Niles, Elan, Xantech Begin Consolidation in Calif.

Under the Linear AVC banner, Niles rationalizes SKUs, creates a streaming media bundle, shares technology with Elan Home Systems and Xantech.

Bundling the IM-NET streaming media card into a complete ICS multizone audio system is winning dealers back, says Niles president Mike Detmer.
Julie Jacobson · November 23, 2010

Three months after Niles Audio moved from Miami to Carlsbad, Calif., president Mike “Sparky” Detmer is starting to get the hang of it.

The weather is nice, he says, but the cost of living is a bummer. “A box of Kashi costs $5,” he says.

The move was part of a consolidation by parent company Linear, a subsidiary of Nortek Inc. Earlier this year, Linear created the Audio Video Control group, combining Niles, Xantech and Elan Home Systems under one roof.

For years, the like-minded companies operated autonomously in Miami, Sylmar, Calif., and Lexington, Ky., respectively. When the booming economy flagged, however, it was time to recognize some synergies among the organizations, which all provide audio, video and control products to home systems integrators.

Mark Terry heads the Linear AVC group, having accomplished a similar reorganization for the Harman Pro group a few years ago.

Terry has told CE Pro, “The goal is to bring the brands together and work in a more logical and strategic way—try to make it more effective.”

“We’re going to refine the whole line so it’s easier for people to stock, easier for people to comprehend, but still has more value.” - Mike “Sparky” Detmer, Niles president

That is beginning to happen now that the presidential triumvirate – Graham Hallett of Xantech, Paul Starkey of Elan, and Detmer – are sharing quarters (and Detmer’s fine coffee, apparently) in Carlsbad.

“The group is forming a really cool culture – a culture of performance,” says Detmer.

The cooperation is beginning to show, as employees shift to positions that make the most sense.

For example, Robert Ridenour, a former integrator originally hired by Niles to work on the company’s control products, moved to Elan to engage with the new Elan G automation system.

Mike Strange, who headed Niles’ loudspeaker development, is now leading that product category for the whole AVC group.

Changes at Niles: Little Things Mean a Lot

For all the lofty goals of Linear AVC, the member companies are starting with the basics. For Niles, that means simplifying its product line, and making it easier for dealers to buy.

“As we started to look at product line, we realized we had too many SKUs,” says Detmer.

For example, Niles had 42 volume-control SKUs, which has been whittled down to eight.

Dealers could order a volume control in white, almond or black, and there was a paintable one for builders.

“What people really want is something on the their trucks or their shelves that fits all applications,” Detmer says.”

So Niles took its screwless wallplates and created a good/better/best scenario to simplify the inventory for distributors and dealers alike. Now the Niles IM (Impedance Magnifying) volume-control line looks like this:

  • 50-watt , 10-step rotary with three colors included
  • 100-watt, 12-step IM with four colors
  • 100-watt, 12-step slider with four colors

“We augment that with outdoor enclosed volume controls and outdoor in-walls with multiple colors and a connection hub,” says Detmer. “We’ve got a lineup that is less [cost] that offers dealers more.”

The exercise in SKU reduction is “kind of cool,” says Detmer. “It was easy to just keep on forecasting 30 or 40 SKUs of something, but this [reduction] forces us to become more efficient. As part of that, it’s forcing us to look at what the customer really wants.”

He adds, “We’re going to refine the whole line so it’s easier for people to stock, easier for people to comprehend, but still has more value.”

Kindler, Gentler Digital Music Offering

Niles is “coming along” with the IM-NET streaming card for its ICS multiroom audio system, says Detmer.

The card, which slides into a GXR2 chassis, aggregates content from the home network and Internet cloud, and delivers it—with metadata—throughout the home via ICS keypads and touchscreens.

The beauty of ICS is that it is modular, allowing integrators to custom-build just the right solution for each customer. But the modularity also introduces complexity into a sale that could otherwise be very simple.

Now the company is making it easier for dealers to sell a single music bundle to the majority of customers. Niles has created a bundle with the ICS’s GXR2 multizone receiver, an IM-NET card and an IM-Audio card for legacy audio.

“Just hook up a cable box [analog audio] and go,” Detmer says. “We put that in a bundled price, and brought the price down to the dealer, but not retail.”

Detmer concedes that “a lot of great ICS dealers kind of waned away” for lack of a simplified streaming audio solution, but the new package is bringing them back.

“This really does make sense,” he says. “ICS is the best distributed audio system out there. We think our high-quality A/B amps and a good DAC [digital/analog converter] in the IM-NET card really mean a lot to customers who care about the sound in their home.”

Currently, Niles is working on a standalone IM-Net box to bring its streaming media platform to more homes.

Will Niles share the platform with other Linear AVC brands?

Certainly. As with any of the sharing that goes on within Linear AVC, however, this one “may indeed be a platform that other brands share, but it won’t be the same product with a different faceplate,” Detmer says, referring to a common practice of Linear companies – including SpeakerCraft – prior to Linear AVC.

Of course, there will be some “common engineering,” Detmer explains – for things like power supplies.
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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 · AVC Group · Elan · Linear · Mike Detmer · Niles · Xantech · All Topics
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