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TCL Expands U.S. TV Distribution Plans

7/05/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

CORONA, CALIF. — Now more than a year since
its license to the RCA brand for TV distribution was
allowed to lapse, TCL is taking small steps into U.S.
CE retail distribution with a brand that is well known
in virtually every other international marketplace.

For the past year, the Huizhou, Guangdong, China-
based TCL, which is noted as the 25th-largest
consumer electronics manufacturer and the world’s
sixth-largest television maker, has been quietly building
a following for the TCL brand here using online
resource Amazon.

The online retailer had an exclusive on the brand
until last March, when TCL slowly started rolling out
to select regional players. For this year, the company
will supply regional accounts, in addition to Amazon,
before building up to expand into any mass-merchant
or warehouse-club channels.

Tom Chomyn, TCL’s U.S. national sales manager,
said the company continues to expand to additional
online and brick-and-mortar retail partners, offering
an opening-price-point TV brand with a better
margin, strong image quality and a two-year factory
warranty.

“The difference between TCL and some of the other
TV brands who have come to the U.S. market is that
TCL is on our product, TCL is on our headquarters,
and TCL is on our factory. Not many other tier-three
brands can do that right now. We see ourselves at the
top of tier three, but our goal is to be in the top five in
market share in the U.S. in the next five years.”

The company is quietly looking to build brandname
recognition with retailers’ regional ads and is
using select media placements, including an appearance
of a 40-inch TCL LCD TV in the new Transformers
movie, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

Joseph Sannella, TCL U.S. sales and product development manager and longtime veteran of the RCA
TV businesses under both Thomson and TCL (through the
defunct TTE), said the company’s new U.S. strategy is to
center on “the market sweet spot” and to differentiate the
brand’s distribution strategy.

“With the RCA brand, we were a mass-market kind of
player, but with the TCL brand we are looking at a regional
distribution strategy, partnering with really strong regional retailers,”
Sannella said. “You’re not going to see TCL product
at Walmart or on the floor at Best Buy. But you will see it on
the floors of guys like Nebraska Furniture Mart, R.C. Willey,
Vans and other really strong regional accounts like those.”

At least for the time being, Chomyn and Sannella will
be handling the company’s sales to each account on a direct
basis before opening up to include key buying groups,
Chomyn said.

Chomyn, who has more than 20 years of CE experience
working for both Panasonic and LG, said he is not looking
to use distributors.

TCL will maintain warehousing in California, from where
it will ship to the rest of the country.

Sannella said TCL’s products are targeted at consumers
using a strong value message, and offering fair prices and
quality manufacturing that it will underscore with its twoyear
warranty.

The initial TCL line will feature six LCD TVs. These include
three models with CCFL backlighting and three with
LED edge lighting.

The CCFL LCD line includes the 26-inch ($249 suggested
retail), 32-inch ($299) and 40-inch ($449) screen sizes,
while the LED line offers 19-inch ($169), 24-inch ($219)
and 32-inch ($399) screen sizes.

The 40-inch CCFL model and 24-inch LED model both
feature 1080p/60Hz panels, while the remaining
models offer 720p resolution.

All models include HDMI and VGA (PC) inputs
to serve as both TV displays and PC monitors
for dorm-room applications.

TCL is working with IDEO in the design process
to develop a distinctive look. The CCFL
models will feature a high-gloss black cosmetic.
The LEDs will sport a brushed-black cosmetic
with one model adding a glass-faced crystal trim.

For the future, the company is looking to add
larger screen sizes.

“We’re trying to go in to get some market share
this year using some hot-selling pieces rather
than going in with 46- and 55-inch screen sizes
[whose sales rates] fluctuate weekly,” Chomyn
told TWICE. “We have those larger screen sizes
in other places in the world, but we want to start
out here by focusing on the nuts and bolts of the
industry, which right now is 32- and 40-inches.”

Starting in August, TCL plans to open its new
8.5 Gen LCD plant, called China Star, in partnership
with Samsung, which took a 15 percent
stake in the operation, Chomyn said.

“It will be completely vertical. We will be building
the glass, the parts and everything for TVs,”
he said, pointing out that the company will continue
to maintain a sizeable OEM TV business as
it grows its own TCL lines. “So next year, we’ll
have 14 million more TVs to sell.”