New York - Almo Professional AV held its final 2011 E4 event at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, here, on Thursday with Warren Chaiken, president/COO of Almo, and Sam Taylor, executive VP/COO of the pro operation, discussing the show as well as the dynamics between the pro and CE markets.
The New York E4 event, in partnership with InfoComm International, featured CTS-certified training sessions with InfoComm Renewal Units as well as plenty of manufacturers exhibiting.
Taylor commented on the growth of the New York event: "Two years ago we had 20 vendors and about 250 [installers] attended. Today we had 40 vendors and attendance of about 400."
He said that the attraction of the show is split between "the education classes ... where installers learn about green initiatives, video wall technologies" and the like, while Chaiken said the other appeal is "introducing new products and visiting with vendors. You can do webinars, but to have customers touch and feel products is important."
And Taylor said that on the pro side, "Our business is growing strongly" with 80 percent of his operation's customers being on the pro side with 20 percent doing residential installations. He noted that in the past two years, given housing market conditions, "we see more residential companies" checking out opportunities on the pro side.
While Almo's pro business does not have holiday sales or a Black Friday to contend with, the fourth quarter is a busy one, Taylor said, "due to the government fiscal year cycle" and business construction.
On the CE side of the business, Chaiken said he is more optimistic than he was a month ago about the holiday season. "I think business will be up now. We are hearing about shortages in TVs for the first time from a number of vendors in the past week or so."
He said the shortages "won't help pricing" which is expected to be promotional for all CE categories and in "middle-tier 40- to 50-inch TVs."
Overall, Chaiken said, "there seems to be more optimism in the market now."
While pricing is down in the 50-inch and larger segment, it is now the new 42- inch market. "Retail pricing is down and it will not be as profitable, but the industry will [continue] to do well with larger screen sizes," he remarked.
Chaiken said the industry "should sell more products," with Christmas being "better than expected," but suggested retail pricing "will be down" again this quarter.
Chaiken said there are opportunities not only in TVs and in tablets this holiday season. When asked if there might be shortages of iPads this season, Chaiken said, "Whether there are [shortages] or not, there are opportunities for tier-two brands. Sure, a lot of iPads and Kindle Fires will be sold, but some [consumers] won't like the features or pricing. We are carrying four lines of tablets, and they should do fine."
Chaiken added that when it comes to selling tablets profitably or TVs for that matter, "it is always about accessories. You have to take advantage of those opportunities, in TVs, with cables, mounts and extended warranties. In tablets we are bundling products [for retailers] with screen cleaners, cases and headphones and wireless keyboards."
He said that cases can be high-margin items, and as for headphones, "they can range in price from $30 to $100."
As for 2012, Taylor expects the pro side of Almo's business to be OK. "The beginning of the year will be fine. The pro side usually lags the overall economy by six to nine months."
On the CE side, Chaiken expects 2012 to be "choppy ... There will be ups and downs. We also carry major appliances. Housing is still in trouble, so it has become a replacement business. But there are plenty of cool products out there that will cut energy consumption in the home with features that will improve lifestyles that consumers need to have [and hopefully] will want to buy."
As for Almo's customers on the pro and consumer sides of the business, he sees them wanting the same things from the distributor. "They demand service excellence from us. They want us to keep key inventory in stock, deliver in a timely fashion, and keep running shows like E4 to help educate them on new procedures, new vendors and products ... to keep them growing and making them profitable."