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Azione Unlimited Takes Stock at Third Conference

The growing second-year CE buying group marked its second year by dissecting the state of the industry.


Wyrestorm's Martha Brooke accepts the "Coming on Strong" award from Azione Unlimited founder Richard Glikes during the Azione Unlimited "Confluence" conference held in St. Louis, April 10-12, 2013.
Aaron Stern · April 24, 2013

CE buying group Azione Unlimited marked its second year of existence when it held its third biannual conference earlier this month in St. Louis. The three-day event, titled “Confluence,” was held April 10-12, and brought together member dealers and manufacturers from across the country to share their hopes concerns and best practices for the industry.

Richard Glikes, formerly the director of Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA), formed Azione Unlimited last year after parting ways with HTSA. In addition to its 32 vendor members, Glikes’ new group has 67 dealer members, roughly a quarter of the 250 that Glikes hopes to max out at.

“Our group is [mostly] integrators, so we’re in the installation business, and that business is good,” Glikes said.

Throughout the three days of roundtables, panels, dealer-vendor one-on-ones, manufacturer presentations and dinners out on the town, participating members discussed everything from the challenges presented by eroding product margins, to training new staff members and the challenges of seeding the next generation of audiophiles.

Dealer Headaches
The purpose of the conference was for dealers to discuss with one another the challenges and opportunities they experience every day.
The various challenges of programming systems was discussed, with some saying that some products were becoming so simple to program that it they are letting programmers go, while others said they still rely on those well-trained technicians.. “The other thing I [don’t] like at all about it, the amount of documentation some of these companies want — I may as well program it myself,” said Kim Michels, president of New York City-based Electronic Environments.
Dealers also discussed product training, with some saying that product brochures and trade show training sessions aren’t enough to get the job done, and urging manufacturers to embrace on-site, in-person training.
Employee training was also discussed at length, including the merits of formal training vs. on-the-job training.
“We do a lot of training in house, we send a lot of people out for training but we don’t have anything carved in stone,” Michels said. “Training is a real science. And we’re not exactly trained in it.”

Disruptive Technologies
In a discussion of disruptive technologies and processes, a panel of member dealers and manufacturers discussed the rapid growth of the direct-to-consumer sales model as well as the rise of consumer-friendly technologies like Apple products and wireless audio that continue to reshape the industry.
“We need to look at every disruptive technology as an opportunity,” said Aaron Gutin, VP of sales and marketing for Access Networks. “The way to deal with that is to study that disruptive technology, identify what’s important about it to the customer and figure out [how to], if not absorb that technology, work around it and build a business model around it.”
John Buchanan, executive VP of sales and marketing at Meridian Audio illustrated the duality of such changes when he noted that Apple “eats our lunch” but simultaneously creates new customers and new opportunities for solutions.
That didn’t make dealers feel much better about the rise of the direct-to-consumer model, though. Gutin pointed out that consumers who buy direct miss out on tapping into the knowledge of dealers and limit themselves to products they’ve heard of, potentially skipping lesser-known solutions of equal or greater quality (Gutin used Velodyne as an example).
“That’s fine if you sell forks, but I don’t think it’s a long-lasting solution for technology,” Gutin said.

Future of Audio
One of the most intensely discussed topics at the conference was prompted by Glikes, who successfully sparked the debate by asking his members where the next generation of audio buyers will come from.
In the ensuing debate many lamented the loss of retail storefronts and the popularization of headphones, though some saw headphones as a positive development after years of a complete lack of audio and musical interest among consumers.
“We have to learn how to speak to kids in their language,” said one member.
“Somethings going to have to change just in the way they access the experience,” said Rocky McCarthy of Baltimore, Md.-based Starr Systems Design. “How do we identify the best way to present the information and experience to these kids?”
Gutin said he maintains a playlist with MP3, CD and hi-res versions of the same songs and plays all three back to potential customers.
“It never fails,” he said. “It goes to dynamic range, but it also goes to feeling and experience in the room.” Gutin also pointed to the boom in headphone sales as an encouraging sign that the younger generation is looking for better sound.
“No one has told them it starts at the file,” he said. “What you do after the file is important, but the source material is where it all starts.”

Awards and Honors
Azione also recognized its top performing vendors for 2012 during the Confluence conference:
• The “Golden Goose” award for most profitable vendor for the 4th quarter of 2012 was earned by Integra, accepted by Keith Haas, Director of Sales.
• “Highest Vendor Sales – 2012” award went to Sonance, accepted by Chet Flynn, Director of Specification Sales.
• “Highest Growth Percentage – 2012” award was given to Access Networks, accepted by Aaron Gutin, Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
• “Steady Growth for 2012” award was earned by Liberty AV Solutions, accepted by Ed Jankowski, President
• “Coming on Strong - 2012”, an award acknowledging vendors whose business made sizable improvements in 2012 were presented to URC, accepted by Scott Srolis and Wyrestorm, accepted by Martha Brooke, Eastern Regional.



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