When Soundcast vice president of sales and marketing Charity Hardwick looks at the state of the outdoor audio market, it reminds her of when Sonos first hit the multiroom audio market.
“All the custom integrators were saying, 'I'm never going to sell Sonos. Sonos is crud because I can't pull wires, and how am I going to make any money doing this?' Yet, that is what consumers want,” she remarks.
It takes time for people to get on board with the idea of a shift in technology. When custom integrators started selling wireless setups in the home and realized that they were selling a lot of it, and we saw Sonos absolutely explode to be a $1 billion company. You can't ignore that. We can't ignore how consumers want to behave. We need to adapt and adopt new technology.”
She believes the timing is perfect for an explosion in the development of outdoor living areas. As evidence, Hardwick points to record sales in premium grills and hot tubs, and the growth in outdoor kitchens in recent years.
“Audio is following this trend,” she says. “Audio is now becoming part of this premium outdoor living space. Consumers are saying, ‘We need audio.’ According to our research, audio is the third thing to be purchased [for an outdoor entertainment area]. Usually it's a grill first, then living room furniture or a hot tub second, then the audio third.”
Homeowners are just now realizing that outdoor audio is not cost prohibitive because there is a wireless option that avoids the cost and disruption of pulling wires.
“Consumers are telling us that they don’t want to have to dig things up, pull up existing pavers, dig trenches or put ugly speakers in the yard or on the outside of their home,” Hardwick says, adding that homeowners also want the flexibility to be able to move their audio speakers to different areas of the yard based upon their activity.
If they are in the hot tub, they want the audio there; likewise, if they are on the lawn or in the outdoor kitchen area, that’s where they want the music.
“People want customization and they want premium products. We found that customers are seeking portable weather-resistant speakers that sound really good,” she notes.
Soundcast VGX Series
All those trends make Soundcast well poised as a solution for outdoor environments, Hardwick believes.
At CES 2017, the company debuted its VGX line of high-definition portable powered Bluetooth outdoor speakers: VG1,VG3, VG5, and the new VG7.
The 23-pound VG7, which hits the market this month, sells for $799 and employs a 7-inch down-firing woofer and four 3-inch drivers.
Supporting its use indoors and outdoors, the speaker also features a choice of EQ (equalization) modes that help to tailor its sound for any type of placement location.
The speaker is engineered to produce a wide and immersive soundstage, and offers the ability to link multiple VG7s to cover larger listening areas.
The speaker design is elegant, so it doesn’t look like a boxy unit you wouldn’t want in your yard. Meanwhile, the similarly styled VG5 also has a weatherproof capacitive touch interface, a first for an outdoor speaker, according to Hardwick.
Later this year, Soundcast will debut the VG10 that will also include DTS Play-Fi capability.
“It will be the first outdoor audio that has a Play-Fi chipset on it,” says Hardwick.
Soundcast is using several distributors for the custom channel, including WAVE Electronics and Custom Plus Distributing, with a solid dealer margin. The company also sells teh VG series directly to consumers via Amazon; however, the “power portable” units are sold through the retail and integration channels.
Currently, 70 percent of its sales are retail, compared to 30 percent to integrators.
What Really Happened with Jeremy Burkhardt?
The future market growth of wireless is just one area Hardwick touched on in an exclusive interview with CE Pro.
She explains that the technology shift to wireless is also one of the reasons the planned investment into Soundcast by noted industry personality and current CEO of Origin Acoustics did not work out back in 2013.
Four years ago, Burkhardt had announced he was purchasing Soundcast and taking over the company, but the deal was never finalized.
Subsequently, in 2015 the company was sold to an investment group and industry veteran Oscar Ciornei was named president.
Hardwick, who was not with the company at the time of the failed Burkhardt transaction, admits there were lingering effects among custom integrators from Burkhardt’s almost-acquisition.
“Integrators ask us, ‘Is there something wrong with the product? If Jeremy doesn't like it, then are we going to like it?’ That was a challenge we had to work through.
“Jeremy fell in love with the product, just like we did. Soundcast was developing the only outdoor large portable in the space. It was something consumers were very attracted to. It served a purpose, served needs, behaved in a way that consumers want to behave.”
She continues, “We all know he's a man of vision and is considered to be the risk taker in this industry. Certainly, he has a larger-than-life personality. And people love energy.
“He saw the opportunity [with Soundcast], but his background was with custom installation and he was really focused on in-wall, in-home pulling wires and speakers. I think as he started going forward, he realized Soundcast is a unique product and it takes a different perspective.
“Jeremy doesn’t really come from the outdoor audio space. It didn't have anything to do with whether Soundcast is a great idea. It was an amicable parting of ways, but no one knows that whole story.”