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Boston Acoustics Tunes Up Product, Marketing Direction

Peabody, Mass. — Boston Acoustics will turn over most of its non-custom product line between now and early next year to broaden the brand’s appeal and tap into consumers’ changed lifestyles and audio-listening habits.

The launch of about 50 new speakers, speaker packages, tabletop radios and promised new categories represent the largest launch of in-room speakers and other non-custom products in the brand’s history, said Eli Harary, Boston’s worldwide senior VP and GM. The products, starting with the Horizon series of molded-cabinet in-room speakers, will be the first products whose development began after the acquisition of Boston Acoustics 22 months ago by D&M Holdings, owner of Denon, Marantz, McIntosh and Snell.

The new strategy was outlined here during a recent press briefing at company offices, where the company had also been outlining its strategy to invited dealers.

The Horizon series, due in September and October, is promoted as delivering a playful industrial design with a “youthful” attitude, thanks to most models’ backward-curving front baffles and to grilles available in optional colors. On the sales floor, the design and colors will catch the attention of consumers uninterested in “black-box” style speakers and perhaps attract consumers who are not shopping for component speakers at all, the company said.

The Horizon series also includes the brand’s first home theater speaker packages in two years and the brand’s first wireless subwoofer. Horizon tabletop radios with optional color grilles will be unveiled at International CES.

Also due from Boston is an amplified stereo-speaker bar with wireless subwoofer. The speaker bar, which also features optional grille colors, is positioned as an accessory to flat-panel TVs, and the SKU is targeted for display in retailers’ TV departments to expand the customer base for speakers.

The Horizon series is accompanied by the SoundWare molded-cabinet two-way speaker cube, which lacks optional grilles but is available in seven colors; features cabinets that can be painted for further customization; and offers an angled back that allows for multiple placement options, including on a shelf, on a wall, in a corner, where the ceiling and wall meet, or outside under the eaves.

Horizon’s shapes and colors will tap into consumers’ desires for personalization and self-expression and expand speakers’ customer base, Harary contended. He called it time for the audio industry to begin paying attention to consumers’ demands for “hip-smart” design and personal expression, and he contended that it’s not enough for a speaker company to continue developing “slightly better-sounding products” without attracting new customers to the category.

The Horizon launch represents a dramatic expansion of Boston’s use of molded cabinets. The Horizon models are also the industry’s first component speakers with grilles in optional colors, and they represent a dramatic departure from the square-box designs that dominated Boston’s selection before last year’s launch of the high-end wood-cabinet E series priced up to $2,500 each, Harary also said.

The choices of grille colors were based on an analysis of interior-design color trends. Eight color grilles will be available at launch, followed by around eight more in the first quarter of 2008. Optional grilles will be sold by dealers and through Boston’s Web site.

At CES, the brand plans a step-up Vista series that will include molded- and wood-cabinet in-room speakers, speaker packages, tabletop radios and new product categories that the company declined to identify. A majority of Vista speakers will also feature grilles in optional colors, and the series will project a youthful attitude like the Horizon series, Harary said.

In the spring, the brand plans “a slight refresh” in its custom line and will add a “significant” number of SKUs by fall 2008, Harary added. Custom accounts for more than half of Boston’s volume, he noted.

The company stopped production of it VR, CR and MR series of in-room speakers, which accounted for about 15 SKUs when enclosures in different finishes are factored in.

With the Horizon introductions, D&M’s intent is to build on Boston’s “enduring values” of build quality, high performance, and product innovation while attracting a broader audience “whose rules for performance and value” have changed over the years, Harary explained.

At one time, for speaker buyers, “it only mattered how it sounded,” Harary explained, but now “good sound is expected,” and fewer people choose speakers after making A-B comparisons. Calling it time for the audio industry to pay attention to new consumer values, Harary said new products going forward will feature “hip-smart” industrial design,” allow for personal expression, and take advantage of a trend in which home entertainment, particularly in-home music listening, is now “more about shared experiences.” Consumers, he explained, “don’t listen to music in solitude anymore.” Now, he said “families watch movies or play games together.”

As a result, new Boston products will be “equal parts performance, personal expression and shared experience” that will blend art and science, he said.

The change in product direction will be complemented by changes in advertising, promotion and support. Boston will use the term “play smart” in its design, distribution strategy and communication with the trade and consumers, said Harary. “Everything we do will be consistent with ‘play smart.’”

To go with the new direction, Boston also unveiled a new logo and new support programs, including a “fresh approach” to collateral material and new POP and packaging approaches, said Phil Cohn, Boston’s U.S. sales and marketing senior VP.

For its TVee Model Two soundbar, for example, Boston will supply a shelf-top POP display with large button that consumers will press to A-B the different between a flat-panel TV’s built-in speakers and the sound bar. The POP will explain that the soundbar will “learn” the commands of a customer’s existing remote and point out the advantages of a wireless subwoofer.

“In the CRT days,” said D&M North America sales and marketing president Bob Weissburg, “TV speakers sounded okay, but flat-panel TVs use small drivers, so there’s more of a need today” for accessory speakers.

SoundWare speaker cubes will be packaged in a four-color box with handle. The back panel will feature a simple explanation on how to use the speakers. Three pictures of the speaker from three different angles will appear on the front.

In a departure from previous Boston marketing, the company will offer a shelf-top SoundWare display with a speaker and pictures showing on-wall and corner-mounting options, Cohn added. The display will also illustrate the use of the cubes in different rooms, including bathrooms.

In advertising, Boston will rely on its channel partners to champion Boston’s strategy, said Weissburg. The retailers will likely include Sears, which is finalizing a deal to sell the TVee sound bar through its traditional outlets. If the deal is finalized, Boston products will appear in traditional Sears stores for the first time as part of the brand’s plans to broaden its customer reach. Boston products are already sold through Sears’s Great Indoors stores.

To support retail salespeople in these and other outlets, Boston and other D&M brands will launch on-line training programs in the fall to supplement the brands’ face-to-face training.