The audio market, in its earliest years, was shaped by the music-loving hobbyists who created it—and it had nothing whatsoever to do with video. But the wants of the lifestyle customer, which now center around flat-panel TV, have brought the category into high definition, both literally and figuratively.
Just what it takes to sell audio in a video-centric marketplace was the springboard for this survey of suppliers and custom retailers. The result: a diversity of opinions touching on at-retail presentation, product-design strategies and the influence of something that one retailer characterized as "the most exciting thing to come along since I got into the business"—Apple's iPod.
THE STATE OF AUDIO
"For us, it's been incredible audio growth, over 2004: 20 to 30 percent," says Dennis Sage, president of Dennis Sage Home Entertainment, one of Scottsdale's largest systems integrators. He pegs the boom mainly to a burgeoning new-home construction market and greater distributed-audio awareness: "It's affordable when you plan for built-in-speakers with a mortgage; it's just $6 more a month rather than $3,000 in cash. It's a gold mine for us."
But Sage isn't in the over-the-counter-sales game. For hybrid dealers, the story is a bit more complicated. Closing an audio sale is not only an end, but a means—a way to nourish the retail bottom line and at the same time, feed into custom sales.
Mark Weisenberg, national sales director for Integra and Integra Research, also sees growth of anywhere from 15 to 30 percent in component audio sales, "for custom installation-driven businesses as opposed to cash-and-carry businesses.
"It's a good time to be in the audio business, on the installation side," says Weisenberg. "Converging technologies are exploding, with wireless as an enabler for audio and video. And flat-screen technologies [coax people to look] in other areas of their homes [for applications]. They're finding areas, and where there's a TV, there could be audio. Also, there's the overall growth of whole-house music—multi-room A/V.