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Casio Re-Enters U.S. Audio Market; Portables Ship 1st

Casio is re-entering the U.S. audio market after a lapse of several years with a portable audio lineup that will be supplemented next year with home microsystems. But this time, the products will be marketed by Casio Communications, which sells residential and small-business phones, not Casio Inc., which markets calculators, keyboards, PDAs and portable LCD TVs.

Casio markets audio in other parts of the world and decided to return to the U.S. audio market to leverage its existing dealer base, said Tony Mirando, audio division sales director at Torrance, Calif.-based Casio Communications, formerly Casio PhoneMate.

Parent Casio Computers chose to market through Casio Communications in part because its current dealer base includes more of the dealers Casio wants to target for audio sales, the company said. Another reason was Mirando’s background in the consumer A/V market, the company said. Mirando, who has been Casio’s sales director for phones, has held sales and marketing positions with Craig and JVC.

Casio’s audio products will be targeted primarily to regional retailers and independents and promoted as a “profitable, above-promotional line” to help those retailers compete with national chains, Mirando said.

Some portable products are already available, but the company plans a January CES display of a 2000 line due in stages between April and July. The line will include three headphone CD players, three CD boomboxes, five headphone cassettes, two AM/FM/ cassette recorders, one or two headphone MiniDisc players, one MD boombox and two microsystems.

Also planned for January is a Megaplay-series headphone CD and CD-boombox equipped with MP3 decoders to play back MP3-encoded CDs. The division also will introduce a flash-memory headphone portable that will store MP3 files and possibly other-format files, said Mirando. DVD is also planned, but no timetable has been set.

One of the company’s first audio products is a portable MD player that will retail on promotion for $129, he said. But MD is an exception to Casio’s regional/independent focus, and the player will be available to Circuit City, as well as to regionals and independents, because the chain is one of the few retailers aggressively promoting the format, according to Mirando.