By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Niles Audio will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year with the broadest product launch in its history and the completion of an expanded engineering facility, which will support the company's exclusive focus on audio/ video lifestyle products.
"We'll stick with what we do best," said president Ivan Zuckerman. "It's easy to get distracted," he said, pointing to select companies' diversification from A/V subsystems into lighting and other home subsystems.
Select Niles distributed-A/V systems currently interface with other companies' lighting systems to enhance A/V lifestyles, said sales and marketing VP Mike Detmer. Future Niles systems will most likely not be expanded to control security, HVAC or sprinkler systems, he said. "Our customers are not asking for that. Our research shows that customers prefer dedicated control over their home entertainment systems," Detmer said. "We'll focus over the next several years to grow the company within that scope."
To achieve that goal, Nile recently restructured its management team, elevating Franks Sterns to executive VP from sales VP, and Detmer from director of field sales operations.
Also to expand its A/V sales, Niles hopes to show 91 new SKUs during September's CEDIA Expo, Sterns said. The company currently sells more than 500 SKUs, including volume controls and accessories.
Products targeted for launch this year include:
The company's first in-wall A/V touchpad, said to offer quick and easy programming by installers;
A revised speaker- selector lineup;
8-inch DS series in-ceiling home theater speakers to complement current 6-inch models;
And more than 20 new volume controls, due in the summer with expanded capabilities. The introductions will consolidate the VC lineup, enabling the company to take advantage of economies of scale and increase competitiveness in the price-driven market segment, Detmer said.
For early-2004 availability, Niles will launch a single "universal" plasma-TV-proof IR sensor technology that will work with all A/V electronics brands and in high ambient light conditions. It would be used in IR extender systems to hide gear in a home theater room or to control any component in an A/V system from any room in a house. Competitors' brands do not do this, Detmer said.
The products contrast sharply with Niles' first custom products. Zuckerman started the company in 1975 to market switching systems that helped retailers demonstrate multiple speakers and amplifiers to consumers. Soon after, Zuckerman launched his first two consumer products. One, a precursor to the distributed-A/V systems of today, was a four-pair speaker selector that enabled receivers to power speakers in four rooms. The second product was a patching matrix to connect up to five audio components.
Later, the company introduced its first installed product, an in-wall volume control to complement the speaker selector.
In 1988, the company launched its first in-wall speakers, and in 1989 launched one of the industry's first multisource, multizone whole-house audio systems.
To promote its custom heritage, Niles unveiled a new tag line for the trade: "Niles — The first name in custom installation." The company's consumer tag line remains "Blending high fidelity and architecture."
To maintain a healthy future, the company this summer will open an expanded engineering department on a campus whose office, production, warehouse and engineering space will hit about 65,000 square feet, Zuckerman said. The expansion will make room for hiring additional engineers in the 28-strong department, with a potential to eventually expand the staff to 34, he said.
In the new building, engineers will put the final touches on many of this year's new products. One of them, the in-wall touchscreen, is designed for use with either of Niles' two CAT-5-connected 12-channel, six-zone receivers. The two-gang black-and-white touchscreens will retail tentatively for about $500 to $550 and will combine the functionality of four existing Niles keypads to reduce keypad clutter. The touchscreen will feature six hard buttons and an IR sensor.
The IR codes of connected components are programmed into each receiver's memory, making it unnecessary to program the codes into every keypad or touchscreen in a Niles distributed-audio system.
Six touchscreens and one 12-channel receiver will retail for about $6,000. A receiver with six keypads can retail for about $3,000.
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