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Mounts Business Rising To New Levels

1/05/2006 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Born-again into a consumer electronics environment being supported by the growing popularity of an emerging flat-screen television business, mounting systems have come a long way from their days of simply raising CRT units to above-eye-level placements — mainly in commercial operations such as hospitals and transportation hubs.

What for mounts had been mostly a function of making TV-watching available to sequestered patients or helping a large volume of traveling people pass the time, has become a potential boom for CE retailers and installers riding the tie-in wave between flat screens and the mounting hardware needed to secure televisions in the home.

Recent research points to 10 million dwellings worldwide counting on HDTV technology, said Michael Dellatorre, sales and marketing VP at Fontana, Calif.-based Orbital Holdings. The same research estimates this figure will grow 50 percent to 15.5 million sets by the end of 2005, and to 52 million HDTV units by 2009.

“This is excellent news for the mounting industry, for attachment rates for flat-panel displays run 30 percent to 40 percent more than regular CRT technology, even 40 percent to 55 percent for various retailers,” Dellatorre said. He believes the key for mounting manufacturers is functionality and ease of use, and for retailers the idea that HDTV flat-panel display mounts are typically purchased at the same time as the televisions, with customers at point of purchase knowing if the mount is to be hung on a wall or placed on furniture.

“As the proliferation of flat-panel plasma and LCD televisions make their way into everyday consumer life, more attention is being directed toward where to place and how to maximize the viewing experience of these display devices,” said Christopher Kooistra, marketing communications manager at Melrose Park, Ill.-headquartered Peerless Industries, about mount proliferation .

With the availability of flat, tilt, pivot or articulating mount styles, the end-user has a significant array of mounting options to select from. Include the various colors, finishes and mounting surfaces — wall, ceiling, desktop, under-cabinet — and the selection possibilities become numerous, continued Kooistra.

“Manufacturers understand the importance that the mount provides not only as a functional accessory, but as a critical component to enhancing the viewing experience.” At the same time, aesthetics and cable management have become key differentiation points, he said.

As price points fall on flat-panel TVs, the mounting industry continues to play a key role in profitability for retailers, said Jim Wohlford, general manager at St. Paul, Minn.-based Sanus Systems. There are several reasons high-margin, full-motion mounts are seeing a new surge in sales, he said. These include both the retailer’s need to push high-margin items and the consumer’s desire to add the most flexibility to their new flat-panel purchase.

“A new trend in design is full-motion mounts that push back to less than 3 inches from the wall in the put-away position, combining the advantages of both full-motion and low-profile mounts,” said Wohlford. “We also expect to see the expansion of ultra-universal mounts, those that start small to hold smaller TVs and telescope out to support even the largest TVs. This allows retailers to provide more solutions with fewer SKUs.”

As sales of LCD TVs grow rapidly, demand for LCD TV wall mounts will obviously increase, said Andrew Dimond, managing director of the Britain-based AVF consumer product division, with U.S. headquarters in Tinton Falls, N.J.

“More and more customers are looking for ways in which to save space, and by using wall mounts they can do just that,” said Dimond. “But we are seeing a distinctive change in customers’ buying habits.

“With CRT products, customers considered accessories after purchase (only 10 percent buying a mount and CRT TV at the same time), but the flat-panel market is different — customers decide to buy the TV and consider how they will display their product at the same time. So they buy the wall mount at the same time as the TV screen.”

Mounts for flat panels continue to evolve to accommodate much larger and heavier televisions as wide-format displays increase in popularity. Premier Mounts, for one, emphasizes heavy-duty construction features designed to support very large displays, some more than 60 inches wide. These heavy-duty mounts include designs allowing the display to be mounted nearly flush with the wall, as well as styles that allow very large units to swing out and tilt. Also, the Anaheim, Calif.-based company is offering new mounts designed for universal applications, for both LCD and plasma displays.

The flat-panel mounting business continues to keep pace with the increase in flat-panel TVs and monitors being manufactured and sold, according to Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based Vantage Point Products.

As the technology for flat panels is fine tuned, prices are dropping and consumers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of purchasing one for their home or business. Accessories, such as TV mounts, can be necessary attachment sales to the flat panels and offer significant profit margins to the retailers.

As flat-panel manufacturers design larger monitors, consumers look for increased functionality from their mounts — variable tilting angles, extension from the wall for shared viewing areas, or a shallow wall profile for flushness to the wall. Flat-panel mount manufacturers continue to be challenged and must be able to safely provide consumers a number of these functions to competitively keep their business growing as the sales of flat panels continue to grow, noted Vantage Point.

“Once confined to the upper echelon of expensive plasma displays, HDTVs are filtering down into the ranks of all display types — including CRT, DLP, LCD and LCoS devices,” said Steve Singleton, national training manager at OmniMount Systems.

This broad spectrum of HDTVs requires an equally broad range of products to mount them. Small LCD televisions can be wall mounted or placed on top of audio racks, while larger flat-panel HDTVs demand the flexibility of cantilever wall mounts. Or they, too, can be placed on specialty A/V furniture designed to act as a system centerpiece, holding both the HDTV and home theater components, said Singleton at the Phoenix-based company.

Projection type HDTVs — such as DLP, LCD or LCos models — require wide-screen furniture capable of giving them the proper support and correct viewing height, while also fitting into the décor of modern home theater systems. “So now to complement their stunning picture quality, consumers have a wide range of attractive and functional mounting options for their HDTVs, he said.

“In 2006, retailers have a significant opportunity to enhance their customers’ flat-panel experience with new and innovative mounting solutions,” said Scott Gill, president of Savage, Minn.-headquartered Chief.

The emergence and growth of mid-size LCD TVs of 30 to 40 inches has created a whole new category of mounting options, including swing-arms like Chief’s new MWR. Custom-installation-focused retailers, striving for ways to differentiate, are also going to find new mount products that will help in their differentiation pursuit, continued Gill.

“One particularly interesting new product for these retailers are units that make in-wall swing-arm mount installations much more straightforward, allowing large flat panels to appear completely flush with the wall when in the 'home’ position,” said Gill.

“Apart from their picture quality, flat-panel TV monitors represent a breakthrough in home décor, and the extent to which they blend with related room furnishings has been critical to their success,” said Salvatore Carrabba, president of Hartford, Conn.-based Salamander Designs. For that reason, mounting devices allowing the highest degree of room-design integration are destined to capture more and more market share, he noted.

“These are the mounts that hold speakers, along with flat-panel monitors, and position those components in precise relation to one another. Panel-TV mounts with adjustable speaker brackets, brackets that can be extended laterally when the need arises, provide even more benefit. They’ll permit people to integrate the new, larger monitors they’ll purchase as prices fall with their external TV speakers on mounts that are already in place. When it comes to entertainment electronics, home-design integration is like money in the bank — the more the better,” said Carrabba.

Mount makers are continually looking at how to make the mount look better, while still addressing the concerns of safety, function and simple installation, said Jentry Wittkamper, lifts and mounts product manager at Spiceland, Ind.-based Draper.

“There is bigger concern on what the mount looks like than there has been in the past. As you see more flat-panel displays everywhere, people are also noticing the mounts more.”

Globally, the HDTV mount business outlook is mixed, noted Larry LaCross, sales and marketing VP at Culver City, Calif.-based ProMounts. “As more and more larger screens are coming to market, increased interest in articulating mounts is increasing. Many manufacturers are introducing new and improved mounts for 50-inch screens and up.”

Summing up about the business, LaCross said sales are being affected due to the lack of plasma screens and slow acceptance of LCDs in the marketplace. “Prices are holding, but currently the availability for screens from the manufacturers is very low, causing the accessory arena to be challenged.