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Suppliers Optimistic At PRO Meeting

 Scottsdale, Ariz.. – The positive vibe at the Progressive Retailers Organization (PRO Group) spring meeting this month can best be described by Gary Yacoubian, now with Monster Cable but a longtime PRO member: “This is the most upbeat [PRO] meeting in three years.”

Yacoubian, strategic development VP of Monster Cable since last
summer after a fabled career with the now-departed MyerEmco, was not alone in
his positive assessment.

Measured optimism was the common thread of TWICE’s discussions
with manufacturers and retailers (see p. 116) here about the current state of
the industry.

While suppliers talked up aspects of their new lines, the emphasis
was on 3D bringing more consumers to retail, pent-up demand for A/V in general,
a revival – so far this year – in audio, stabilization in TV prices (so far),
and certain shortages in TVs and other categories.

Scott Ramirez, who was recently named marketing VP for all of
Toshiba America’s consumer products, commented, “I think the market is
stabilizing. A year ago there was a lot of doubt about [the industry’s] long-term future, but retailers and manufacturers have gained confidence since
we are heading towards future growth.”

He noted that at the beginning of the year, “January was scary,
but February and March came back.”

Ramirez added that in TVs, “LCD is doing very well, 3D LED is
doing very well and what’s in the middle is 2D LED.”

Pricing in TVs is “stable … and that has to do with shortages. At
this point it would be irresponsible to offer [substantial] price cuts”
considering the current supply situation.

Jim Sanduski, sales senior VP at Panasonic Consumer Electronics,
said his company views the market as “quite good … in home entertainment,
especially in the second half when consumers see the value of new technologies
being introduced.”

Panasonic has been on a promotional roll in the past couple of
months, with its introduction of 3D TV and its 15-city “mini-CES” retail tour,
as Sanduski put it, that outlined 3D, Lumix-branded cameras, its Viera Cast
IPTVs and Skype for HD teleconferencing.

During its retail tour Panasonic showed pre-production units of
upcoming products, invited the local media and consumers to take a look, and
provided area retailers with hands-on training. The result was “consumers were
surprised with the breadth of Panasonic’s product line … and impressed with
3D,” Sanduski said.

He commented that while 3D TV was unveiled at select Best Buy
stores first, “We also look to specialty retailers to come up with the in-store
presentations to showcase our 3D TVs” and other new technologies.

In 3D TV, Sanduski noted that Panasonic will sell “every 3D TV we
can bring [to the U.S.]” and that Panasonic will “focus more on 1080p” in its
overall HDTV lineup. He added that 32-inch LCD TV supplies are currently short
and 720p plasmas may be in short supply for some time.

Max Wasinger, sales and marketing senior VP for Mitsubishi, observed
that this is “a challenging time for specialty retailers and manufacturers” to
“create footprints to those stores and get [consumers] the right product, for
the right price and provide them with the experience they want.”

Of course, Wasinger thinks 3D TV will do part of that job this
year. He described the technology as “3D stereo for your eyes. We think this is
a wonderful feature” for events on TV and that “the availability of great
content will drive demand.”

And in a nod to PRO-type dealers, he noted, “Nobody can do a
better job of displaying [3D TV] and showing the ‘sizzle’ better than A/V
specialty retailers. 3D is a chance for these guys. I’ll put it this way – we
aren’t healthy if [specialty retailers] can’t display and sell 3D profitably.”

The promotion that Mitsubishi did with Linder’s in Southern
California in March, matching one of its 82-inch DLPs with a PS3 and 3D glasses,
“was a tremendous success for us and the industry.” Wasinger said the company
is finalizing similar plans with other retailers.

Understandably, he is bullish on big-screen 3D, declaring, “3D
DLP in a 75- or 82-inch model is an immersive entertainment experience … you
can’t get with smaller screens.”

Getting to the audio side of the A/V experience, Mark Boggs,
North American sales VP with Soundcast, is optimistic about audio. Its wireless
surround technology made the first quarter “the best quarter in our history.”

He said it could be “a revival in home audio” since the company’s
technology can provide a home-theater experience “in less than 20 minutes.”
When asked why the “revival” has come now, Boggs philosophized and said this
type of technology is “a getaway for consumers.”

Craig Geiger, executive VP/COO of JVC Company of America,
commented on market conditions that April “was a good month and good in mobile
electronics” and that he thinks the industry will “sustain its sales momentum
with a solid second half … due to pent-up demand.”

Like many others, Geiger described market conditions as “choppy”
but positive and, like Soundcast’s Boggs, JVC has seen growth in home audio.

“We have seen a bounce-back, in our case with sound bars. They
offer a great solution for the home,” providing top-quality “sound imaging.” On
the portable side headphones “have been phenomenal for us … as well as anything
that revolves around iPod and MP3.”

In viewing the industry as a whole, Geiger said, “Vendors are
following the supply side closely and managing inventories a lot better than a
couple of years ago … when everyone got caught by surprise.”