McIntosh Revamps Product, Marketing Strategies

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— Products are only part of the story that McIntosh is telling at the CEDIA Expo.

The high-end audio-component company is outlining the next steps in a campaign to expand its customer base beyond audiophiles to include affluent consumers who are serious about music.

The brand is also outlining plans to work with select dealers to build dedicated McIntosh areas within their stores. The store-in-store concept is part of an effort to focus improved support on a smaller base of independent specialists, whose ranks were reduced earlier this year to 220 from 310 in the U.S. and Canada.

McIntosh whittled down its dealer base to weed out dealers that did not meet volume requirements or other standards, executives told TWICE. Some also transshipped to unauthorized online dealers. In some cases, the former dealers will be replaced to fill geographic holes, president Charlie Randall noted.

As for products, McIntosh plans to show five new twochannel components, including its first three with a USB port to play back music from a USB-connected PC or from a USB drive. The three components comprise two twochannel preamps and a two-channel SACD player.

To increase support for dealers selling these and other McIntosh products, McIntosh is developing a McIntoshbranded display wall with LCD TV that displays a McIntosh video on a continuous loop. The TV will be flanked by McIntosh literature that consumers can take home. Dealers that support the entire McIntosh line, or about 120, will get first access to the display, Randall said. In the past, McIntosh didn’t offer much in the way of in-store POP, he noted.

Also to boost dealer support, the brand this year will select two dealers, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, to test McIntosh-branded store-in-store areas, which would be staffed by dealer salespeople trained by McIntosh. The areas, anywhere from 300 to 500 square feet, would feature a home-theater vignette, a stereo-listening vignette and a work station area with literature. There, a salesperson and customer could discuss products or develop a custom-install plan, Randall said.

McIntosh hopes to get the two test stores operational early next year and, in about two years from now, open 30 McIntosh store-in-store areas, one to a major metro area. Another 10 would operate in other countries.

McIntosh dealers who build the stores will get steppedup support, including support for the store’s grand opening, support for product-launch events and a prime position on the McIntosh website.

In a separate sales-building strategy, the brand is stepping up efforts to expand consumer awareness beyond the audiophile community to include affluent consumers. The effort began last year largely with public- relations efforts, but now the effort will expand to advertising, event marketing, and distribution, said Linda Passaro, recently appointed as sales and marketing VP after years of marketing luxury brands.

She called McIntosh a “very prestigious brand not perhaps so well-known outside of audiophiles.” To reach beyond the audiophile base without ignoring them, McIntosh will begin in January to advertise in upscale magazines such as Guitar Aficionado and the DuPont Registry, Passaro said. McIntosh will also work with the luxury magazines to drive their readers to McIntosh dealer events and McIntosh products to events sponsored by the magazines, she said.

The advertising will coincide with the launch of a redesigned website whose look and feel will increase their appeal luxury consumers, though it will continue to offer audiophiles the detailed specs they want, she said.

The brand will also pursue partnerships with luxury hotels to place McIntosh products in their suites.

In a major shift, the company will pursue distribution through luxury retailers outside typical CE distribution channels, but only cash-and-carry products will be sold through stores where affluent customers shop, Randall said. For now, such products are limited to a $7,500 tabletop executive-style stereo system, but the brand said additional products are in the works.

In another effort to expand its demographic, McIntosh plans a musicmanagement app for the iPhone/iPod Touch and for the iPad. The app will feature McIntosh design elements, such as the company’s signature blue Vu meter, to “expose more people to the blue meter,” Randall said.

At the CEDIA Expo, McIntosh will expose dealers to five new two-channel products: two preamps, two stereo power amps and a two-channel SACD/ CD player.

The three products with a USB port are the C50 and C48 preamps and the MCD100 SACD player. The C50, shipping in September, features eightband equalizer, two-line vacuum-fluorescent display, Vu meters, processor loop, moving-coil and moving-magnet phono inputs, four assignable S/PDIF digital inputs, two assignable balanced inputs, IR data port, and a USB input that plays PCM digital audio from a USB stick or PC.

The lower-priced C48 offers the C50’s features except for processor loop and Vu meters, and its EQ is fiveband.

The SACD player ships in October with single-disc transport to play CD, SACDs, hybrid CD/SACD discs, and MP3- and WMA-encoded discs. Features include quad DACs per channel, XLR/BNC inputs and outputs, coaxial and optical digital outputs and inputs, fixed and variable balanced and unbalanced outputs, and a 6-volt RMS output to directly drive a power amp.

The two power amps also ship in October. The MC453 delivers 2x450 watts into 8-, 4- and 2-ohm loads. The MC302 delivers 2x300 watts into those loads. Both replace existing models and add Thermal Trak capability, which monitors temperature across the entire heat sink, not just at one area, to prevent the operating temperature from drifting.


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