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Connecting Homes at CEDIA Expo

Oct 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Rebecca Day

Conference focuses on managing business during tough 2008 market.

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The LG Electronics BD300 Blu-ray Disc player is equipped with BD-Live features, 
which allow its users to enjoy movies or games on the Internet.

The LG Electronics BD300 Blu-ray Disc player is equipped with BD-Live features, which allow its users to enjoy movies or games on the Internet.

Installers who have traditionally felt sheltered from bad economic news by a luxury base immune to market downswings were whistling a different tune at the CEDIA Expo 2008, which was held in Denver Sept. 3-7. The recent plunge in new construction caused installers to be anxious and had manufacturers depending on their CEDIA channels to hunt for new ways to take care of business.

SpeakerCraft CEO Jeremy Burkhardt termed 2008 “the most challenging year since CEDIA has been in business” before telling journalists at the company's press conference that it was putting business practices before product at this year's show. At its booth, SpeakerCraft officials focused on educating dealers about how to survive outside of the new construction market by mining existing customers for referral business, exploiting the retrofit market, exploring new business opportunities, and managing business better.

It was only outside of the booth that the company showed its product line — including new, more durable Rox loudspeakers, a Wi-Fi-based iPhone interface, 3in. flangeless in-ceiling loudspeakers, and Sound Pillow surface-mount loudspeakers for the multiple-dwelling unit (MDU) market.

“Face it: There's not a lot of groundbreaking technology coming out of the show,” Burkhardt told reporters. “This year, our focus is different from anything we've done before.” Product innovation continues to be important, Burkhardt said, but in the current market, business management should be dealers' primary focus.

“More dealers this year are going to go out of business than ever,” he said. “The ones who get it right are going to rise to the top. It's the survival of the fittest. The average CEDIA dealer is much smaller than you thought. Our message to them is to get better at what you do and learn how to run a better business.”

Monster Cable Products founder Noel Lee echoed Burkhardt's concerns over business in the custom channel. A year ago, Lee said, dealers felt protected from the slumping new-construction market because they had priced out systems a year in advance and business hadn't been affected. “Today, that's not the case,” Lee said, “and our best customers are looking for ways to increase profitability and provide more value to the consumer.”

Lee reiterated the need for high-margin products such as accessories to bring relief to drooping bottom lines. He urged dealers to promote Monster's high-speed HDMI cables — launched last year — as a way to build points into home-theater projects.

Silicon Image and HDMI Licensing were sharing a rather small booth this year, but what was happening there was what HDMI Licensing President Steve Venuti called “evangelizing.” Now that HDMI is a de facto standard in the industry, Venuti said the next step is to meet the market needs and to educate integrators by providing future seminars that focus on the technology, rather than specific manufacturers, as well as working on an HDMI certification program. Nothing is set in stone yet, but both Venuti and fellow HDMI evangelist Jeff Soo H. Park are eager to make the playing field level by getting integrators the information to do their jobs.

“Getting the technology was half the battle,” Venuti said at the show. “Now, the battle is marketing — meeting needs with education,” including the issue of clearing up confusion surrounding HDMI's version numbers, for example.

Auralex Acoustics introduced its new sound-control product, SonicPrint, at the show. Wanting to provide a custom solution to any space (even educational and corporate environments) that goes beyond traditional, monochromatic fabric sound-control panels, Auralex sought fabric that could be printed on, while still absorbing reverb. The company recently signed a three-year deal with Hallmark Licensing to use Hallmark's supply of stock photography on the panels. Major movie titles are in the works as well, but clients have even more options available to them: their own personal photography collection.

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