CE Pro recently had a chance to talk to Richard Campbell, chief revenue officer, Bowers and Wilkins (B&W) about numerous topics. Here's a glimpse of the conversation.
There’s been a lot of talk about the brand, can you address where B&W is headed?
There are a lot of questions about our stability and about what is it we want to do going forward. It’s frustrating that there is so much confusion out there, given the amount of energy and momentum we have.
Our CEO, Gideon Yu, is truly an audiophile. [Eva Automation, which acquired B&W in 2016,] has an appreciation for the audio space. They developed some technologies that involve automation and decided they wanted to be able to take those technologies and apply them to [existing A/V] products and categories.
The best way to do that was to acquire a base to work from, which is why they decided to acquire Bowers and Wilkins. They are investing heavily in the space. If you look at our research facility, we’ve hired 50 percent more engineers and project managers than prior to the acquisition because of the investment that we are making.
What are some product steps B&W is taking regarding high-performance audio?
There is a tremendous desire to continue to create performance audio. With the new 700 Series we are meeting the level and expectations than one would expect from Bowers. I’ve heard that the only reason why the 700 Series was developed was because it was already in play prior to acquisition and we ‘couldn’t stop that train.’ That’s not true, we could have absolutely stopped that train if we wanted to. We knew it was the right decision to make so we went ahead and continued to develop the product.
We are really pleased with the performance of those products. I have already seen industrial designs and concepts of the future evolution of products that we are bringing to the market. We knew that first to want to develop our CI product line. We’ve actually hired a dedicated product manager for that space.
You’ve mentioned investment in the user experience, can you give an example?
The launch of our PX headphones. They are a fantastic set of headphones [based on audio quality alone] … However, we’ve got software engineers that have come over from Apple, Amazon, Google, Barracuda, and RealNetworks. They sat down and said we have some ideas about how to make these headphones better.
When you connect these headphones to your Bluetooth device, like an iPhone, for the first time, you never have to turn them on or off ever again. If you put them down to go eat dinner, the headphones go into a deep sleep mode. When you come back an hour later and put them on, the headphones will chime once and wake up. Then they’ll chime a second time and reconnect to your Bluetooth device. If the last thing you were doing was playing music on one of those devices, it will start playing music automatically for you.
Do you envision B&W integrators using headphones as an entrée to their customer base; not just being able to talk about headphones, but about where B&W is heading?
I can’t tell you how many integrators told us, “I’m going to put this item on the register because I can sell it as an add-on.” Many of integrators don’t sell headphones. For them the level of enthusiasm is exciting because they believe in the power and the potential this product offers. It resonates with them. The headphones are already displayed in some places that will give us great exposure and help create stronger brand awareness.
What can you say about one rumor, that B&W is going to change the distribution model in some way drastically?
At the end of the day, I’m not looking to make any major changes to our channels of distribution. We aren’t selling in that many more places than we were before. I will tell you though, I do want invest more time with our dealers.
One of the things we have done as a company is continue to pull our regional sales managers and our field support specialists from the field and bring them back to Boston for trainings. The trainings are incredible.
What’s happening with the Rotel and Classé brands?
Rotel is [undergoing] no change whatsoever. They are bringing new products to market. We continue to work closely with them on our distribution teams that are tightly integrated.
As part of that, we did actually have to release some folks up in Canada. We decided it was an opportunity to collapse [our] two service centers [one in Montreal, one in Boston], and all our products — Classé, Rotel, Bowers & Wilkins — will be supported out of our customer service group in Boston. Those are the specific changes. Having said that, we are continuing with our firmware upgrade for Classé as we move forward.With Classé, we stopped the development of the new Delta Series. The development was taking longer than anticipated, and wasn’t quite working the way we were expecting. We decided we needed to regroup and come up with an alternative strategy.
All the things you would expect us to do in servicing and supporting the business are continuing. We’re now in the process of considering options of how to evaluate high-end products and electronics going forward.