What do a $3,900 two-megapixel digital camera, a $2,600 pair of headphones, a $1,900 handheld MiniDisc player and a $30,000 HDTV projector have in common? They are all part of Sony's ultra-high end Qualia line that was introduced here late last month.
The Qualia brand name is designed to fight the "rigid commodization" of the CE business, according to Mike Fasulo, senior VP of Sony Electronics' eSolutions business, which will manage the brand.
In a prepared statement, Sony said that the products "are subject to a rigorous approval process by Sony's top management, [and] are a result of cutting edge engineering without any constraints."
The models unveiled included the very-compact Qualia 016 digital still camera, to be available later this spring; the Qualia 017 MiniDisc player, which is "carved from a block of pure brass," to ship in June; and the Qualia 010 headphone set, to ship this summer.
Introduced at CEDIA (TWICE, Sept. 15, 2003, p. 21) and began shipping recently, the Qualia 004 SXRD projector is also part of the Neiman Marcus-type CE lineup. Sony described the SXRD projector as "the industry's first full high-definition home theater front projector."
Fasulo explained that, "The Qualia initiative enables us to offer an uncompromised approach to product engineering, design and customer experience."
Qualia will offer consumers the opportunity to enter into an ongoing, personalized relationship with Sony. Customers will receive one-on-one product demonstrations, 24/7 customer service, and special offers and gifts.
Qualia products will be available in the United States via a toll free number this summer (1-877-QUALIA3). The line will also be available through Sony's Cierge personalized shopping service. Select products to be introduced in the future, including the Qualia 004 projector, will be sold through Sony Electronics' network of custom installation dealers.
Fasulo noted that the market for luxury items — fine wines, homes, boats, cars and the like — have grown "20 to 30 percent" over the past several years, and Qualia is an attempt to tap into that market.
Steve Fisher, marketing manger for eSolutions, said that the target audience for the line will be "five million U.S. households, out of a total of 106 million households," but, he added, "over time, we hope to expand the market" for Qualia products.
Ken Sugawara, executive VP, U.S. Qualia products division of eSolutions, said that the strategy would involve use of the Qualia Web site, the use of Sony's Cierge list of consumers, Qualia stores and the expanded Sony Style stores and select distribution.
In Japan there are two Qualia stores, and while Sony did not provide details on how many Qualia stores there would be, there are plans to open one in New York City this summer.
Since education and receiving the "total Qualia experience" is necessary to sell this upscale line, the type of stores Sony is looking to sell this line through high-end specialty stores and the 100 or so custom installers who are currently selling the Qualia 004 SXRD projector. Independent professional installers will handle installation of the 004 SXRD projectors, and other non-handheld Qualia products. But the Cierge personnel, who will provide "white glove" appointment deliveries of these products, will be Sony employees.
The expansion of the Sony Style stores and the Qualia introduction are "definitely linked," Fasulo said, since Qualia needs "a lot of hands-on customer service." The additional Sony Style stores, which are to be 4,000-square-foot locations and will open in ten top markets later this year, will be "put in fashion malls, such as Beverly Hills, to attract a certain type of clientele. This takes Sony Style to another level." There will be 1,000-square-foot Qualia departments in each Sony Style location, he noted.