1080p Samsung backlit LED panels and the products include two-year parts/labor warranties. Even cooler, Aquavision is currently the only company in the world that has an HDBaseT-powered TV—the ConnectTV Active—in 22- to 27-inch sizes. This set can receive audio, video, control, internet, and power over a single Cat-5 wire!
Ingo Schmoldt, VP of sales at Fusion Research, holds an iPad displaying the control GUI for the company’s Ovation music servers.
Fusion Research showed off its Ovation Signature high-resolution music streamer. Starting at $499 MSRP, this device makes it easy for integrators to add high-quality audio and services like Pandora, Spotify, Sirius/SM, Deezer, and more to a variety of control systems. At $799, Fusion Research’s WA50 is a 50-watt x2 just-add-speakers amplified zone player that is 4ohm stable. Like the whole line-up, the WA50 and Ovation Signature support 192/24-bit high-res files and is an audiophile solution streaming music.
WyreStorm, which is known for providing quality and innovative HDMI matrix and distribution solutions, showcased the NetworkHD.
WyreStorm is known for providing quality and innovative HDMI matrix and distribution solutions, but eastern regional sales manager, Martha Brooke, showed me a really cool product called NetworkHD. This system that can help dealers easily create powerful and complex video walls that are great for commercial markets like sports bars or for elaborate man cave installs. The system has a really awesome auto-discover feature that makes configuration a breeze and is scalable to support fairly large panel arrays.
Onkyo and KEF paired up to give many attendees their first exposure to Dolby Atmos.
One of the highlights of the expo was a Dolby Atmos demonstration. For any dealer that wasn’t able to attend CEDIA EXPO, this was likely their first experience with the new home theater audio format. (You can read more about Dolby Atmos here from my visit to Dolby’s New York facility.) Onkyo and KEF paired up to give many attendees their first exposure to Dolby Atmos.
The Atmos demo included a firmware-upgraded Onkyo receiver driving KEF towers equipped with the company’s new R50 Atmos speaker modules, producing a 5.2.2 system.
The demo included a firmware-upgraded Onkyo receiver driving KEF towers equipped with the company’s new R50 Atmos speaker modules, producing a 5.2.2 system. Also, the presenter was kind enough not to make me sit through another session of Enrique Iglesias’ Bailamos.
KEF is a relatively new brand for 21st Century, and Zitzmann said the company is thrilled to be able to offer it to dealers. As a 53-year-old loudspeaker manufacturer known for exceptional audio performance and engineering expertise, KEF provides 21st Century and its customers a wide range of premium solutions, including some of the finest bookshelf and floorstanding models.”
The lunch break
The day was broken up with lunch, giving dealers, vendors, and reps another opportunity to sit down and chat. I spent that time talking with Kevin Hansen, Luxul’s VP of sales. With my business partner having just returned from an intense, week-long network training course at CEDIA’s HQ in Indianapolis, solid, reliable network infrastructure is high on our company’s priority list.
Events like this expo are one way local distributors are able to differentiate themselves and add value to dealers. 21st Century’s owner and CEO, Don Vicini, summed this up by saying, “We remain committed to creating and maintaining relationships with both our dealers and vendors and continuing to serve our customers to the best of our ability.”
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.