NHT Returns to a New Marketplace

NHT is back. Less than five months after the veteran speaker company, aka Now Hear This, declared that it would sell off remaining inventory, pay its bills, and spend time rethinking its future, it has regrouped and returned with a new marketing approach.

In response to the rise in internet sales, decline of retail dealerships in this country and abroad, and changes in the audiophile consumer base, company co-founder Chris Byrne and his partner John Johnsen have adopted a new marketing strategy. Consumers can now purchase NHT's pared-down product line from either independent dealers, online partners such as Audio Advisor—there's a complete list here—or direct from NHT's website at the same reduced price. But you can only buy from these sources; "These are the only authorized dealers to sell NHT products on the Internet. Buy from someone other than these guys and kiss your warranty goodbye and any guarantee that you are getting the genuine article," NHT warns.

Byrne, who co-founded the company in 1986, confirmed by phone that the company never intended to cease operations, as some industry doomsayers have suggested. Instead, it needed to adapt to changes in the marketplace and consumer pool.

"Audio is not a hobby for most people anymore," he declared in the salty-dog voice of a veteran shipman. "Retail distribution is shrinking on a daily basis. In 1995, we had about 320 US retailers and 80 installers. Now we have less overall, and only 40 pure retailers. Most of our independent dealers have gone into the custom installation business."

In response, NHT's new plan eliminates "layers of expense." Gone are the company's sales reps and North American distributors. NHT now handles all distribution and fulfillment in North America. Dealers place their orders online, with product shipped by the company directly to consumers. The approach is not only greener, involving less shipping back and forth, but has also resulted in less inventory back-ups and a retail price drop of 20–30%.

When NHT began its hiatus, it had 35 models in its line. Now there are about 18, with eight new products in process. Gone are the Evolution line and the original DSP-based loudspeaker systems. Most of the Pro line, as well as the Verve line, are on their way out. In development are desktop audio, wireless products, powered loudspeakers, and a couple of advanced, lower-cost versions of DSP. Emphasis is still on two-channel products rather than surround.

"Our mantra remains high quality, not high price," says Byrne. "If you don't have the money, this is the brand you should buy."

Also gone is much of the advertising that the company once relied upon. "Print advertising no longer makes sense," says Byrne, "because we keep advertising to the same diminishing demographic that can't listen to our product because there are few legitimate dealers left in the US." Although the company will probably end its 18-month advertising moratorium, it will more than likely rely on online ads more than print ads. It will also get the word out via online magazines, blogs, Gizmo, c-net, online user reviews, and its long-standing reputation."

Byrne notes that two other well-known audiophile brands, Gallo and MartinLogan, are now selling on amazon.com. Apple, he asserts, does most of its marketing online.

"I would never do this if I were a brand starting off, "he says. "We have hundreds of thousands of consumers who write us every day and talk about us. That's why I think we can succeed. It's a great experiment. NHT might go away forever. Or we may have found the way to expand our horizons and grow the company again."