The year is turning out to be better than expected for some car stereo specialists who are hoping 2009 sales close flat or ahead of 2008.
While general electronics and appliance sales fell 10 percent in March and Best Buy's net earnings dropped 23 percent for the quarter ending Feb. 28, some independents were surprised to find their autosound sales were flat or even up for the first quarter.
Some reported gains in floor traffic now that Circuit City and Tweeter are gone. And while the positive results are by no means widespread and the gains are modest, they are still welcome during a recession in a challenging market.
During the first quarter, car stereo sales were up at Sixth Avenue Electronics, based in Springfield, N.J.; Columbus Car Audio, Columbus, Ohio; and Discount Auto Sound, Virginia Beach, Va., according to the companies.
Sales were flat at Freeman's Car Stereo, Charlotte, N.C., and Precision Audio, Bainbridge, Ga., the stores said. The results led Freeman's general manager J. R. Stocks to forecast growth for the full year. “With the way things look in April, if we have a good summer and things don't get as gray as last September and October, it's an opportunity to show some growth this year. I don't think anyone will be up 20 percent, not unless they were doing something really wrong and corrected it. But there's some potential to see high-single-digit growth.”
Crutchfield, Charlottesville, Va.; Al & Ed's Autosound, Van Nuys, Calif.; and other specialists said sales are down from last year.
Speaking in early April, Crutchfield said its business has plateaued at a level lower than last year. The retailer hopes a new technology akin to “the next satellite radio,” will help revive sales. It is looking at mobile DTV as a possible candidate, provided enough channels are offered at a reasonable price, said a spokesman.
Three-store Columbus Car Audio was up a few percentage points for the first quarter, and president Todd Hays can't tell you exactly why. “In the last six months or better, we spent a lot of money on our Web site — really, from a marketing [and] advertising point of view, that's been the only thing of significance that we've done.” The store also sends email notices on sale items.
Freeman's also updated its Web site and said online traffic is noticeably improved. The company has slightly thinned its assortment and is stocking at more depth, “so whenever there's an opportunity, you don't miss because of inventory,” Stocks said.
He believes Wi-Fi hot spots for the car could give the category a boost. “I've got three kids and when we go on road trips they fight over my wireless card,” he noted.
Discount Auto Sound sales manager Chris Edwards said, “I would say people, as a whole, are out spending more. We're seeing a little pickup, and we hope to be up for the year.” The company is also heavily promoting and arranged to tie into a local Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) where the weigh-in will occur at a Discount Auto Sound store.
Vicky Scrivner, co-owner of Santa Fe Auto Sound in Overland Park, Kan., is optimistic that sales will be flat for the year. She says floor traffic is up from March by 4 percent as a result of the Circuit City demise. MyerEmco AudioVideo, Gaithersburg, Va., also said its sales overall are up since the closing of Circuit City stores.
David Powell, owner of Precision Audio, said he was able to keep sales flat in car stereo although sales of accessories like wheels and tires are down. He invested in Avidworx displays at the end of last year and continues to promote heavily.
Sixth Avenue Electronics is actively capitalizing on Circuit City's demise, increasing its advertising 40 percent. “We're doing business, but it's costing us something,” said mobile electronics director Don Barros.
Barry Vogel, executive director of the Mobile Enhancement Retailers Association, confirmed in a recent newsletter that some retailers are reporting growth. He pointed to the necessity of promoting — even low-budget promoting — during a recession (see story, left).