By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Computer accessories makers and consumer electronics retailers, adversely affected by this year's soft economy and the impact of Sept. 11, are hopeful the first quarter of 2002 will return the diverse, over-$1 billion computer accessories (CA) products niche to some semblance of normalcy.
But several CA executives are being more modest in their forecasts for 2002. For instance, John Maloney, vice president of marketing and sales for San Rafael, Cal.-based Panamax, reflected the views of others, when he said: "What you're trying to do is put together your least aggressive forecast.
"From my experience, this is the first time that my company and other companies are saying, 'We're not going to look for 20 percent growth.' It's just not prudent. If anything, we're looking at minimal expectations in the first quarter, and then accelerating them through the year."
On the retail front, stores are probably hurting more than manufacturers, said a senior manager for a leading CA supplier, who emphasized that, "open-to-buys are limited, and it's going to take them [retailers] all the way through the fourth quarter to come out of it." He advised that stores are trying to eliminate SKUs that aren't selling, but he added that merchants are certainly open to new and exciting products.
In that regard, Sarah Clarke, marketing associate for Allsop, Bellingham, Wash., reported that her organization is "getting better at gauging what the market needs. We're doing a lot more scientific analysis and we're being much more rigorous about what items we allow to get to market."
Lori White, director of marketing and licensing for Philadelphia-based Computer Expressions, said, because projecting into the future is uncertain at this time, about 20 new SKUs will be ready to ship in March, with another 20 "experimental" products in the hopper for which the company is looking for customer feedback.
One of the bright spots, as Mark Naidoff sees it, is the move toward accessories for mobile computing. Naidoff, vice president and general manager for computer and consumer electronics accessories, at Itasca, Ill.-based Fellowes Manufacturing, observed that, "The industry is shifting, in that some of the mature, traditional computer accessories are slowing. We've seen a transition over the last few years that accessories that have been around for a dozen years are definitely flattening or starting to decline."
CA executives believe that as people are hanging on longer to their computers, they will continue to invest more in accessories to upgrade and protect the existing systems.
For instance, Mark Schaffner, director of product development for Deptford, N.J.-based Thomson Multimedia, finds that people are stepping into more productive second- and third-generation peripherals such as quicker, easier types of mice, and high-end cabling.
While PC sales were "ugly" in 2001, Greg Lebron, product manager of Clifton, N.J.-based Gemini Industries, is optimistic that computer activity will heat up, along with that portion of multi-PC households that are expected to reach 25 percent shortly. The growth of multi-PC households augurs well for the setting up of Local Area Networks (LAN) and the use of CAT5, CAT5/5E, and CAT6 cables, Lebron said.
One UPS equipment provider, Greg Fournier, senior product manager for the desktop group at West Kingston, R.I.-based American Power Conversion (APC), said, "Even though prices did come down to the $49 and $69 levels, we do have more features than we anticipated. So, if you are looking for the best functionality with Windows XP, for example, you will now pay what the price of a regular UPS was … you're not paying $300; you're paying in the $79 to $150 range, depending on the features."
As people hunker down, stay at home and use their entertainment equipment and PCs more, basic care and maintenance suppliers are faring moderately well. At least that's the case for Maxell Corp. of America, Fair Lawn, N.J., according to Gordon Tetreault, national sales manager and marketing manager for accessories products.
Here are just a few of the many computer accessories products that will be featured at CES.
Allsop, in keeping with its strategy to track the high growth areas in both CA and CE markets has formed a partnership with NetValveUSA. The company is introducing a Prepaid Internet Access tool that comes on a business card size CD-ROM and is designed for mobile professionals, students and budget-minded consumers. The "card" doesn't require software installation or configuration, downloads, set up, activation or monthly service contract, local access numbers PIN numbers and personal or credit information.
For access to the Web, users simply place the CD-ROM in their CD-ROM tray on any IBM-compatible laptop or desktop computer running Windows 95 or higher. Seconds after the drive tray is closed, the auto run feature automatically displays the startup screen and "connect."
The device has a one-year use period. Suggested retails for the 600-minute and 1,500-minute cards are $14.99 and $24.99 respectively.
American Power Conversion (APC) is highlighting several new products, including uninterruptible power supply systems, a pair of game cartridge managers and a suite of USB-based cables. In the Back-UPS category there are the LS 700 and VS 500 units. The first model gives desktop PC users longer run time, more powerful 700VA for high-performance computer systems and Windows XP and Mac compatibility. Estimated retail is $179.
The second model offers high-level surge protection for high-speed Internet lines including cable modem, DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), telephone, Ethernet, single line phone/fax, modem and DSS (Digital Subscriber Service) systems, and provides battery backup for desktop, monitor, hubs and routers in case of a power failure. Suggested retail is $99.99.
Computer Expressions is coming out with standing CD storage, starting with a smaller, 24 capacity, desktop size.
Also new are novelty cling sticker, interactive, mouse pads that come with reusable cling stickers featuring Dilbert, Creative Poetry, and Harry Potter images and themes that the user can manipulate to create situations. Suggested retail is $14.99.
Fellowes is offering several products, with mice and lifestyle, fashion-forward protective cases for PDAs and mobile phones getting the play. In the case category, the company is featuring its licensed, well-known, Body Glove products. They include BodySuit designed for the active PDA user. It is compatible with Palm III, Palm m100, Palm m105, Palm V, Palm m500, Palm m505, Palm m125, Compaq IPAQ and the Handspring Visor series. The ballistic nylon case has a reflective silver trim and features a grip-enhancing texture, heavy-duty zipper and large expandable pocket with a business card slot. Suggested retail is $14.99.
Gemini is rolling out PowerBrix, said to be the only expandable, fully customizable surge protection system in the market. As consumers add components or equipment to home entertainment or computer systems, the surge protector allows them to expand surge protection, electrical outlets, coax and phone connections to meet their needs. Suggested retails begin at $9.99, up to $24.99.
Maxell is highlighting its MiniDV Tape Rewinder and MiniDV Head Cleaner. The MDV/RW 1 MiniDV Cassette Rewinder, which carries a suggested retail of $24.99, features an automatic stop, soft touch eject, and comes with an AC110 volt UL-approved power adapter. The MDV/HC 1 MiniDV Digital Video Head Cleaner has a dry, non-abrasive cleaning mechanism and comes in bright, distinctive packaging that shows a before-and-after picture representation of the product's benefits. Suggested retail is $19.99
Panamax will feature several new products, including its Racklight Accessory Line that it partnered with RPM Optoelectronics. The MAXR Racklight and the MAX Racklight Plus provide clean, cool, glare-free and directional LED lighting for up to 3 feet of rack space.
The basic model comes with a constant amber light rod, and has a suggested retail of $99. The Plus unit, at $159, offers a choice of colors that the user can select. Delivery is scheduled for February.
Thomson Multimedia will feature its core computer peripheral lines that bear the co-branded Hewlett Packard/RCA logo. Among the products to be shown are printer and communications cables that range from IEEE1284 cables to USB Firewire and Ethernet to high-speed Internet cables.
The high-speed IEEE products, models H1003F, a 6-foot cable, and H1004F, a 10-foot cable, feature gold plated contacts that ensure reliable connections and prevent corrosion, and an RF filter to eliminate unwanted signals and noise. Suggested retails, respectively, are $29.95 and $39.95.
The USB offering consists of model H2003 and model H2004, and both of the 6-foot products carry a suggested retail of $29.95.
The Ethernet category includes model H3002, a 14-foot category cable that provides fast data transfer with bandwidth up to 350Mb/second. Suggested retail is $19.95. Three additional surge protectors are also being offered.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.