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Akai Rolls Out Tuner-Based DTVs And ‘Glass Model’ Plasma Line

Using improved retail margins as an incentive, Akai is recruiting dealers with ED and HD plasma displays in both monitor-only and fully integrated ATSC configurations as its solution to the Federal Communications Commission’s ATSC tuner mandate, Akai Products Holding USA’s president Gary Lafferty said.

The company recently brought a traveling line show here to reach Northeast-based dealers and buying group executives. It was one of three regional showcases held around the country this spring.

Beginning in June, Lafferty said, Akai is planning to aggressively market an expanded line of plasma models, including options for monitor-only and integrated ATSC sets in the 42W-inch and 50W-inch screen sizes. The strategy, which will encompass both EDTV and HDTV versions in the 42W-screen size and HD in 50W-inches, is designed to give dealers incremental opportunities to increase their margin.

“We are making models available in monitor-only and ATSC tuner versions, which the dealer can retail at the same price. We will offer the monitor at a little lower cost to the dealer. What we are saying is, ‘If you have a sales floor where you can communicate to the consumer the benefit of hooking up a cable or satellite box to the TV, you can sell the monitor version for a little more margin,’” Lafferty said.

“If you don’t have a floor where you can communicate very well, then we suggest you take a little hit in the margin and sell the ATSC tuner version, and avoid a possible return situation,” he continued.

The EDTV models include the PDP4206EM monitor ($1,999.99 suggested retail) and the PDP4206EA ATSC set ($1,999.99). The HDTV versions include the 42W-inch PDP4216M ($2,299) and the PDP4216A ($2,299) ATSC set, and the 50W-inch PDP5016M monitor ($3,299.99) and the PDP5016A ATSC set ($3,299.99).

In addition, the Akai plasma line this year will offer step-up plasma monitor models with floating-glass cosmetics that can be positioned between Akai’s entry pieces and the opening price points of the premium brands.

The so-called “glass models” all have HDTV resolution and include the 42W-inch PDP4226GM ($3,499.99) and the 50W-inch PDP5026GM ($4,999.99). Also being offered is a step-up 42W-inch HD plasma monitor with piano black finish called the PDP4225PM ($3,299.99).

“The glass models will give the dealer the ability to sell into a monitor product using fashion technology that gives him the ability to make more margin and still be below premium price points,” Lafferty said.

In other categories, Lafferty said the company has enjoyed strong sales in CRT-based HDTV rear-projection sets, which include ATSC tuning. Screen sizes include 42W-inches ($999.99) and 52W-inches ($1,199.99). An existing 47W-inch model will be phased out.

Akai is also offering a 46W-inch DLP rear-projection HDTV set offering 1,280 by 720p resolution and ATSC tuning at a $1,699.99 “go price.” The display offers a rounded silver cabinet design for tabletop placement.

The company is also selling a seven-model LCD TV lineup in 20-inch ($449.99 suggested retail), 26W-inch ($849.99), 27W-inch ($879.99), 30W-inch ($1,099.99), 32W-inch ($1,199.99), 37W-inch ($2,999.99) and 42W-inch ($4,999.99) screen sizes. Akai also offers two LCD TV/DVD combo units in 20-inch 4:3 ($529.99) and 23W-inch 16:9 screen sizes ($999.99).

Lafferty said Akai’s outreach efforts through its dealer road shows and other efforts have been paying off.

“We had two customers a year and a half ago, and it looks like we’ll have 50 when we wrap up here, and that’s counting the Nationwide and NECO Alliance [buying] groups as one,” Lafferty said, standing in the Akai showroom at a New Jersey hotel. “We are gaining visibility and revenue now. The brand still resonates pretty well with consumers.”

Recently appointed Akai USA chairman Harry Elias said the key has been to offer dealers the ability to make a profit.

“Every dealer I’ve spoken with this year is looking for good product, availability and enough of a margin where they can take the product and sell it without it being kicked around and footballed around,” Elias said. “We don’t want to be a traffic builder, like so many of these new companies. We are going to be a value product line.”

Lafferty said Akai’s strategy is to use the brand on “high-quality products competing at the opening- or just-above price points.”

“We are able to come into a store and compete in the opening price points against products of questionable quality under names that are unidentifiable,” Lafferty said.

By putting the money in up front, Akai is able to save on the expense of heavy returns, bad press and shattered dealer and consumer confidence, Lafferty said.

“We can give the retailer something he has confidence in at the low end, make it easy to sell and not create additional problems for him,” Lafferty said. “On top of that, he is making a little more margin on our products than some other products that would occupy that space.”