More Audio Statistics Indicate Growing Markets

Specialty audio manufacturers did better than expected in 1997, with factory sales as high as $1.4 billion, as reported last week. More figures from the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association indicate that the High End's good fortune is part of a bigger trend.

A sales spurt in February helped boost year-to-date sales of all audio products to $1.01 billion. Sales volume for home audio systems (i.e., rack systems) rose by 3.4%, to $115 million. Year-to-date for home components totals $217 million, according to CEMA.

The top 100 retailers in the US racked up $65.8 billion in sales last year. Riding the wave of prosperity are the nation's two largest consumer electronics retailers: 284-store Best Buy, which posted $7.6 billion in sales, and 556-store Circuit City, with $6.8 billlion. Best Buy stores did better than twice the sales volume on a per-store basis than did Circuit City, whose result is nonetheless an impressive 16.1% increase over 1996. Best Buy's stock has risen 700% in the past year.

Both chains are expanding into new markets. Best Buy plans to open 25 new stores this year, and Circuit City will open 50. CC is also heavily invested in the rollout of Divx, the controversial purchase+pay-per-view DVD scheme.

Best Buy is planning five new stores in the Boston area, plus: 45,000-sq.-ft. flagship stores in Portsmouth and Manchester, NH; two in Nashville, TN; a slightly smaller store in Charleston, SC; and a 40k-sq.-ft. outlet in Wausau, WI.

The West Coast's 76-store chain The Good Guys hasn't fared as well as its larger siblings. The San Francisco-based retailer posted a 2% increase in sales in 1997---a total of $499.4 million. On April 22, Good Guys announced a net loss of $2 million for its second fiscal quarter, ending March 31.

CEO Robert A. Gunst blamed his company's lackluster performance on "a soft market overall" and the lack of "new technologies entering the Audio/Video marketplace." Gunst expressed high hopes for High Definition TV and DVD as revitalizers of the industry. The company plans to open 12 new Audio/Video Exposition stores this year, and recently signed on as a retail supporter of Divx.