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Hope Springs Eternal

Maybe 18th century English poet Alexander
Pope was right: “Hope springs

That phrase surfaces every year
when sportswriters follow Major League Baseball
teams to Florida and Arizona for that most American
rite, spring training.

Even if you are a fan of some downtrodden franchise
with little chance of even
playing .500 baseball, the coverage
of some phenom playing like
the next Willie Mays or Sandy
Koufax in a couple of exhibition
games makes the avid fan dare
to hope that even a humble Wild
Card berth might be possible for
his team in the fall.

That’s how one might feel reading comments in
this issue about the prospects for the CE industry
as we turn our attention to the holiday selling

But it’s August. And we did not interview daydreaming
fans. We spoke with a bunch of veteran
retailers, distributors, and a handful of manufacturers
that are players in an industry even more competitive
than baseball — consumer electronics.

They beat themselves up about the industry’s
thin margins during good years. They have suffered
through the worldwide economic meltdown since
2008. They have experienced lower profits and volume
and seen how the retail dynamic has changed
with Best Buy being battered and Amazon seeming
to be the future of retailing.

Are they cockeyed optimists? No. Realists?

For example, Jeannette Howe, executive director
of Specialty Electronics Nationwide (SEN), a division
of the Nationwide Marketing Group, said in a story on the second half — written by senior editor
Alan Wolf — that “We have
seen a resurgence in larger-panel television sales,
and when a larger TV is purchased, we are far more
likely to see the audio system add on.”

An IHS iSuppli report from last week said that
average retail prices on U.S. flat-panel TVs rose for
the first time in two and half years, up 3 percent
during the second quarter and
9 percent from the same period
a year ago. Bigger screens and
more features may be the cause,
but could UPP programs be

Also driving sales this fall will
be the Windows 8 rollout, which
will effect everything from tablets
to accessories and notebooks; more tablets; the
inevitable Apple iPhone 5 (but probably not Apple
TV); and the continuing popularity of headphones.

But nobody is singing, “Happy Days Are Here
In his tour of many of Sony’s top retail partners, Mike Fasulo, executive VP
and head of its sales organization, said the challenges
are clear: “We must excite the customer
again about the possibilities of our industry’s products
and not simply compete for dollars at the
expense of value.”

In the past couple of weeks, two industry veterans
have re-entered the fray. Eli Harary has returned to
the home audio market to launch a new luxury brand
of audio and entertainment products called AudioXperts, and George Manlove, former
CEO of specialty chain Vann’s, has joined Velodyne
Acoustics as sales and marketing VP.

Hope is wonderful. And there are opportunities
out there. But plenty of work still needs to be done.