By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Remote starters saw uneven sales this winter, even in the North, as the weather varied greatly by region.
Many dealers in the Northwest and Midwest experienced strong gains for the category due to a cold December and January while sales were flatter in the Northeast, where the winter was more temperate.
Market leader Directed Electronics said sales were up for the season compared to last year and its average selling prices gained as consumers sought out the longer, 1-mile range products. Auto Page said sales were up 25 percent in dollars and 20 percent in units.
Audiovox and Crimestopper, however, said sales were flat due to a warm winter in the Northeast. Both said the season also got off to a slow start because of excess inventory stockpiled by retailers after a warm winter a year ago.
"At the beginning of the season in September, when retailers usually step up and buy, they had a lot of inventory left over, so we had to encourage them to buy and offered a lot of specials. That's happened for two years in a row," said Crimestopper president/CEO Howard Miller
But many retailers in the Northwest and Midwest saw gains of up to 100 percent this season, due to colder weather. The remote starter business has become the inverse of the air conditioning business because remote starter sales are directly tied to how low temperatures drop, particularly in the early winter, when consumers are reminded there's a full three months of frigid temperatures ahead.
Glenn Busse, Directed sales senior VP, said the market will continue to grow because consumer awareness, while increased, is still not at full capacity. The company's research found that even in colder regions, 59 percent of respondents had "zero to moderate" awareness of the category.
At Mickey Shorr, Pontiac, Mich., remote-starter sales climbed 17 percent in dollars for December/January over the previous year. General manager Jeff Pitts said, "Car starters are becoming the gift for Christmas instead of the CD player." In December he sells a lot of $149/$159 stand-alone remote starters purchased as gifts, but in January/February, he moves the more expensive combination security/remote starters.
An early snow storm helped the season. "In December in 2006, it was 45 degrees here. This year it was in the 20s and below. We had four days when we got 4 to 5 inches of snow, which was all it took."
Sound Performance, Columbia Mo., said sales doubled and Kingpin Car Audio, Wilsonville, Ore., said sales were up 20 percent.
At Sound on Wheels, Lakewood, Colo., remote-starter sales were up 15 percent in dollars due to the colder season. The store also featured the products more prominently in its regular ads, said manager Mike Acosta.
Car Toys, Portland Ore., however, said sales were flat due to warmer weather as did Northeast dealers including Great Northern, Burlington, Vt.
This season Directed launched its first remote-starter advertising campaign for the sunbelt region. It also boosted sales training; shipped freestanding floor displays; and improved shipping, making greater use of a Kentucky warehouse, in order to improve sales.
Busse added, "This was one of the first years we saw a shift to higher prices. In the past, we had a number of years, where retailers were playing typically in the mid-$100 price point in the gift season. We'd see a lot of volume in the $149 to $159 price points. This year, we saw a shift to $199 to $229."
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