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Brothers, Bennett Exit Apex To Join Protron

Steve Brothers, president of Apex Digital, and Gary Bennett, head of sales, have left the company to join Protron, based in Ontario, Calif.

Brothers has become CEO and Gary Bennett is now sales VP, according to Bennett, who attended RetailVision, held at the Hyatt Grand Cypress Resort, here. (See story on p. 1.) Bennett said that Brothers joined Protron recently and that he joined the company a few days before the show.

Bennett noted that Brothers “was involved in a lot of new technology development” at Apex, but that their former employer has not been able to bring those products to the United States. The new Protron sales executive did not speculate on who is replacing him and Brothers at Apex, nor did he comment on whether or not the status of David Longfen Ji, Apex’s chairman who has been under house arrest in China since last fall, had anything to do with their departure.

What he and sales and marketing VP Jerry Scarborough did discuss during RetailVision was Protron, which is 49 percent owned by Taiwanese OEM manufacturer Yah Sin, a publicly held firm. The $8 billion company specializes in OEM and counts Sony, Philips, LG and other major CE brands as customers.

“Yah Sin is a quality manufacturer, and it wanted its own brand name,” which is why it made the investment in Protron, Scarborough said. The company has 5.5 million square feet of manufacturing space at two factories in mainland China and is vertically-integrated, making many of its own components, he said.

“There are a lot of what I call ‘manu-packagers’ out there, without the proper product support who come and go. This gives retailers an opportunity to look at a real manufacturer. That’s why retailers are taking a look at us,” Scarborough noted.

“We are also developing production in Mexico which will be on stream by the third or fourth quarter,” Bennett added.

The new sales VP said that Protron has major retailers in its sights for the brand, such as Best Buy, Circuit City, Wal-Mart, Target and the like. Scarborough noted that Protron has been attending RetailVision during the last couple of years to “see some major retailers” and to “keep our brand name out there.”

Protron does have a diversified line, headed by a selection of LCD TVs.

Currently available are a 20-inch LCD with a suggested retail of $399, 26-inch at $899, 32-inch at $1,599, and a 37-inch at $2,999. A 46-inch will be available by the end of the year, Bennett said. Protron’s plan is “to sell 500,000 units in the U.S. during 2005,” he said.

The executives noted that the current product line includes four DVD players, four DVD recorders, five home theater systems, three Class D digital amplifiers and a digital camcorder that can record MPEG-4 full-motion video and digital stills on an SD memory card.

Down the road Scarborough said Protron is also looking into introducing digital cameras and cellular phones in the United States.