Elster: How Audio America is Arming Clients for 2018
Distributor Audio America is moving into 2018 with a new, streamlined website, added warehouse capacity and the momentum of a strong Q4 in categories including home automation and voice control, according to CEO Jonathan Elster, who spoke with Dealerscope at the 2018 CES. The company’s Q4, said Elster, also benefited from strong LG 4K OLED sales at the premium display level, and scored with cord-cutters who sought out solutions like Westinghouse’s 4K Amazon Fire TV.
On the home automation front, “That space did well for us, and our custom installation channel continued to grow,” said Elster, noting that at the Vegas show, it was evident that voice technologies were percolating “into every other product category, from soundbars, to TVs, to security, to receivers, to lighting” which will make 2018 exciting for the Google and Amazon platforms and which bodes well, overall, for the custom install channel. He added that while installers might harbor some concerns about the rise of consumer interest in readily accessible voice control technology, “just as was the case for the DIY type of product, it helps build awareness, and they will adapt to these categories. They’ve done a good job with finding a way to build things like Nest and Ring into their integration projects and into the quotes they’re doing for customers.” Elster said he believes those types of products’ growing popularity can only mean expanded business opportunities for installers. “You’re an installer doing the whole home theater package – why not do the doorbell? Why not do the thermostat? Our dealers have taken on those products and done really well with them. Not every homeowner wants to do it themselves. And they’re calling the installer – and it’s great for our customers.”
A byproduct of more connected-home devices in the market has made for the increasing popularity of networking products – “a category where you’ll definitely see more from us. We’re helping customers by expanding [vendor] partnerships to provide them what they need” in order to provide their customers with more bandwidth.
Mesh networking will also continue its popularity rise, said Elster. “We’re helping to bring our customers up to speed on that category… January and February are traditionally strong months for networking products because everyone gets gifts for the holidays [that require more robust networks] but find that they can’t use them. Installers are used to running wire, and mesh is a whole other thing, so installers will have to figure out how to work that out” – and Elster is confident they will. “We’re encouraging our vendors to come out with pro models just for the CI channel that would set them apart from retail, so our customers can make some more money and add some value to it.”
Audio America, as mentioned, just took an additional 35,000 square feet of warehouse space in Atlanta. “We’ve invested a lot in our new web site, which launched five months ago, and we’re very excited about it. We think it’s best in class, with richer content,” he said, and it’s been made more streamlined and friendly for use by installers who oftentimes need to access it during odd hours. “Our CIs work sometimes very early or very late,” so the upgrade is meaningful – as is a 24-hours-a-day product pickup system that was instituted in Audio America’s Georgia facility about a year ago, and will likely be added to its Jupiter, Fla. location in future. The system, with its several installer-accessible lockers, each of which can house products in size up to ultra-large-screen TVs, is meant to smooth processes for “customers who place an order during working hours and want to pick it up after we close. It’s been in effect for a year already, and it’s a great value-add for them,” he explained.
Elster, in commenting on the measure of attrition that occurred among the distribution ranks this past year, said it’s natural that consolidation occurs in the industry on occasion - although not necessarily welcome, “because competition keeps us on our toes, and we’re laser-focused on our business. There’s enough business for all of us, as long as you take care of your customers.”