New England Integrators Definitely in Sonos Fan Club
While munching burgers at the Professional Audio Associates (PAA) annual show, an informal poll of integrators reveals their biggest challenges (selling remotes and TVs) and victories (selling Sonos) of 2014 so far.
For the bevy of integrators gathered under the dining tents at distributor Professional Audio Associates (PAA) June open house, eating delicious burgers was like a truth serum. They openly shared with me some of the positive and negative of their custom installation businesses at the halfway point of 2014.
I landed at the food area as soon as it opened and stayed there until the caterers were ready to drive away. I was curious as to the mindset of this year’s PAA customer, so I went from table to table with two simple questions:
In the past year, what has been your most pleasant business surprise?
Over the next year, what do you think will be your greatest challenge?
Their answers span the gamut, but several dealers declared with allegiance and surprise with the continuing growth in popularity of the Sonos wireless multiroom audio system, the decline in remote controls and the ever-changing landscape on flat panel TVs.
Jerry Boyson, owner of Lake Winnipesaukee Home Theater in Meredith, N.H., didn’t hesitate a moment with his first answer.
“Sonos. I never thought I’d ever sell as much Sonos as I’m selling.”
Across the table, PK from Sounds Good in Waltham, Mass. was nodding his head in agreement. “Sonos is a phenomenon. What they lack in margin they make up in volume.”
PK’s associates from Sounds Good agreed stating that add-ons and accessories were easy with Sonos which helped boost the margin.
John Hickey from John’s TV in Taunton, Mass., mentioned LG as his happiest surprise. “I was a Panasonic dealer 35 years, direct and through a distributor. Then boom, they cut me off. I had my best and most profitable video year buying LG from Lew (Freedman of PAA).”
All the folks at this table agreed that price erosion, showrooming and finding good protected lines were their greatest challenges. That was a recurring theme throughout the afternoon.
The next table I’d like to call “the philosophers.”
“I’m just so thrilled that my customers are beginning to listen to music again. I’d have to give Sonos credit for a lot of that,” states Stephen Tucker of Tucker & Tucker in Scarborough, Maine. “And our business is all the better for it. We’re on fire.”
Seated next to Tucker was Mike Bonetti owner of Home Theater & Beyond in Merrimack, N.H. He notes, “It’s not just about remote controls anymore and I couldn’t be happier. My old customers are coming back and asking about music. They’ve heard of Sonos and it fits their needs.”
Paul Johnson, proprietor of Custom Installation Services in South Dennis, Mass., (on Cape Cod) is pleasantly surprised about the amount of overall residential Wi-Fi he’d installed over the past year. However, he cautions that remote controls are not the phenomenon they were a few years ago.
“You still have to stay up-to-date and be good at programming to keep the client happy,” he notes. Finding the time to do that is Johnson’s greatest challenge.
While Bonetti concurred with the first table that price erosion was still a challenge, he had a slightly different twist. “I’m starting to get calls from folks who would have been Best Buy/Magnolia customers just a few years ago. Getting them to realize the value of working with me as opposed to a big box is an ongoing challenge but I’m winning it.”
Even though Tucker nodded in agreement he cited “project management” as his ongoing issue. “Just keeping all the balls in the air,” he smiled.
The other half of this table was occupied by the DeFossess family from Phil’s TV in Franklin, N.H., a 42-year veteran in consumer electronics. Father Phil and son Steve were firmly on the side of margin challenges as the biggest hurdle for years passed and likely years ahead. Steve made a point that the physical weight of the television was last year’s most pleasant event. “I can deliver a 55-inch set with just one guy now whereas it took two guys to haul a 32-inch model just a few years ago. The labor savings adds up.”
At the last table still eating, I found a group eager to talk. Pete Stroman of A/V Spectrum in Reading, Mass. was half serious when he joked that “getting paid” was his best memory of the past 12 months. “Seriously, I’m chasing fewer slackers than earlier the recession.”
Peter Beckford of Bay State Media in Malden, Mass. is another member of the Sonos fan club along with Brett Emerson of Home Theater Solutions in Ipswich, Mass.
“Wireless audio that works and sounds good. Go figure,” jokes Beckford. All three of these guys concurred that finding the time to get training to stay ahead of technology would be a challenge in the coming year as business continued to improve.
In all, it was a good day for Sonos and a bad day for over-distributed video vendors. And the burgers were great.
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Chuck Schneider is a freelance writer with a long history in consumer electronics. He started and restarted his award-winning manufacturer’s representative firm - Value Added Marketing - and was also a vice president and general merchandise manager for a multi-regional CE chain, as well as a buyer for Lechmere's (a division of Target). Today, he is a freelance writer. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Chuck at firstname.lastname@example.org
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