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Cambridge SoundWorks Steps Up

Andover, Mass. – Cambridge SoundWorks continued to expand distribution beyond its direct-sales channels with the launch of a hi-fi tabletop AM/FM radio targeted to regional specialty chains, independents, and select catalogers.

The company, founded in 1988 as a factory-direct marketer of Cambridge SoundWorks-branded speakers, also plans to offer its DVD-equipped home theater systems through these channels.

‘For the first time, we’re making a product available to the whole consumer electronics channel,’ said business development VP Robert Mainiero. In the recent past, the factory-direct marketer has tapped indirect retail channels with limited exclusive deals.

From 1995-1997, for example, the company sold Cambridge-branded speakers through Best Buy. In early 2001, the company launched Cambridge speakers through J&R, followed last fall by sales through Fry’s and Last fall, Cambridge also began test sales of its DVD-equipped HTiB systems through Fry’s and J&R. A previous-generation tabletop radio was also sold through the upscale Herrington catalog.

Besides speakers and HTiBs, Cambridge sells other-brand electronics through its catalog, e-commerce site, toll-free number, and 25 brick-and-mortar stores in California and New England. The first store opened in 1991.

The new radio, a single-chassis model, will be available in the coming weeks through Harvey’s, J&R’s store and direct-sales channels, Fry’s, and the business-oriented PC Connection catalog, Mainiero said. ‘We’re talking to other regional specialists and independents,’ he said, but Cambridge isn’t targeting national retailers just yet. ‘We’ll see how it plays out,’ he said.

A one-piece version that plays MP3-CDs is due in the fall through direct and indirect channels.

To manage channel conflict, Cambridge has established a uniform unilateral pricing policy for products sold simultaneously through retail partners and through its own direct channels, Mainiero said. The radio prices are $249 for the non-CD model and $399 for the CD version. Four DVD-equipped HTiB systems available to dealers are priced from $699 to $1,399.

Despite Cambridge’s direct sales, indirect retailers are interested in the table radios because they fill an untapped niche in retail stores, Mainiero claimed. Single-chassis Bose Wave radios, with and without CD, are available only direct from Bose and through Bose-owned stores, he pointed out.

Although one-piece AM/FM models are available to dealers from companies such as Tivoli and Boston Acoustics, those units target a separate niche, he said. Those units are mono, smaller, and priced lower at around $100 to $159 without CD. Two-piece stereo units without CD are priced at about $159 from Tivoli, with add-on matching CD player at $199, turning the radio into a three-piece system that requires cable connections like an audio component system.

For now, Cambridge doesn’t plan to open up speaker distribution to other retailers because the market is crowded and down, Mainiero said. ‘Bringing our speakers to retail would be difficult,’ he said. Sales of HTiBs and table radios, however, are up, he noted.

Unlike other table radios, Cambridge’s new models feature RDS, separate built-in active subwoofer, separate bass and treble controls, and front-panel aux input (complementing a back-panel input). Other features include a ‘wide’ button to widen the stereo soundstage to six to seven feet, alarm clock functions, and a jog button on a credit-card remote to simplify operation. Compared to Cambridge’s previous models, it delivers deeper bass, higher output, smoother frequency response, and wider dispersion, said product designer Fred Pinkerton.