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Dealers, Distributors Share Their CES Strategies

The agendas of dealers and distributors attending International CES this month were as diverse as the businesses they represent.

For most, closed-door meetings with vendors, suppliers and customers took up the bulk of the week, as partnerships, strategies and performances were reviewed; new products were previewed; and best laid plans were laid in for the New Year.

Indeed, with every conceivable category of consumer electronics converging at the show, CES represents the best opportunity to touch base with a broad range of business affiliates, attendees said.

But CES is also the time to expand one’s supplier base and forge new relationships. That was certainly the case for SED International. The Atlanta-based IT and mobile distributor is working to boost its electronics assortment under the auspices of newly hired CE director Rob Darrow. “Rob will be actively looking to talk to potential new vendor partners as we expand our CE space,” said marketing VP Rob Kalman on the eve of the show. “We’ll also be meeting with current vendors and customers” in SED’s suite during the show.

The biggest CES coup, of course, is to sniff out the next breakout product that is just waiting to be discovered down the next exhibit hall aisle.

“The big hope is to find the one cool thing no one knows about,” said Mike Abt, president of the eponymous Abt Electronics and Appliances in Glenview, Ill. “Then you can bring it back and show everyone what you’ve found, and exploit it for a year.”

But the likelihood of Abt himself finding “the next big thing” becomes more remote with each passing show as his behind-the-scenes responsibilities grow. “As we get bigger, my time is spent mostly in meetings, and I have less time to look around,” he said. “These days I get to spend mere hours on the show floor.”

The view is somewhat different for buyers, whose prime directive is product. “Every year we find new ideas and new ways to create the experience our customers are looking for,” said Andrew Foster, custom products buyer for Tweeter Home Entertainment. This year was no different.

“I hope to find new solutions that make entertainment easier for our customers,” Foster said before the show. “That’s what it’s all about.” To that end, Foster was on the lookout for IP-based systems and wireless content and control systems.

“Overall, I think we’ll be seeing new products making integration and ease of use the most important factors,” he said. He added that he expected to leave Las Vegas with “the CES flu and a list of new people to talk to.”

His colleague, Tweeter audio buyer Gary Lahmers, had a similar agenda. His game plan: “To visit current vendors and to be on the lookout for ways to enhance our audio business,” he said.

Of particular interest to Lahmers is the “drive by vendors to create the home network,” which he described as the future of the business. He also anticipated seeing:

  • “more iPod-friendly audio receiver offerings, like the successful Pioneer Elite receivers;”
  • second-room A/V delivered through the home electrical system;
  • “trendy” satellite speaker systems at price points above $1,500;
  • integrated one-piece home theater audio systems like the Yamaha YSP1 and the 321 systems from Bose; and
  • a host of new XM surround-sound offerings.

“You always walk away with at least one new concept,” Lahmers said, “a concept that allows you to think differently about how you go to market and drive your business.”