By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Retailers in colder regions across the country are making a killing this winter in remote starters, they said, with sales topping last winter's by 18-35 percent.
Some retailers said they are weeks, if not months, behind in remote starter installations as they try to catch up with the Christmas rush.
Jodi's of Hartford, Conn., said the 11-store chain has sold 8,000 units this winter; Boomer McCloud, Middletown, Conn., sold 13,000 units through its New England franchises; and Tim's Car Tunes, Indian Orchard, Mass., sold 1,100 during the holiday season in a single store.
Suppliers estimate that sales of remote starters of all kinds (including combination security or keyless entry systems) will total between 800,000 to more than 1 million units this year.
Audiovox, Autostart, Crimestopper and Design Tech all agree the market is growing at a rate of 30 percent, and Tom Malone, senior VP of sales for Audiovox Electronics Corp., forecasts even higher growth for next year.
"I see another five years' growth in this category," said Malone. "The consumer is really just turning onto this category. They already know what a remote transmitter does, and then their neighbor gets a remote starter and demonstrates it to them. So it's catching on as the next little thing you can do to your car."
Several factors are driving the growth in remote starters, including expanding consumer awareness, price erosion over the past few years, and the fact that installers have become more comfortable with the product and adept at installing it.
Retailers claim that while stand-alone models are the most popular item during winter, combination remote starter/ security systems are gaining in popularity year round. In addition, retailers and suppliers said that as consumer awareness of the product gains, sales are spreading beyond the key regions of the Northeast and upper Midwest.
In Boaz, Ala., Wild Bill's Electronics owner Bill McDowell said, "We're up big time, well over 30 percent this winter. It gets cold here, it can be 5 below zero with the wind chill." Similarly, in Westminster, Md., head salesman Dave Lawing of Westminster Speed and Sound, said he has "been booked for three months straight."
But according to Malone, the colder states are seeing the biggest sales, and 80 percent of the business is still performed in the North.
Boomer McCloud said unit sales this season over last are up more than 20 percent; R.C. Willey, Salt Lake City, said sales were up 18 percent; Tim's Car Tunes said units are up 28 percent and dollars up 30 percent; and Jodi's said unit sales are up 35 percent.
Stereo West, Omaha, Neb., reported that "sales were phenomenal through December."
Tim's Car Tunes said it couldn't keep up with the installations. "We have about a five-week wait," said president Tim Lavoie. "We have four bays, five installers and two shifts-and they are full."
Nearly every retailer TWICE polled said that because prices have not dropped dramatically in the past year, the single biggest reason for the surge is consumer awareness.
In addition, both retailers and suppliers said the selling season is getting longer each year. "It used to peak right before the holidays and then drop off immediately after the first of the year," said DEI regional sales director John Turziano. "Now the season starts in September and October and tapers off around Valentine's Day."
Jodi Di Fazio, general manager of Jodi's, noted that "around this time of year [late January], people say, 'My wife got one for Christmas, and now I want one.' We sell them in the summer too, it helps a lot of people with asthma. That started last year."
Retailers in warmer climates, however, claim that the product simply doesn't have the same appeal when it comes to air conditioning. "We've tried to do the kinds of things they do in Omaha," said Charlie Weisel, owner of The Specialists, Tucson, Ariz., "but they're in the hundreds per month, and we're in the low teens. AC is a convenience, and in the cold, it's more of a necessity, just like window tinting is here in Arizona. I don't see [remote start] gaining much velocity."
Dan Jeancola, mobile electronics VP for Sound Advice, Dania, Fla., said, "You'd think it would catch on. When a seat is 125 degrees it's the same kind of pain as 25 below, but I don't know of anyone down South doing a good job with it."
Another trend this year is that national chains have begun advertising stand-alone remote starters at competitive prices, prodding specialists to offer step-up packages combined with keyless entry, remote trunk release or illuminated entry.
Audiovox's Malone maintained that retailers can help expand the market by promoting remote starters year round.
"There are some selling issues that dealers need to cope with," he said. "In cold climates, they sell a lot, but when weather warms up, the salesmen stop presenting remote starters. Even though people are buying alarms and radios, they should be presented with remote starter for when the first snowstorm comes. It's the same customers who are going to want to buy it then.
"We would like to see the dealers educate their salesmen to promote the category all year."
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.