NEW YORK — A torrent of new and emerging technologies, coinciding with an expanding economy, is providing dealers, integrators and installers with plenty of fresh ammunition to fire up business. According to top industry distributors contacted by TWICE, 4K/UHD TV in all its curved, OLED and enhanced LED brilliance will be a top CE draw this year, while premium audio, 3D printers, networking and control products, and all manner of connected devices will also bring home the bacon in 2015. Read what the execs had to say about these growth categories and more in the following virtual roundtable.
TWICE: What do you see as the most promising product categories this year?
Rob Aarnes, president, ADI North America: We are seeing growth in all areas of our business, especially in product categories such as video surveillance, access control, A/V and intrusion alarm systems that offer smartphone-based control. The explosion of smartphones and tablets and the advancement in apps have been driving growth. Remote access has become extremely important, and users like to be able to see and control their systems from their devices.
Jim Annes, VP/general manager, AVAD, Ingram Micro Pro AV / Digital Signage, Physical Security and Peripherals: While our overall business continues to grow, two categories continue to grow faster than the average for us. Home-automation solutions represented more than 20 percent of our total business last year, and we only see that growing as we expand our capabilities and line card, and the segment continues to evolve rapidly.
Commercial solutions – digital signage, audio, and video conferencing – are also high-growth areas for us, with more than 40 percent of business that our customers do focused on small-to-medium business solutions.
Warren Chaiken, president/CEO, Almo: With the rise in the importance of home styling and the foodie revolution, we continue to expand our small appliance and housewares offering. These categories are easy to sell, offer great margins and have a disciplined MAP policy. They are a natural fit with home appliances and home electronics alike and offer our dealers new avenues for additional sales.
Steve Presti, principal, Easy Access Distribution; board member, Catalyst AV: Without any question, the most promising categories for Catalyst AV distributors are networking and control. The dealer must have a network robust enough to handle all the new IoT-enabled and streaming-media technologies in the home, as well as other areas such as lighting and HVAC.
Jeff Davis, sales senior VP, D&H Distributing: We are looking at several new or growing areas that have potential, including unlocked smartphones, 3D printers and Chromebooks.
Carriers are offering better and cheaper data and voice plans that cater to the unlocked smartphone category, which gives consumers more incentive to give this business model a try.
We see 3D printers poised for strong growth over the next 10 years. D&H has been expanding its line of 3D printing solutions to include RoBo 3D printers, Matter and Form 3D scanners, and MakerBot printers, now representing a range of price brackets. These solutions have terrific applications in education, healthcare, manufacturing and CAD, allowing users to create dimensional models and reproduce parts in-house.
Regarding Chromebooks, opportunities in education continue to grow as more models are launched that encompass high-performance, advanced security and rich features, yet at an economical price point. Common Core mandates continue to call for increased use of technology in the classroom, so we are trying to support our dealers in taking advantage of that opportunity on both the consumer and the commercial side.
D&H carries a wide assortment in all three of these categories and foresees them playing a role in our growth strategies over the next three to five years.
John Griffin, merchandising VP, DSI Systems: This year there will be nothing bigger in consumer electronics than 4K and OLED. What was emerging tech last year is now fully mainstream.
LG’s leadership position on OLED is a bold move and we expect their brand to grow significantly in 2015. Sharp’s UHD expansion this summer is something retailers and customers alike have been chomping at the bit for. As both of these technologies begin to settle into more mainstream price points, it’ll be hard for customers to ignore the dramatically improved picture quality.
Networked and streaming audio devices will also be a major player. Today’s music lovers want more than just quality audio. They want versatility.
Someone once told me it’s better to eat broccoli with a friend than a Twinkie alone. That’s today’s audiophile, in my opinion. You can have the best audio in the world but if you can’t put it on display to share with those around you then it’s moot.
It’s all about what you can do with your music. And the best part – the simplicity. Easy-play through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC or other connections make it an easy demo on the floor that will engage with customer’s mobile devices that they’re already carrying while shopping in your store.
Wearables and home-control products are another trend we see being important for retailers. They’re both hot commodities right now and add a bit of wow-factor to any showroom floor. We think the future is bright here.
Fred Towns, president, New Age Electronics: In the year ahead consumers will continue to look for hot new products that improve their overall health, including fitness trackers and health monitoring devices. Smartwatches will gain speed as more of the bigger manufacturers enter the market [and] wearables that connect to the smartphone and sync with an app will see the most success in this category.
High-end audio, including headphones, Bluetooth speakers and accessories, will accelerate, with listeners putting more of an emphasis on quality materials and the listening experience.
For home automation, the most promising products are those that are easy for the average consumer to install and use. Products that monitor home security are seeing some of the most success.
The PC gaming market is expected to grow significantly over the next few years, as the bigger manufacturers continue to enter this space. Audio headphones with enhanced quality for PC gaming are also becoming a necessity for avid gamers.
Tate Morgan, president, Petra Industries: Accessories for mobile devices continue to drive a lot of business. Apple and Samsung have established a pattern of introducing new versions of their popular smartphones, occasionally changing form factors and connectors that feed consumer demand for accessories that personalize, protect and extend functionality.
Samsung is set to launch their Galaxy S6 on April 10, and we have already started shipping cases for this new device from a variety of brands.
Bluetooth accessories like headphones, headsets and speakers are also popular and profitable accessories that dealers can add to a sale.
Dennis Holzer, executive director, Power- House Alliance: 2015 is already shaping up as a year with many promising categories. To begin, video/4K products continue to sell very well, especially the larger size models, 60-inch and above. As costs continue to fall, OLED is gaining traction in the space, and we anticipate that sales will increase significantly.
Audio, with the introduction of Dolby Atmos, is gaining momentum as consumers learn more about the technology.
IT/networking products will also continue to do well as we see demand increasing every day. As an increased number of wireless products are introduced to market, the need for home and office networks to be properly set up so Wi-Fi products can function correctly is very important. As a result, consumers are demanding higher-quality routers, and more access points and controllers.
There are plenty of other categories gaining significant momentum; these are just a few to watch.
Kevin Kelly, president/COO, Stampede: A rapid increase in drone usage will offer dealers an unparalleled opportunity in the security, live-event and law-enforcement markets. It has been estimated that the size of the commercial drone market will grow to be 12 percent of the $98 billion in cumulative global spending on aerial drones over the next decade. We believe that the growth will be even faster now that regulatory agencies are moving more quickly to finalize their rules concerning licensing and training. It’s a huge product category for Stampede right now, and it’s only going to become a bigger product category in the future.
Also, 3D printers are growing in popularity for consumer use. The development and widespread market availability of a full-featured, affordably priced 3D printer for the home market is exactly what consumers have been waiting for. By removing the price barrier, manufacturers like Robox are moving strategically to make the benefits of 3D printing immediately available to a large and growing consumer and commercial market.
Finally, Neurona and HomePlug powerline communications are at the forefront of connected-home technology. The use of power-line technology provides reliable Internet coverage over considerable distances, resulting in the ideal combination of ease and efficiency. Plus, consumers can install this technology themselves, which was once only available through an Internet service provider professional. This market is definitely positioned for meaningful growth in the future.
Curt Hayes, president/chief financial officer, Capitol: This year, like 2014, will be about all things IP-related. A/V, security and even wearables all live on the network. Consumers expect to have access to entertainment and services on their phones and tablets, and the industry is responding with the best selection and consistent reliability that we have seen to date. We continue to see strong growth in these lifestyle categories.