Succeed with iAccessories

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The multiples account for a large slice of the consumer electronics market, but the increasing complexity of products has created a knowledge gap that independents are perfectly placed to fill. The same applies to the accessories market. Stephen Delany investigates the opportunities that exist for the independent in the burgeoning market for ‘iAdd-ons’.

Go to almost any larger urban centre in the UK, and you’re bound to find an electrical multiple or major electricals-stocking supermarket. Unless, that is, you happen to be visiting the Lake District. Granted, it is one of the less-populated areas of the UK, but Cumbria Tourism figures show it attracts a staggering 8.3 million day visitors a year (not to mention the tens of thousands of families who brave its unpredictable elements for their annual holiday). That’s millions of people who could be looking for additional SD cards for digital cameras, Scart leads to connect a DVD player to the holiday cottage’s rather ancient TV, iPhone accessories to keep bored kids happy – the list goes on.

Try finding a multiple there, though… Between Workington in the north-west, Carlisle in the north and Kendal in the south (around 40 miles), you will not find a single electrical multiple or electricals-stocking supermarket – although there are multiples in those towns themselves. For the independents in towns such as Keswick, Penrith, Grange or Cockermouth, there’s a huge captive market to be tapped.

Essentials, not ‘nice-to-haves’

That said, it’s important to remember that many ‘accessories’ are not distress purchases, but near-essential items that dramatically enhance the usability, performance and pleasure of the host product.

It’s a point that Vivanco product manager Chris Moseley makes when asked to identify the ‘accessories of the moment’, commenting: “It’s hard to suggest the most popular accessory – as they are just that: accessories to a product that require them to work, either at all or to the best of their ability,” although when pushed he points to products that are related to flat screen TVs, such as wall brackets or HDMI cables.

Staying with TVs, BBG director of marketing Paul Dawes reckons the most popular accessories in the overall market are those that complement the aesthetics of the latest generation of ultra-thin screens: “Products such as super-slim mounts and flat HDMI cables with angled connectors enable these TVs to be mounted as close to the wall as possible and thereby maximise the benefit of their design to give the most discrete solution,” he explains.

Top of the iPops

But it’s the Apple product portfolio that has apparently made the biggest impact in some accessory specialists’ eyes. Armour Home’s Steve Reichert identifies cables and “almost anything iPod/iPhone related” as the two most popular product groups of the past decade.

The ‘iAccessory’ theme crops up again with Paul Gyles, category head – essentials for Sony UK, who observes: “This year we’ve seen that the headphones category has continued to grow, one of the key contributing factors being the fantastic sales of the iPhone 4. Associated products such as Made for iPhone headsets have done very well, and we expect this trend to continue throughout 2011.” Neil Truckell of consumer electronics outsourcing specialist IOS Company recognises the same trend.


Interestingly, Paul has also observed more customers buying multiple pairs of headphones: “Examples of this have included people buying dedicated sports headphones for using in the gym, noise-cancelling headphones for travel, Made for iPod headphones for their iPhones, etc.,” he says. He also notes a resurgence in the ‘overhead headphones’ segment.

Neil Truckell also enthusiastically highlights the substantial increase in the TV wall mount market this year, which he ascribes to the larger and thinner TV screens being purchased. “The thinner the TV, the more people want to show it off to friends and family, and the best perceived position is on the wall,” he says.

Figures from market research company GfK Retail and Technology UK certainly back up his assessment, with the company’s Richard Gregory quoting figures showing the trend in TV furniture has moved away from floor-based racks to wall mounts in the latest data, accounting for almost exactly half (49.9%) of TV furniture in the 12 months to August 2010 – up from 44.1% a year ago.

The ones to watch

But what about those accessory products that have yet to fulfil their potential, or which our pundits believe are shortly to take the market by storm?

As far as IOS’s Neil Truckell is concerned, premium-quality TV furniture is under-appreciated by retailers, with “too many focusing on the easy-sell cheap pole and glass (oil rig type) TV stands”. He adds: “A large percentage of homes now have a flat-screen TV, so it’s no longer something to show off to their neighbours – now it’s the turn of the TV stand to show a point of difference!”

Returning to the Apple theme, he feels that good quality earphones have not been fully appreciated by some independent retailers due to their reluctance to stock Apple-type products, and therefore consumers do not recognise their local dealer as somewhere to go for their portable music accessories. He explains: “Although the hardware margins are low, the increase in foot traffic into the shop will more than offset the margin reduction in addition to the additional margin opportunities derived from the associated and better quality earphones or headphones.”

Vivanco’s Chris Moseley agrees, pointing to the number of MP3 players and phones being used with ‘free in the box’ headphones, and highlighting the under-exploited retail opportunity this presents.

For Chris Emerson, chief operating officer for Alphason Designs, the HDMI cable is the most overlooked accessory by independents. Indeed, rather alarmingly, he says his own company’s research shows that some consumers are buying their flat screen TV from an independent and then going to a multiple outlet for their HDMI cable.

On a more sophisticated level, for Paul Gyles at Sony the ‘networked home’ is the trend to watch for 2011/2012. “There is a big opportunity for independents to demystify the technology that enables this and succeed in selling accessories that simplify customer usage,” he says. “The key to being successful is simplifying the experience for consumers and demonstrating the many benefits of the home network.”

At the other end of the price spectrum, however, BBG’s Paul Dawes cites screen cleaning products as being significantly underestimated by retailers. “When you consider that every single flat panel LCD screen ever sold needs to be cleaned safely, the market for these products is huge,” he says, “and also represents one of the simplest add-on sales.”

Embracing accessories

Those independents who have survived over the past ten years have almost certainly embraced change and evolved to fit the market requirements, but how much is this due to accessories? As Armour Home’s Steve Reichert says: “It’s just not enough to make a sale; they have to maximise the sale.”

Sony’s Paul Gyles reckons that the successful independents are those who have effectively used their greatest asset – the knowledge and expertise of their staff – to differentiate from the competition. “If a consumer can talk to your staff about the types of headphones they want or even how they want to use them, they are likely to buy. Many Saturday staff in the larger multiples can only show you the aisle where the range is kept; this doesn’t inspire confidence,” he says.

On the other hand, Neil
Truckell feels that independents have been reluctant to merchandise and sell accessories at the same time as the main item – for example, a TV – and that only recently have they realised the importance of sales training geared towards add-on selling. Incredibly, he reckons that for every 20 sales of flat screen TVs in independents, only one wall mount is sold. “That is enough to ring the loudest alarm bells and only the independents who have realised the importance of sales training geared towards selling and upselling wall mounts with high margins will remain sustainable in these trying times,” he says.

The research Neil cites appears to be supported by Chris Moseley of Vivanco, who is a keen advocate of making accessories part of the sale, and not viewing them as an add-on: “With such low margins on major industry trend-setting products, the only way to ensure you make a decent profit is to sell ‘essentials’, which even their name suggests are essential for the customer anyway – some dealers think that the ‘hard sell’ of essential items puts people off. In fact, if you don’t sell the customer something they need with their product at the point of sale they will not only go and buy it elsewhere but be annoyed that they’ve not been sold everything they needed. The chances are they’ll probably not buy the essential item from another specialist store but instead get it on a routine trip to somewhere like a supermarket, and perhaps even see the product they’ve just bought cheaper, causing further issues.”

Training for sales

Given the amount of training and support the manufacturers apparently provide, there’s no reason why independents embracing accessories cannot benefit from the opportunities they offer. As an independent, if you’re not benefiting from tailored services from your current suppliers, maybe you should be looking elsewhere.

Sony’s Paul Gyles, for example, is keen to emphasise MD Steve Dowdle’s staunch advocacy of specific help for independents: “We continue to speak with them about what will help them most and deliver on that wherever possible,” he says. “Understanding customer behaviour and helping to demystify what can be confusing technology will always be a huge differentiator, and we will always share our customer research about this with the independents.”

Thanks to its Viewsmart initiative – launched expressly for the independent sector – Alphason Designs reports a “massive surge” in accessory sales. Viewsmart is designed to ensure that every time a retailer sells a TV panel, they also sell accessories, meaning a 100% attachment rate plus the opportunity to double the margin.

Meanwhile, for the Vogel’s brand of TV wall mounts, Neil Truckell focuses on the cooperative services from sales trainers and a team of sales agents who call directly on independents to offer product advice and support, and an extensive range of PoS and display material to merchandise the product effectively.

The majority of Armour Home’s sales are apparently from independents anyway, and the company’s Steve Reichert highlights the dedicated sales force, training seminars, sales office support and monthly special offers exclusively for its independent dealers.

Vivanco has a long-running training scheme called Focus Training which aims to train dealers in the basic skills of selling what customers need – including how to make the most from accessory sales, selling up and attachments.

BBG trumpets its long-standing status as a “trusted partner” of the independent channel by providing “eye-catching” POS displays, clear and concise retail-friendly packaging that customers can ‘self select’, telephone support or the ‘Mount Finder’ facility to help customers purchase the correct mount.

Training for sales

Given the amount of training and support the manufacturers apparently provide, there’s no reason why independents embracing accessories cannot benefit from the opportunities they offer. As an independent, if you’re not benefiting from tailored services from your current suppliers, maybe you should be looking elsewhere.

Accessories – Product opportunities

Armour Home: Q-TV

“Q-TV massively improves the sound quality heard from flat-screen televisions and is both the biggest and the fastest-selling product ever released by Armour Home (excluding HDMI cables)”, says Steve Reichert. “It’s unique, and that’s both an advantage and a disadvantage, as many dealers are very suspicious of any product that truly moves the goalposts.”

Meanwhile RedEye from Armour Home turns the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad into convenient universal remote controls. Offering “high-end functionality at a very affordable price”, RedEye is available as a free download on iTunes.

Alphason Designs: Arena Soundstand

Described as “an innovative support with sound”, Arena boasts a 100W speaker system and ultra-slim sub woofer to deliver “dynamic room-filling stereo sound with real bass”.

Sony: iPod docks and SD cards

Paul Gyles admits Sony took a long time to move into the premium iPod docks market, but says the company now has a strong line-up that has been very well received by customers, and he expects huge Christmas demand. He also highlights a massive shift into selling SD cards for the first time at a time when commoditisation in this space was huge. “We offer a real added value proposition which we haven’t managed to communicate as effectively as we’d like to date,” he says.

Blackbox: i10 noise-cancelling headphones

Neil Truckell says the i10 noise-cancelling headphones have sold beyond expectations due to their unique active noise cancellation technology that’s powered by the 30-pin connector that plugs straight into an iPod.

Vivanco: Titan wall mount

The Titan wall mounts are described as the simplest wall mount solution on the market, for both dealers and consumers. Chris Moseley says it offers a great margin and comes with excellent support in terms of POS and a knowledgeable sales team.

BBG: Peerless HDMI cables with Ethernet

Paul Dawes says he has seen a surge in popularity for Peerless cables which offer a full range of High Speed HDMI with Ethernet, all providing “exceptional performance at a variety of price points to suit any requirement”.

iPort: Apple iPad touch panel

The new CM2000 Control Mount for iPad from iPort (distributed by Armour Home) allows an Apple iPad to be used as an in-wall touch panel, providing continuous charging of the iPad and connection to locally available Wi-Fi.

Vogel’s: Apple iPad wall mount

Market leader in Europe in TV wall mounts, Vogel’s has just launched a wall mount for the Apple iPad, described as ideal for the Christmas market.

Ixos: Divo powered speaker system and iPod dock

The ‘Made for iPod’ Ixos Divo powered sound system combines a powered 2.1 speaker system with subwoofer, a TV sound upgrade for “anaemic” Flat TV sound, and a stereo music system with dock for iPod. Ixos says the Divo remotely controls and recharges iPods/iPhones and syncs content with iTunes, and also “dramatically improves the weedy sound of most modern TVs and computers”. Ixos has also launched a “budget-busting” high-speed HDMI cable with Ethernet catering for the latest HDMI 1.4a spec.

Omnimount: Prism 50 AV stand

Leading home entertainment furniture manufacturer OmniMount has partnered with industrial and interior designer Karim Rashid to produce Prism 50, a trapezoidal piece of AV furniture. Available in high gloss black or white exterior, the Prism 50 has top shelf space for a soundbar or centre loudspeaker and a bottom compartment for additional home entertainment components. The top shelf supports products wei
ghing up to 68kg, and Prism 50 retails for £429.99.

AVF: Unimax wall mount

From AVF comes Unimax, described as the world’s first TV mount that can attach any TV to any wall – including plaster board, wood and metal stud, brick, dot and dab, concrete. AVF says the Unimax can carry an 80-inch TV and has a weight rating of 80kg on any wall, yet protrudes just 12mm from the wall itself (this can be increased if extra access to cables is required).

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