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Marine Audio Faces Challenges In Tough Economy

8/03/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

With boat sales down at least 30 percent, retail marine audio sales are down by a similar degree, according to some suppliers, but other suppliers and retailers are bucking the trend.

Boat and boating accessory sales have declined 32.3 percent in year-to-date sales through May, according to Spader Business Management, which surveyed approximately 50 marine dealers. But some suppliers to boat builders believe boat sales have seen a steeper drop of closer to 50 percent.

The economy has also caused retail marine audio sales to sink about 30 percent, according to two suppliers, including Marine Audio, while others claimed they are beating the odds.

JL Audio said its aftermarket marine audio sales are up by double digits, and Kenwood said its sales are up slightly. Clarion's sales are meeting expectations, it said.

There are a few trends helping to offset the decline in consumer spending, said industry members.

Over the past three to five years, the selection of high-quality marine audio has improved by major car audio brands, and now consumer awareness of marine hi-fi is blossoming, even though the economy is not.

Freeman's Stereo Video general manager J.R. Stocks explained, “After a few years of marine [audio] growing, people are seeing other boats with systems on them and they want it too. So it progresses.”

Additionally, some consumers are holding onto their boats longer and upgrading the electronics. “We see it a little in mobile electronics in cars as well, but with boats, it's even more so,” said Clarion marketing VP Adam Thomas.

One reason for this, said Keith Lehmann, Kenwood consumer electronics senior VP, is that “boaters are more readily disposed to changing their equipment … They are like pilots. They don't like electronics in the boat for more than two seasons … They don't want to be stuck in the middle of a lake and have their electronics go bad on them.”

A quick TWICE poll of retailers found that many were slightly down in marine audio retail sales, including Abt Electronics and Discount Autosound. Crutchfield said sales are up by single digits but noted that last year the retailer experienced supply shortages that artificially deflated sales. Freeman's Stereo Video said sales are up from 2008 but about even with 2007.

By all accounts, OEM and expediter marine audio sales are faring much worse than retail sales in the recession, with at least one supplier reporting its OEM sales were down 50 percent compared with last year, a direct result of slower boat sales.

Recently shipped retail marine audio products include one of the industry's first wireless remote controls offered by Alpine. The MC10 commander lets users control a stereo system in the cabin while sitting on the deck, without running wires through the boat.

The MC10 uses an RF transceiver “brain” and one wireless mountable remote control. It works with Alpine's two marine head units — iDA-X100M and CDA-9886M — letting users remotely search through iPod and satellite-radio selections. The remote has an LCD screen that displays song and artist information or album information. It can also control volume, and other remotes may be added on the system.

The IPx6 water-resistance wireless system has a suggested retail of $230, and additional remotes cost $150 each.

Kenwood also recently shipped the KMR-700U mechless audio player with a USB connector for thumb drives and a protected compartment for an iPhone or iPod at $400.

Fusion is offering the next-generation to its head units that have iPod-docking compartments. The new MS-IP600 allows an iPod to dock inside the head unit so the iPod is protected by the MS-IP600's waterproof body. The faceplate flips down for removal and insertion of an iPod, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3G S or iPod Touch. Two other Fusion head units work with an optional external waterproof iPod-docking compartment. These head units include the MS-AV600 AM/FM/DVD player and the MS-CD600 AM/FM/CD player. All three models are Sirius ready.

Suggested retails are $299 for the MS-IP600, $349 for the MS-CD600 and $499 for the MS-AV600. A wired remote may be added for $149.

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