Harman Readies Custom Initiative

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Middletown, Conn. -- The group formed last year by Harman International to make its consumer brands more responsive to the custom market plans a fall launch of an extranet promoted as an engineering and design resource for installers and a one-stop shop for ordering products from multiple Harman brands.

The group, called Custom Central, has focused almost exclusively since its formation on developing the extranet, said Jeff Kussard, a former installer and Harman's director of custom business development. But the group has also been actively involved in advising Harman brands on designing more custom-friendly products, the first of which will hit the market by the end of the year.

Custom Central's mission also included advising brands on the development of custom-friendly programs.

The extranet, which will be demonstrated at the upcoming CEDIA convention, "will be a transactional site that collects orders, provides system-design support and product information, and sets into motion the process of becoming authorized for any Harman brand," Kussard said.

As part of the program, authorized Harman dealers will be provided free of charge with proposal- and design-generation software developed by Monolith Media, which already markets the program to custom installers at prices starting at about $5,000.

Installers using the program will be able to upload their designs to Harman's server "so we can help in the continuing design or collaborate with other dealers" on a finished design," said Kussard. If an installation company's management authorizes it, the design will be converted by Harman into brand-specific purchase orders, "and we'll track the progress of delivery of all brands to the dealer."

The initiative's product and design support will include FAQs, databases, "and e-mail interaction with product engineers," he said. In addition, dealers "will be supported by live advocates to assist users and help them through any process they initiate, and that person will stay in the loop throughout the process."

Although the extranet consolidates ordering and support for multiple brands, the site nonetheless "respects the individual brands' authorized dealer bases," Kussard said. Likewise, "responsibility for other manufacturer policies lies at the brand level," but "down the road, the intent is to converge manufacturer programs [for custom installers, excluding distribution]."

Also down the road, "perhaps we'll see Custom Central become more of an e-marketplace where dealers might purchase non-Harman products [that complement Harman products]," he added. "There's a range of custom products and services that none of the Harman companies currently address."

The company is in "very early preliminary discussions with third-party providers" and is "hopeful we can announce some at CEDIA," noted Kussard.

Brands participating in the initiative are Audioaccess, Harman Kardon, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon, Madrigal Imaging, Mark Levinson, Proceed and Revel.

To participate, a dealer need only be authorized to sell one of these brands. But Kussard said he hopes the program will create an incentive for dealers to sell multiple Harman brands.

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