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Rising To The Challenge?

TWICE: Has the audio industry taken the first steps toward turning the business around?

Franklin Karp, Harvey: It has begun, and not a minute too soon. We have a great opportunity right now. Ten years ago, everyone used the PC as an excuse for falling audio sales. Everybody wanted to buy a PC. Now, we’re back in the high-profile position because of video. Video is bringing them back into the store. Video got them interested in us again. Not even DVD players did what flat panels are doing for my business.

Unfortunately, the audio business is now described as an attachment sale. It’s tough to accept, but it’s true. But the guys who embrace change and come out with innovative products or design are going to flourish. I think some guys are going to fall by the wayside, but the opportunity now is almost as great — maybe even greater — than ever before. That’s because we have people in the stores, people who are interested in the category, and people who have an open perspective now. It’s not just stereo and it’s not two ugly boxes. So if we come out with the right products, it’s a good opportunity for the big-box movers down to the specialist. Those companies that rise to the challenge and invest are going to definitely be around.

T. Paul Jacobs, Klipsch: If you read the book, “Who Moved My Cheese?”, the cheese moved a few years ago, and a lot of us sat back at the station waiting for a boxcar full of cheese to come back. There will continue to be a shakeout of manufacturers and retailers, and the ones who see the opportunity and change to embrace it passionately — and design is a huge part of it — will remain.

It’s also important to work better in partnership with organizations such as CEA, and for retailers and manufacturers to work more cooperatively, all to get a single message out.

We’re pretty bullish on the future because we like change, which brings excitement. And I think there’s a really exciting opportunity to show some cool new products.

For the specialist, it’s a positive because with a lot of these products and technologies, having people who can make it simpler and easier to use is an asset.

Gary Bauhard, Pioneer: We are definitely in the midst of change, and video is the primary driver of our business today. Long term, one of the keys for us is to find a way to more clearly address the disconnect from Gen-X and Gen-Y consumers and find a more unified way to move them into the home side of the business. We do need a unified message. I think we can clearly gain from a single voice in capturing consumers’ interest.

Eli Harary, Infinity: People want to hear their favorite music. People want to listen to their favorite movies. The good thing about the speaker business is that at the end of the day, they have to play it through speakers. If we’re innovative, if we address what customers really want, if we allow them to bring magic to that experience in a way that’s easy for them to buy, easy for them to own, easy to operate, then I think we’ve got a pretty good business ahead of us.

Don Milks, Onkyo: We’re different from the white-goods business. People buy washers and dryers and stoves because they have to. They buy us for excitement. We need to regenerate that excitement, entice people to stop buying $3,000 washers and dryers and invest some of that money into audio, which gives them a sense of enjoyment.

Kerry Moyer, CEA: Looking at the industry and the industry numbers, historically there have been peaks and dips. If there’s one thing that we’ve seen over the past 34 years, the audio industry is indeed resilient, and the manufacturers, retailers and now even installers that show creativity will be rewarded. There’s a revolutionary new product or application just waiting out there.

Finally, what we’re hearing here is that somebody wants a unified voice for the industry. CEA will continue to do its part, along with its members, in promoting the audio category.