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April was indeed a cruel month for many regional and independent retailers who said the car audio Spring selling season is delayed this year.
As of the third week in April, approximately two-thirds of the dealers polled by TWICE said the fair-weather rush had not yet begun, despite sales typically surging by April 1. Retailers were unsure of the cause, but many suspected either the cold winter or the economy.
Among the retailers reporting a delayed selling season were R.C. Willey, Salt Lake City; Custom Car, Houston; Dashboard, Durham, N.C.; and Tim's Car Tunes, Indian Orchard, Mass. Others noted a slight delay including The Specialists, Tuscon, Ariz.; and Myer Emco, Gaithersburg, Md.
Most retailers however, noted the opposite seasonal trend in mobile video, claiming that the video sales began earlier this year.
"Video is huge," said Tim LaVoie, president of Tim's Car Tunes. "We saw that start up in March and we didn't anticipate it until June. We are literally having a hard time keeping it in stock."
He anticipated video sales would account for 30 percent of overall sales this year, compared to 18 percent last year. "It's unbelievable. We can't go a day without selling at least one full-blown system," he said.
"Video will easily be 20 to 25 percent of our business this year; last year it was 15 percent," said Steve Kingsley, president of Custom Car. Best Buy's mobile video sales since January also were greater than expected, according to buyer Mike Manske (see story, p. 98).
But many dealers are wondering where the mainstream car stereo customers are. "We have an extremely delayed season in the Northeast. Normally, we see it starting to kick in in March and we're just seeing it start to kick in in mid-April," said Lavoie of Tim's Car Tunes.
"We're ready, but where's the customer?" asked John Leavitt, buyer for R.C. Willey. "I don't know if it's the weather or just the economy right now, with all the uncertainty in the stock market. But you wouldn't think it's the economy because the younger demographic is not usually concerned with the stock market."
Daryl Jenkins, owner of Dashboard, said, "The season hasn't kicked in yet; usually it starts in March." He said Dashboard ran an inventory clearance sale at the end of March in response to the slowdown. Baffled by the trend, he said, "We'll be glad when it's over."
Retailers also continued to express frustration at delays in the shipping of new lines that were shown at CES. Tom Olla, buyer for The Specialists, said, "The season is a little later; we're at least flat with last year. I think we could be busier if we had some products to sell. I still haven't seen anything from Sony and Panasonic. Sony is our No. 1 line. We're a mobile ES dealer and I can't get any Mobile ES."
Not all retailers said sales were soft. Hi Fi Buys, Nashville, Tenn., and Discount Auto Sound, Virginia Beach, Va., reported a strong spring that began at the usual time.
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