The Best of 2008
November 6, 2008
Gary Chorman didnt skip a beat when asked to name the best new product of the year.
That would be Electroluxs laundry line. Its the hottest thing in the industry, said Chorman, the owner of Millmans Appliances in Rehoboth Beach, Del. I know appliances pretty well and this is state-of-the-art. Its well above anything else in the market right now.
Chorman wasnt the only dealer to come up with a few wow products for Dealerscopes annual industry survey of the best new companies, products and technologies to emerge in the last year. Industry leaders, though, had a tougher time naming a new company or brand-new product or technology to hit the CE scene in past 12 months. They said the economic downturn has stymied start-ups and the development of cutting-edge offerings.
tough question to answer because I dont think there was anything
breathtaking, said George Manlove, president and CEO of Vanns,
a retailer in Missoula, Mont. But we have seen more products and
technologies mature into the mainstream.
The excitement is not so much on the early adopter side but how firmly entrenched the products are in peoples everyday lives, said Marc Cook, general manager of Abt Electronics in Glenview, Ill. Were still doing tons with GPSs, flat-panel TV sales are still astonishing and Blu-ray players are gaining more traction. Then there are other things like the Vudu player, the Sony Reader, the iPod touch. They are all becoming prevalent in digital lifestyles.
Those products and initiatives not only created buzz this year; they will continue to drive customer traffic and sales into the holiday season and through the coming year, industry leaders said. Most consumers, they added, will skip big-ticket sales this holiday season but will still buy plenty of lower-cost CE products, especially as prices of GPSs, Blu-ray players and flat-panel TVs are cut to attract shoppers. The holiday season is part of our culture; people will still buy gifts for other people, said Warren Chaiken, president and COO of distributor Almo, Philadelphia. Will sales be the same as last year? Probably not. But were in the best stocking position weve ever been in and were ready to service dealers in the fourth quarter.
Although appliance sales have decreased along with the housing market, Gary Chorman believes Electroluxs new line of premium laundry and kitchen goods, especially the Turquoise Sky washer and dryer, will give consumers a reason to buy. The laundry linewhich also comes in Mediterranean Blue, Silver Sands and Island Whitehas one of the largest clothes capacities and fastest wash-to-dry times (about 36 minutes to wash and dry a load) in the industry, Chorman said, adding that innovative features such as the IQ-Touch and Wave-Touch controls are great product differentiators. He also gushed about the different features of the new ovens, such as the Perfect Turkey Button, the Luxury Glide Racks and the Induction Hybrid cooktops.
The whole line
is exciting, Chorman said. The line shows Electrolux really
understands the customer experience.
What Im seeing from Electrolux is something that was not slapped together haphazardly in some backroom, Chorman said. Its been very carefully thought out.
While appliance manufactures are working to improve lifestyles within the home, automotive electronics manufacturers continue to improve upon products that extend home lifestyles to the car.
Rob Elliott, executive director of In Car Experts buying group, pointed to new generations of Pioneers AVIC-F series and Kenwoods DNX8120 series of in-dash navigation and entertainment systems as solid examples of products that combine convergence, practicality and necessity and give consumers reason to visit specialty dealers. They also provide dealers with greater high-margin installation opportunities, he added.
I think weve been in a fortunate position that a lot of our partners have had some hot products and advanced technologies that have set new standards, Elliott said, citing AVICs voice recognition capabilities and built-in MSN Direct data subscription services, and the DNX8120s 6.95-inch color touch-screen display and relay outputs for controlling garage doors and lighting as strong new feature sets.
Both companies have brought out technologies consumers are looking for. And both pieces have done a good job with receiving HD radio, which is becoming more and more important to our members.
Other mobile electronics standouts include Peripheral Electronics updated lines of OEM integration products; Auto Pages C3 cell phone-based security, remote start and GPS tracking solution; and Rockford Fosgates Marine Subwoofers,
In 2008 Ive noticed that consumers in general are really winning. Theres a lot of real quality product out there that is less expensive, Elliott said. Its tough for vendors to stay ahead of the curve, but a lot of them have. Theyve given our members something to talk to the customer about.
It goes without saying that retailers welcome most anything new related to iPods and iPhones. Industry insiders report strong sales on a variety of docking solutions, but many wish for higher margins on what has quickly become a commoditized product line. Thats why Dave Glassman, vice president of merchandising at MyerEmco AudioVideo was eagerly awaiting visits from Wadia Digital and Krell reps for a more intimate look at two new high-end docking stations showcased at CEDIA Expo.
Those look cool because consumers need a better way to listen to their iPods, he said. Weve been shorting ourselves by using cheaper docks. These products give us a way to sell $1,000-to-$1,500 docks.
The Wadia Digital 170iTransport digital player dock (about $349) and Krells KID iPod dock (about $1,500) and matching Papa dock stereo amplifier (about $2,500) are designed to deliver maximum A/V quality from iPods. While at Expo, Glassman was also taken with Projectiondesigns avielo line of home theater projectors. They were just blow-you-away bright, he said. I thought it was a novel design. Its built like a tank; very robust.
Glassman and just about every other dealer with an eye for quality A/V raved about the newest Pioneer Kuro family of flat panels. The name has been around for a while, but dealers treat each release as one of the best new products of the year. Abts Marc Cook is one of them.
The new panels are just breathtaking; theyre staggering. It was one of the few products from CES that delivered on its promise, Cook said, adding that another product on his best of list is Sonys VAIO VGC-LT23E, an all-in-one PC/TV that can be wall-mounted to fit a number of applications. Its true convergence because it serves as a fully functioning PC and quality TV, so youre not trading off in quality on either side.
Convergence will continue to be a popular theme going into the holiday season, especially as consumers look for external devices to securely store increasingly rich photo files and larger music collections, said Fred Towns, senior vice president of sales at New Age Electronics. That, coupled with the growing use of software for recording live music, and editing and storing digital files, has also fueled strong sales of sub-compact computers, such as the Asus Eee, he said. HPs TouchSmart PC, with its touch-screen technology and large monitor, has also sold well. In turn, those systems have generated greater sales of PC speakers, wireless keyboards and other peripherals, Towns said.
In other signs that convergence continues in the home, Tim Coakley, senior vice president of merchandising at DBL, said Denons S-302, a home theater system that can wirelessly stream content from computers, and the DHT-7 series of A/V receivers with 5.1 speaker packages, have sold well since being recently added to the distributors line card.
A lot of people have been crying the blues about audio, but that business has been up for us over the last few months, Coakley said, adding that Klipschs new line of headphones has also been a hit.
When the DBL team met to redesign its fall catalog, the executives increased the number of gaming accessories, a category that has exploded for many distributors and retailers. Anything related to Nintendos Wii will continue to sell quickly, they report. Nerfs new line of controllers and sports products for the platform are doing particularly well, Coakley said. Tate Morgan, executive vice president of Petra Industries, also saw big sales of anything related to Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Were moving a ton of that stuff, he said.
On the higher end of the product spectrum, retailers that are developing more sophisticated home installation divisions continue to give high marks for Control 4s new products and initiatives, such as Wi-Fi capabilities, handheld controllers, and partnerships with third-party content providers. The company also continues to partner with new retailers through buying groups, such as the PRO Group and HTSA.
Control4 has brought us technology and applications that consumers have been begging for: solutions that are easy to use, relatively cost-effective and relatively easy for us to install, Vanns Manlove said. It has opened up a whole new segment of the market we couldnt reach.
Dealers hope the New Year will bring a lot more of that.
© 2008 Dealerscope, North American Publishing Company. All rights reserved.