Bang & Olufsen is now selling its audio and video products through home technology integrators. Now!? You’d think the iconic brand would have tapped the specialty A/V channel a long time ago, given B&O’s grand reputation, premium quality, stylish designs, and elite clientele. But until about three years ago, B&O was sold almost exclusively through B&O-branded stores run by independent dealers and the company itself.
Today, there are about 550 of those stores worldwide, reaching well-healed audiophiles and aesthetes … but not necessarily the ones touched by custom home technologists who visit their homes, hold their hands, and create stellar entertainment and smart-home experiences.
It’s not necessarily that B&O has ignored the custom channel in the past, it’s just that the Denmark-based company was busy supporting retail dealers who invest heavily in their brick-and-mortar shops.
The company operates its dealership program much like a franchise business. Retailers call their stores Bang & Olufsen, follow merchandising guidelines developed by “corporate,” and for all practical purposes look like B&O-owned businesses.
director, B&O Professional
When it comes to the custom channel, having a bunch of independent dealers operating under different names and in many cases having no retail outlets or even showrooms … wouldn’t allow B&O to systematize the customer experience.
Even so, custom installers who routinely sell six-figure technology projects to B&O’s core customers are awfully hard to ignore.
“A lot of professional [custom installation] companies already have high-end clientele,” says Henrik Torp Nielsen, director of B&O Professional, Custom Installation and Integration. “They have the skills and the staff but they don’t have access to the products.”
So the dealers instead sell five-figure TVs and speakers from other companies.
B&O decided about three years ago that it wanted that business. It created Bang & Olufsen Professional, staffed up its Chicago-area U.S. headquarters, and began recruiting top-tier integrators.
The program began in the U.S. because of the country’s advanced network of custom integrators, declining brick-and-mortar sector, and general under-exposure of the B&O brand compared to the European market.
Like many brands in the integrator’s portfolio, B&O would be a “push” sale.
Who Are These B&O Dealers?
Today, the B&O Pro group has more than 100 dealers. Nielsen says the company is aiming for about twice that number, but there’s no rush.
In general, they prefer “professional companies that have been in business for over a decade” and have ample capabilities in system design, engineering and service, he explains: “We’re really not looking for start-ups.”
Of course, the target dealers will have an attitude towards B&O that is respectful if not downright devotional.
Nielsen acknowledges, however, the Pro group doesn’t dismiss “smaller companies who will take good care of the brand.”
I met a few of them during a recent visit to B&O headquarters in Struer, where about a dozen B&O Pro dealers met with product managers, marketing execs, audio “Tonmeisters,” product designers, manufacturing leaders and U.S. regional sales managers.
Some of them have been salivating over the B&O brand for years. Paolo Ramirez of Miami-based Ultimate Sound & Vision, for example, is a long-time fan.
He says in the past he had to buy the products at retail in order to satisfy certain customers who demanded the brand. When an email arrived announcing the Pro program, he joined right away.
Ray Christiansen is another integrator who took no convincing. He says that the founder of his integration company, Home Media Solutions in Ketchum, Idaho, tried many years ago to get the B&O brand, to no avail.
When the Pro program was launched, Christiansen signed up, finally realizing a longtime dream of the company.
The thought of selling B&O never really occurred to some of the Pro dealers. For example, Dave Raines, CEO of the 20-year-old Osbee Industries in Harrison, N.Y. (and Miami), wandered into the B&O booth at a recent CEDIA Expo, more curious than interested.
A few meetings later, Raines was hooked.
The Appeal of B&O to Custom Channel
One obvious appeal of B&O is the iconic brand itself. Steve Jobs says B&O’s early BeoCom phones inspired the user interface for the iPod. You can find a slew of B&O products in the Steve Jobs movie. Producers requested 13 props from the B&O museum in Struer to faithfully reproduce the Apple founder’s home.
B&O products have been placed in plenty of movies and TV shows where cool rules: Bourne Identity, Friends, The Devil Wears Prada, Entourage, Pirates of Silicon Valley (another Steve Jobs flick), Iron Man and countless others (B&O never pays for such placements).
Beyond the brand’s prestige is the glamor of B&O design – sometimes sleek and elegant (the old BeoSound 9000 CD changer), other times more daring (BeoLab 5 flying-saucer speakers).
Whatever you think of the designs, “all of their products are works of art,” says Ramirez of Ultimate Sound & Vision. “Wherever you put them, they look amazing.”
Of course, his clients in the Miami area – where bling is king – don’t necessarily resemble homeowners in the rest of the country, where subtlety is celebrated. B&O offers a little something for everyone, even the minimalists.
Take B&O’s groovy (literally) aluminum grilles for in-wall speakers made by partner Origin Acoustics. While many dealers on the B&O trip bristled at the glitz, Ramirez says the flashy design plays well in his market. The rest of the pack can use B&O's more subtle grilles — with just a rim of aluminum — or else Origin's own fade-into-the-wall models.
The ‘Magic’ of B&O
B&O moves you with magic. It says so right there in the grand entryway of the company headquarters: “Bang & Olufsen Exists to Move You with Enduring Magical Experiences.”
Literally “move you” in the case of B&O’s new flagship store in Herning, Denmark. Visitors there can experience multiple entertainment vignettes without leaving their seats because the displays rotate on motorized flooring.
Sales manager Ralph Clausen says “magic moments” like this bring levity to the sales process and create memorable experiences for potential buyers.
The magic extends to the audio wall, where speakers stashed behind acoustical panels emerge on command – like a “Christmas calendar,” Clausen says (if Christmas Vacation Advent House Calendars had motorized shutters).
The magical demos at Herning simply mimic the form and philosophy of B&O products, which elicit “wows” even before the music and video commence.
Take a look at the sleek BeoVision Avant display (below). A three-channel speaker system unfurls from the TV when sound is activated, and tucks away neatly when not in use.
The TV swirls on a clever, motorized stand that moves the display forward (away from the wall), and side to side for virtually any viewing angle.
When video commences, the screen “opens” like curtains at a movie theater, and then “closes” with the “off” button, automatically rotating to its original position (probably) against a wall.
Bang & Olufsen Avant display with drop-down speakers on rotating base (shown with BeoLab 5 speakers)
Several dealers commented that the spectacle helps close deals for clients who want a little oomph in their entertainment … especially when friends and colleagues are there for the production.
During a sneak peek of a new B&O product, concept manager Kresten Krab-Bjerre showed us the winning design and several rejects – some of which sank because they were “too obvious,” he says. “At B&O you always want something a little surprising.”
Not Just an Industrial Design Co.
It isn’t just the industrial designs that make B&O unique. The feature sets are unique as well. For example, all B&O speakers are powered – a rarity for the residential market. This architecture mitigates the need for external amplifiers and the associated programming, installation and cabling.
County Line AV
While plenty of custom integrators reject integrated speakers in favor of separates, many embrace the simplicity of the install and tightness of the design afforded by powered speakers.
“The good part about B&O is that you don’t have to be an audio nerd,” says Avi Sengupta, president of County Line AV in the Chicago area. “They pretty much do that for you.”
Sengupta notes that most makers of audiophile-grade speakers “try to create the perfect speaker for a specific purpose.”
B&O, however, provides a well-rounded experience whether speakers are used for two-channel audio, ambient music or surround sound.
Some models include sensors that let the sound “follow” the listener; others allow presets for aiming audio straight at the sweet spot or other areas in a space. Sound can be dispersed narrowly, broadly or, in the case of the top-of-the-line BeoLab 90 speakers, somewhere in between.
A lively demo in B&Os semi-anechoic chamber (an oxymoron?) revealed how the company tones its speakers to accommodate off-axis listening.
Ramirez liked what he saw. And heard.
“There’s no need for the perfect room or layout. In South Florida, you don’t have the perfect room,” he said, noting the wide-open spaces, hard surfaces and ubiquitous glass found in many area homes.
Who Wouldn’t Want to be a B&O Dealer?!
You’ve got the prestige brand, the protected margins, the limited distribution, the high style, and rock-solid products supported with stellar service in the field. And now there’s a dedicated program for the custom installation channel.
Why wouldn’t every integrator flock to the line?
For starters, B&O has been light on marketing in the U.S. custom-installation channel. Even if integrators know the brand, most don’t seem aware of the newish dealer program.
Sr. Manager, System Solutions
But many who admire the brand nevertheless dismiss it as a product line that doesn’t play well with others.
That objection may have been valid in the past – B&O has employed a proprietary BeoLink platform since around 1982 – but it’s a fallacy today.
“Since we built control in the 1980s, there wasn’t integration,” says Brian Bjørn Hansen, senior manager, System Solutions. “When the industry started to do linked systems, we had our own proprietary technology. That’s still the perception.”
Today, however, “B&O is completely open,” Hansen says. “We showed at CEDIA how easy it is to integrate.”
In 2014, B&O launched the BeoLink Gateway to bridge its platform with third-party control systems. By 2016, B&O products enjoyed two-way communications with Crestron, Control4 and Savant, as well as KNX, IFTTT and others. More integrations are coming.
The integration, furthermore, goes both ways. The BeoLink SmartHome control system, enabled by the Gateway, is a home automation system in its own right, compatible with most of the popular subsystems in virtually every home-technology category.
But that’s another story to be published in a week or so.
Meanwhile, B&O Professional dealers like Ramirez have attracted “new customers because we introduced the product.”
The consensus of the group was that they would sell even more goods after the Denmark trip.
“We now have a story to tell,” Sengupta says.
For more information about the B&O Pro program, contact Henrik Torp Nielsen: email@example.com