B&W Heads to Magnoliaville

Reflecting dramatic changes in the high-end industry, British loudspeaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins has developed for its products a new US retail outlet. Beginning in October, audio shoppers will be able to audition and buy the company's loudspeakers in Best Buy's chain of Magnolia stores.

B&W's entire line, from in-wall speakers through the flagship 800 series, will be available in Magnolia's six remaining standalone Audio Video stores, as well as in its ever-increasing number of Magnolia Design Centers. The balance of the Magnolia chain, which occupies some 350 locations within Best Buy stores, will have access to B&W's 600 and CM series, complete with center-channel speakers and subwoofers, as well as lifestyle products such as the Zeppelin iPod and MM-1 computer speaker systems. The top-of-the-line Nautilus remains available for audition in the few dealerships equipped to adequately present it.

B&W chairman and owner Joe Atkins explained to Stereophile the reasons for the company's decision: "We have experienced a precipitous decline in dealerships. The entire specialty audio industry has been hit, not only by the loss of stores, but also by the loss of rooms dedicated to showing premium audio. First the increased emphasis on video decreased space [for audio], then the switch to demming nonpure audio, including distributed audio such as control and noiseless systems, further consumed space."

Atkins also described a second and concomitant trend of the past three years: the significant number of failures of retailers. "Coupled with a dramatic increase in the number of traditional retailers who have reduced or eliminated store count and/or size of retail presence, scaled back their businesses, or transformed into custom integrators, we have experienced a dramatic and significant decline in presentation of Bowers & Wilkins in bricks-and-mortar stores," he said. "The problem of dealer decline is particular to the US, and is much less an issue overseas."

Atkins emphasized that underpinning the company's decision was Magnolia's ability to demonstrate the entire B&W line. "We wish to recover, if not enhance, the ability to have the broad extension of our products seen and heard nationally. Bowers & Wilkins feels very compelled to make sure that, in every market and price range, we have enough bricks-and-mortar presence for people to be able to find us. We are also confident that the increased brand exposure will benefit our existing dealer partners, and enhance their ability to continue to drive profitable and sustainable retail revenue."

B&W is hardly alone in its decision. Magnolia also carries Arcam, Denon, Marantz, McIntosh, Peachtree Audio, Pioneer Elite, and Primare electronics, as well as Definitive Technology, Genelec, MartinLogan, Monitor Audio, Niles, REL, Sonus Faber, SpeakerCraft, and Vienna Acoustics loudspeakers. They even have Pro-Ject turntables.

"This is quite a shift for us," Atkins said, "but it is driven by what has gone on outside our control—especially in the last 24 months, with the decline. Our products do not lend themselves to be sold online without the consumer hearing them."