AudioSource Expands Selection, Tapping New Retail Channels - Twice

AudioSource Expands Selection, Tapping New Retail Channels

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PORTLAND, ORE. — AudioSource continues to expand product selection and distribution, in part through a new initiative that targets multichannel video service operators with a soundbar that connects wirelessly to set-top boxes.

The company also plans to expand its selection of portable Bluetooth speakers with its first stereo models in June, launch its first portable Bluetooth speaker that can be used in pairs to deliver stereo, and offer new interactive displays to go with its new Bluetooth products, said president/CEO Tom O’Mara.

For its Bluetooth speakers, AudioSource plans this year to get more aggressive in the food, drug and wireless specialty-store channels, and it will target military exchanges, campus bookstores and sporting-goods dealers, particularly those focused on lifestyle activities such as camping, boating, fishing and hunting, said Tim Coakley, hired recently as executive VP of sales and marketing.

In targeting video service operators, the company went to last week’s DirecTV dealer show in Las Vegas to showcase a soundbar that incorporates 2.4GHz SKAA wireless technology developed by Eleven Engineering. The soundbar, shipping in August, will automatically connect to a SKAAequipped dongle that consumers plug into a set-top box’s audio output.

For DirecTV set-top boxes, consumers will plug a SKAA dongle into a set-top’s RCA audio outputs. “We believe all DirecTV boxes, new and legacy, have that connectivity,” said Coakley.

The solution will eliminate the confusion suffered by many consumers when trying to add a soundbar to TVs or to set-top boxes, said O’Mara, citing the different connections that different TVs offer. Select TVs, including low-end TVs, lack audio outputs altogether, he added.

The soundbar also features optical, coaxial and analog inputs to connect to other sources such as Blu-ray players.

A wireless SKAA connection delivers better performance than a Bluetooth connection because it offers wider bandwidth and enables precise syncing of audio with video, O’Mara said. Also unlike Bluetooth, SKAA doesn’t require pairing to connect a bar to a TV, further simplifying set-up, he added.

The first stage of the soundbar rollout will target DirecTV’s indirect channels managed by distributor DSI. Indirect channels include integrators, independent dealers and CE dealers, as well as big-box retailers, said Coakley.

AudioSource is in discussions to expand sales through DirecTV’s direct-sales channel, he added.

AudioSource also envisions direct sales by cable companies to consumers without truck rolls. The soundbars could be shipped to the consumer’s house or sold in the cable operator’s retail stores and service stores.

The introduction of SKAA technology into homes will also enable DirecTV and cable operators to market SKAA-equipped dongles that enable mobile devices and laptops to transmit audio to one or more SKAA-equipped soundbars.

The company will offer SKAA dongles first through DirecTV channels and then quickly move to cable MSOs, said Coakley.

On top of that, AudioSource plans a full line of SKAAequipped devices that will include tabletop speakers, indoor/ outdoor speakers, headphones, and a smaller soundbar to create a wireless multiroom-audio system with a range of up to 50 meters compared with Bluetooth’s 3 meters. A timetable wasn’t disclosed, but the products will be available to video operators and to AudioSource dealers, said Coakley.

A SKAA-enabled mobile device will transmit one song at a time to up to four SKAA receivers at a time. In a household with multiple dongles, a SKAA receiver will remember up to nine different preferred dongles to which to connect. A user would push a button on a receiver to toggle among preferred devices.

SKAA products won’t be the only new wireless-audio products from AudioSource. The company plans third-quarter availability of its first stereo Bluetooth speakers, all portable models, to complement a portable mono model. The new AC/DC models will be priced up to $199.

All Bluetooth speakers will focus on sound quality, durability and water resistance, with some models featuring IPX7 waterproof rating to withstand 30 minutes of submersion in up to 1 meter of water, O’Mara said.

Possibly in the second quarter but more likely in the third quarter, AudioSource will ship the Sound Pop 2 mono Bluetooth speaker, which will join the original $39 Sound Pop, a 3-inchround water-resistant speaker.

The Sound Pop features a silicone shell and suction cup that sticks to non-porous surfaces such as showers, car windows, boats and hot tubs. The speaker doubles as a hands-free speakerphone. The Sound Pop 2 will be available in new colors and with a new Bluetooth chip that will enable two Sound Pop 2 speakers to sync to create separate left and right channels.

These Bluetooth speakers and other products will be available through a growing number of retailers, the company said.

By mid-2013, the company sold through more than 2,000 brick-and-mortar storefronts and through Amazon, but by the end of the year, the company sold its soundbars, Bluetooth speaker and high-value custom-install products through more than 2,000 brick-and-mortar storefronts as well as through Amazon.

As of now, the company sells through about 4,500 brick-and-mortar storefronts, those dealers’ online stores, and the online stores of RadioShack, Sears, Walmart and Best Buy, O’Mara said. Recent brick-and-mortar additions include Fred Meyer, Kroger, other grocery chains, drug-store chains, truck stops and the Nationwide buying group.

In the coming months, AudioSource plans to get more aggressive in the food and drug channel and will target military exchanges, campus bookstores and sporting-goods dealers.

This year the company will also step-up activities in the wirelessstore channel, having run tests in Wireless Zone stores last year, added O’Mara.

“Wireless stores could merchandise their space more effectively,” Coakley said, “and the stores are starting to realize that. The stores are still wide open and sparse, so there is an opportunity to add products.”

The amount of traffic in wireless stores “is phenomenal” and rivals that of CE chains, he said.

Coakley, whose roles include product and business development, spent the past six years at the CE unit of Ingram Micro with responsibility for managing 250 vendor accounts spread over 24 types of products, including housewares audio, video and 12-volt. He also oversaw marketing of the products to retail customers.

Coakley said he will be “very active with the dealer network to help them with sell-through initiatives that are critical in this time of managing inventory more tightly.”

AudioSource will step up its activities in interactive displays, training and other sell-through initiates, he said. New interactive displays will be available for the new Bluetooth speakers, he noted.

Until late 2011, the audio specialty company positioned itself exclusively in the market for valuepriced but high-quality component amplifiers, architectural speakers and custom-installation accessories, such as in-wall volume controls.

TAKEAWAY

AudioSource’s product and distribution strategies highlight the growing importance of nontraditional CE channels for selling select CE products.

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