By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
At the annual KnowledgeFest gathering of the car A/V industry, the Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association (MERA) took its most aggressive stance yet on warning its retail members to change.
Executive director Rick Mathies said, "We're more adamant and more forceful in the message that retailers need to adapt to the changing times because if they don't, what is the alternative?"
With core car A/V categories in decline, MERA's message to retailers is to change marketing, "go back to being a true specialty retailer" and to "be experts in the field of integration in today's challenging vehicles," said Mathies.
At the trade show held here March 17-20, retail attendance was somewhat below last year.
Mathies quoted KnowledgeFest panel members in equating the current market shift to that of 25 years ago, when the industry was virtually beginning. Retailers have an opportunity to return to a time when it required great expertise to cram speakers and radios into cars. Until recently, "the manufacturers made these plug-and-play solutions out of the box so that anyone could hook up an amplifier to get good sound. In the early days we had to make places for speakers because there wasn't any place, and you had to use your home subwoofers because there were none for the car," he said.
In recent years, big-box retailers took over the role of early adopter in some cases, becoming the main stores to push portable navigation and satellite radio, noted Mathies. But now, as complex new cars once again pose challenges to installation, this could prove a blessing for small retailers. "They can become specialists all over again. If you look at it that way, we have a huge opportunity. Eventually the big boxes may say, 'That's just too difficult, and I have a whole list of cars that are just too hard to work on.' But the specialists have to get into it again — that's the overall message."
This requires expertise on each car make and model, the cars' A/V networks and the way OEM software interacts with sound quality. "It's daunting because we haven't kept up. We've been robots, just putting in these systems," Mathies explained. He minced no words on the future for retailers who don't change. "If you don't do these things, then you might as well get the heck out of the way and let the other retailers have the business because you are not going to succeed."
At KnowledgeFest MERA presented an industry paper outlining change, compiled by 13 leading members including Rockford, AAMP of America, Harman, Johnson Controls, JL Audio and CarToys. It offers strategies to generate enthusiasm for 12-volt products and to promote specialists.
The paper advocates that retailers return to demo cars and attending local events to drum up enthusiasm for an industry, which has drifted away from some of these time-honored marketing tools.
The paper also recommends kiosks for iPod integration or OEM integration. It said, "Sound rooms and big switchers are a thing of the past. Merchandise and solutions need to be in an open and non-threatening environment."
The treatise noted, "Someone recently said, 'The industry is not telling the public that we are cool — all we tell them is that we sell our products on price.' "
Solving that problem requires a change on the sales floor. According to the paper, this means retailers should "Let her see how quietly the kids are watching 'Cars' on your video screen. Sync up his phone to our Bluetooth kit and show him how it interrupts the music when a call comes in. Give a great audio demo with music the customer loves, right off his own iPod. Let him press the button and watch your car start from across the parking lot. People are willing to pay for a great experience."
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.