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HES on Computer Sound, Headphones: Just Spec It!

Business is up for buying group Home Entertainment Source/ProSource, with growth and opportunities in headphones, computer audio, commercial, home automation.

Opening the Home Entertainment Source Summit in Orlando, Fla.
Julie Jacobson · March 12, 2013

There was an unusually good vibe at the Home Entertainment Source (HES)/ProSource Summit, held recently in Orlando, Fla.

“Attendance was about the same, but guys were just more vocal, more in the present, not lurking in the background singing the blues,” says Jim Ristow, executive VP of HES and the newer ProSource group that combines HES with the old big-box PRO group. Both are part of the gigantic Brandsource buying group, which also serves furniture and appliance stores.

For the first time in many years, “jobs are in the pipeline, business is picking up,” he says.

The custom integrators in HES are faring better than the big-box retailers in Brandsource.

“If it’s just a box or a SKU or a widget,” it’s not selling so well, Ristow says, but business is thriving for “anything that has to be installed or explained or solutions-based.”

Ristow says there is “no one silver bullet” to explain the improving business for CE pros, but the group had double-digit growth in audio, TVs bigger than 65 inches, lighting and commercial.

Home automation also enjoyed double-digit growth year-over-year in all segments. For the mainstream market, bothControl4 and URC’s newish Total Control system are thriving; at the higher end, “Savant is through the roof,” according to Ristow.

And the No. 1 growth brand in the channel? Bose! The brand was relaunched at the summit.

Growth Opportunities: New Audio

Not surprisingly, soundbars were touted as excellent opportunities for specialty A/V pros, and there is no shortage of vendors delivering good products to market.

IC Realtime (surveillance) and Seura (TV mirrors) joined the HES line card. Also, EHD Cables (long-distance HDMI) was announced as a new warehouse partner. In addition, HES has added 14 new dealers to its existing network of more than 500 dealers nationwide.

Ristow notes that members are doing well with Bose’s affordable products, on up to Definitive Technology’s $2,000 SoloCinema.

“Many other vendors are coming out with better, higher quality, high-performance, more expensive products,” Ristow says. “That’s where the business is going—instead of an $800 receiver and $1,200 speaker package. Customers aren’t going to spend less, but differently.”

Ristow adds that HES members are still going to sell a ton of receivers, “but we’re pushing membership to think about new audio.”

In addition to soundbars, HES is bullish on wireless speakers – both the self-powered variety and the plug-in models.

At the summit, WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio) Association demonstrated a high-performance 8-channel wireless solution with music streaming from a media box.

Not surprisingly, there was plenty of chatter about how wireless audio was bad for the industry. To that, Ristow counters that dealers “said the same thing about Sonos and what did that do but open up a tidal wave of opportunities.”

Meanwhile, HES is doing a “big push on headphones,” Ristow says. “Members are missing the trend overall.

During the event, the group discussed creative ways of selling the category. One integrator said he just automatically specs a few pairs into virtually every job, closing about 70 percent of them.

Dealers are spec’ing wireless sets in the bedroom, a better set at the computer station, something for the workout space, etc.

“And if you’re going to sell a high-quality sound system in in room,” Ristow says, “attach the appropriate headphones” like something in the $200 or $400 price range.

So many custom-friendly vendors are deploying really good headphones, Ristow adds. “There are a ton of great options. Quality isn’t the problem. It’s just a missed opportunity for dealers.”

Some dealers are just giving clients a good set of headphones as a gift as somewhat of a drug, Ristow says. “The average consumer has multiple pairs of headsets. Once they’ve tried a better set, they get attached.”

Finally, in the audio category, why not spec in a high-quality sound system for the computer station?

“How many people spend all day in one place?” Ristow asks. “Our recommendation is to just bid it in. It’s a discussion point and it could be taken off later. Most customers appreciate it.”

HDMI guru Jeff Boccaccio demos high-performance HDMI cables at EHD Cables, a new warehouse partner for HES

Ron Rouse, Harman Luxury

HES’s Jim Ristow, Toshiba’s Scott Ramirez

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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at

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  Article Topics

News · Bose · Headphones · Home Entertainment Source · Soundbar · All Topics
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