Car A/V is battling feast or famine inventory levels as suppliers and retailers try to outguess a fickle economy.
Retailers reported shortages on key brands — such as Alpine, Pioneer and Kenwood — in April, and continuing through May, as the industry selling season went into full swing with better-than-expected sales.
Suppliers, chastised by the November/December pullback in consumer spending, have reduced production and have had difficulty ramping up to meet the spring demand, which while improved, is still well below last year's levels.
A Pioneer spokesperson acknowledged, “There certainly are products that we wish we had more of. The reason for this is that we've seen an unexpected upturn in demand over the past 60 days, which defied everyone's expectations due to the very difficult economic climate we prepared for. The spokesperson added, “Believe me, we are working very hard to address the increased demand.”
Alpine also said it is backordered, particularly on a CDA-105 CD player at $199. It is now air-shipping product to improve supplies, but it expects some shortages through July. The company “will be caught up by July, but … the big question remains, will this level of demand continue?” Marketing VP Steve Witt wondered if sales will trail off again in the fall, after the selling season comes to a close. “Right now we're looking at what do we order for the August, September time frame,” he said.
John Coleman owner of six-store chain Stereo King, Portland, Ore., noted, “A lot of us carried a good deal of inventory over from a sluggish November/December and didn't buy much in January or February and the manufacturers thought the sky was falling. We finally made it through our inventory” and began ordering, he said.
Dealers are also keeping inventories leaner, hoping to create a just-in-time delivery system, but when they go to reorder, the cupboard may be bare.
“We need to be able to have adequate access to product. All dealers are running their inventory leaner so if manufacturers don't have the product, it's going to be a problem,” said Mark Miller owner of Westminster Speed and sound, Westminster, Md. “I've got vendors telling me you have to stock this really heavy. I'm saying that's nuts. Our sales are good this year … But it's the most erratic it's ever been as to what and when it sells. You might sell six pieces in two days and then one in the next several weeks.”
As a one-store operation, Miller has begun relying on distributors for backup supplies.
JL Audio said it experienced delays in shipping product introduced at International CES and originally slated for delivery now.
Witt noted that even with the upturn in April and May, sales are not matching last year's levels, although they are better than anticipated.
The NPD Group estimated total mobile audio dollar sales in April were down 25 percent compared with the same month a year ago. Single-CD player sales to consumers fell by 18 percent, fixed mobile navigation was down 6 percent, speakers were down 26 percent and car amplifiers were down 33 percent compared with the year-ago period.