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McIntosh Readies Product, Marketing Initiatives

9/22/2010 12:04:00 AM Eastern

Atlanta
- Products are only part of the story that McIntosh will tell at the CEDIA
Expo.

The
high-end audio-component company will outline the next steps in a campaign to
expand its customer base beyond audiophiles to include affluent consumers who
are serious about music.

In
addition, the brand will outline plans to work with select dealers to build
dedicated McIntosh areas within their stores. The store-in-store concept is
part of an effort to focus improved support on a smaller base of independent
specialists, whose ranks were reduced earlier this year to 220 from 310 in the U.S. and Canada.

 McIntosh whittled down its dealer base to weed
out dealers who did not meet volume requirements or other standards, executives
told TWICE. Some also transshipped to unauthorized online dealers. In some
cases, former dealers will be replaced to fill geographic holes, president
Charlie Randall noted.

As
for products, McIntosh plans to show five new two-channel components, including
its first three with USB port to play back music from a USB-connected PC or
from a USB drive. The three components comprise two two-channel preamps and a
two-channel SACD player.

To
increase support for dealers selling these and other McIntosh products, McIntosh
is developing a McIntosh-branded display wall with LCD TV that displays a
McIntosh video on a continuous loop. The TV will be flanked by McIntosh
literature that consumers can take home. Dealers who support the entire
McIntosh line, or about 120, will get first access to the display, Randall
said. In the past, McIntosh didn't offer much in the way of in-store POP, he
noted.

Also
to boost dealer support, the brand this year will select two dealers, one on
the East Coast and one on the West Coast, to test McIntosh-branded store-in-store
areas, which would be staffed by dealer salespeople trained by McIntosh. The areas,
anywhere from 300 to 500 square feet, would feature a home theater vignette, a
stereo-listening vignette, and a work station area with literature. There, a salesperson
and customer could discuss products or develop a custom-install plan, Randall
said.

McIntosh
hopes to get the two test stores operational early next year and, in about two
years from now, open 30 McIntosh store-in-store areas, one to a major metro
area. Another 10 would operate in other countries.

McIntosh
dealers who build the stores will get stepped up support, including support for
the store's grand opening, support for product-launch events, and a prime
position on the McIntosh web site.

In
a separate sales-building strategy, the brand is stepping up efforts to expand consumer
awareness beyond the audiophile community to include affluent consumers. The
effort began last year largely with public-relations efforts, but now the effort
will expand to advertising, event marketing, and distribution, said Linda Passaro,
recently appointed as sales and marketing VP after years of marketing luxury
brands.

She
called McIntosh a "very prestigious brand not perhaps so well-known outside of
audiophiles." To reach beyond the audiophile base without ignoring them, McIntosh
will begin in January to advertise in upscale magazines such as Guitar
Aficionado and the DuPont Registry, Passaro said. McIntosh will also work with
the luxury magazines to drive their readers to McIntosh dealer events and
McIntosh products to events sponsored by the magazines, she said.

The
advertising will coincide with the launch of a redesigned web site whose look
and feel will increase their appeal luxury consumers, though it will continue
to offer audiophiles the detailed specs they want, she said.

The
brand will also pursue partnerships with luxury hotels to place McIntosh
products in their suites.

In
a major shift, the company will pursue distribution through luxury retailers
outside typical CE distribution channels, but only cash-and-carry products will
be sold through stores where affluent customers shop, Randall said. For now,
such products are limited to a $7,500 tabletop executive-style stereo system,
but the brand said additional products are in the works.

In
another effort to expand its demographic, McIntosh plans a music-management app
for the iPhone/iPod Touch and for the iPad. The app will feature McIntosh design
elements, such as the company's signature blue Vu meter, to "expose more people
to the blue meter," Randall said.

At
the CEDIA Expo, McIntosh will expose dealers to five new two-channel products:
two preamps, two stereo power amps, and a two-channel SACD/CD player.

The
three products with USB port are the C50 and C48 preamps and the MCD100 SACD
player. The C50, shipping in September, features eight-band equalizer, two-line
vacuum-fluorescent display, Vu meters, processor loop, moving-coil and
moving-magnet phono inputs, four assignable S/PDIF digital inputs, two
assignable balanced inputs, IR data port, and USB input that plays PCM digital
audio from a USB stick or PC.

The
lower priced C48 offers the C50's features except for processor loop and Vu
meters, and its EQ is five-band.

The
SACD player ships in October with single-disc transport to play CD, SACDs,
hybrid CD/SACD discs, and MP3- and WMA-encoded discs. Features include quad
DACs per channel, XLR/BNC inputs and outputs, coaxial and optical digital
outputs and inputs, fixed and variable balanced and unbalanced outputs, and a
6-volt RMS output to directly drive a power amp.

The
two power amps also ship in October. Thje MC453 delivers 2x450 watts into 8-,
4-, and 2-ohm loads. The MC302 delivers 2x300 watts into those loads. Both
replace existing models and add Thermal Trak capability, which monitors
temperature across the entire heat sink, not just at one area, to prevent the
operating temperature from drifting.

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