Wake up, Sonos! Gold Dealer Schools CEO John MacFarlane on ‘Staying Relevant’

Mat Lindstedt of Silicon Valley Installation Co. sells a ton of Sonos, but urges CEO MacFarlane to stay relevant vis-a-vis Amazon Echo and other innovations. Where are outdoor audio systems, $99 speakers, and better streaming solutions?

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After years of strong performance in wireless speakers — a category that Sonos pioneered — the compay has seen its massive market share eroded by innovative new solutions like Amazon Echo. CEO John MacFarlane said as much in a recent interview with Billboard magazine.

He said an Uber driver asked him when Echo would be able to control Sonos.

And that's when it hit him: “I came back and said we just need to step into this because we're tone deaf if we don't.”

That was a mere two weeks ago!

In a blog about the recent layoffs at Sonos, MacFarlane again referred to Echo and its Alexa voice-recognition engine as an impetus for Sonos to regroup and innovate.

He wrote: “Alexa/Echo is the first product to really showcase the power of voice control in the home. Its popularity with consumers will accelerate innovation across the entire industry. What is novel today will become standard tomorrow.”

Think about that: “What is novel today will become standard tomorrow.

Sonos perhaps has overlooked the “novel” these past years of coasting on the company's past success. It's done a nice job of iimproving current products and slowly — very slowly — rounding out its product line with a soundbar and a subwoofer and some mighty fine software called Trueplay that lets users calibrate their speaker for any given room.

Let's take a look at that nice new room-calibration software, released with Sonos's nice new Play:5 speaker last September. Sonos already had a Play:5 in its speaker line. Why wouldn't it call the new speaker Play:6 or some such thing? If the poor choice of model names was deliberate, then it represented extremely poor judgment. If it was an oversight (Oops, we already had a Play:5), then …

In yesterday's CE Pro email newsletter, I wrote in reference to the Sonos layoffs:

Sonos has enjoyed a long and profitable run as the giant in wireless audio. It did this by rarely straying from its roots as a provider of good and simple audio with a pleasant user experience. The company has shunned integration, dismissed fancy bells and whistles and ignored the “next big thing,” while raking in the revenues with a small slate of products. Innovation for Sonos has occurred in baby steps and the company seems to have taken few technological risks over the years. Relative newcomers like Amazon Echo (Sonos CEO John MacFarlane admits), have meanwhile clobbered the one-time giant, which recently laid off 50 employees. Has the giant been too conservative in its growth? Yes, I believe it has. 

Sonos Gold Dealer Responds

In response to that editor's note, integrator Mat Lindstedt, owner of Silicon Valley Installation Company in San Jose, Calif., responded with a copy of the letter he had just dispatched to MacFarlane. With his permission, we share the letter below (with a few minor proofreading edits):

Mr John MacFarlane,

I have been a user and seller of Sonos equipment for over 10 years and I have been selling and using Sonos equipment with great passion since day one. As a matter of fact, I think there are three great consumer electronics in the past decade; iPhone, Sonos and TIVO. I use all three religiously–and feel that these three products have changed everything in my business model.

I am a Gold dealer with over $XXXk in yearly Sonos sales–and Sonos accounts for 25% of my total hardware sales.

Some random thoughts and suggestions on how to stay relevant (and a little venting):

Sonos Connect should be priced at $249. Connect Amp $349.

There should be a $99 Sonos wireless speaker. Get the impulse buyer on board.

I no longer sell dedicated surround sound amps with separate speakers. My business model is Playbar, Sub and Connect Amp to rear speakers. It works very well.  

The Sonos app is great, but people want more. My clients are telling me they want a way to stream content from their smart phone to Sonos without having to download the app. I agree with them.

As a Gold dealer there is absolutely no incentive for me to sell more product from Sonos. The only perk is that I get my name on the Sonos Website, from which I have never received a lead.

Where is the outdoor Sonos speaker?

The Play 5 is a great speaker, and for some reason I have not sold any. 

Enable the Play 5 to be Left, Right, Center–the same as a Playbar — and I will sell many.

Amazon Echo is a huge game changer for the industry. It's a toy now, but it does enough to create excitement, and Sonos should be worried.

Sonos has a much bigger brand recognition now than it did five years ago. Most of my potential clients have heard Sonos before I bring it up.

Sonos is big enough now to create their own streaming service.

Pandora is the killer app music service for Sonos.

I routinely have Sonos systems with 25 zones or more. I turn off the built in Wi-Fi in Sonos–otherwise the system would die on the vine. Please work with dealers like me to overcome the STP issues.

I still have my ZP120 running in my office that I bought back in 2005. It still runs like a champ and takes software updates just like any current Sonos product. Bravo! Bravo! 

Sonos has been a huge asset to the home-technology channel in the past, and we hope new innovations will continue to make them successful in this business.

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
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Julie Jacobson:

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

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NewsProductsSpeakers/SubwoofersWireless AV

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Sonos