CustomRetailer sat down with David Kroll, CI product development manager, KEF; Mark Aling, Director of Marketing, Paradigm; Al Baron, Line Manager, Polk Audio; Jennifer Davis, Vice President of Marketing, Runco; Simon Wehr, Director of Marketing, Sonance; Mal Hollombe, President, Soundcast Systems; Jeremy Burkhardt, CEO, SpeakerCraft; and Lynn Stearn, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, SunBriteTV, to find out about the current outdoor market and how you can grab a slice of it.

CustomRetailer: Talk about the size of the market for all types of outdoor solutions—and what sort of growth potential you see for that niche within the next couple of years that would provide profit opportunities to the custom integrator segment.

David Kroll, KEF: The market for outdoor is exploding and continues to grow, as evidenced by what you see at the home improvements stores, where they are focusing more energy and attention to the outdoor being an extension of the home and the living room. This opens up more and newer avenues for sound outside. The iPod generation is used to having their music all of the time and they want the added convenience and the seamless transition of walking from inside to outside and having it carried with them.

Mark Aling, Paradigm: Over the last several years, a trend in creating or updating outdoor living and entertaining spaces has become a big portion of the A/V market. People want some of the same amenities outside of their home that they enjoy inside: outdoor mini bars, fireplaces, patios and complete living/entertaining spaces. To these spaces, homeowners are adding all-weather speakers and other A/V technologies that require an integrator’s expertise. This not only presents seasonal opportunities in a great many markets; it also adds a new and very real profit source. Growth is only limited by creativity—the homeowner’s and the dealer’s.

Al Baron, Polk: I’m not aware of any data on the size of the outdoor wireless market but clearly, customers would like the wireless feature on just about everything and outdoor speakers are no exception. Most of the available options are early attempts with limited battery life and modest fidelity, but this should improve over time. Apple’s AirPlay, coupled with the cost and quality of batteries, could be game changers.

However, integrators still prefer wired devices because they are 100 percent reliable and have a lower likelihood of callbacks. But we’ve seen with our own wireless subwoofers and the new F/X Wireless Surround that if a product performs as promised, consumers will warm to the feature. Note that outdoor products have rebounded much faster than in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, which are still 40 percent below 2006 levels.

Jennifer Davis, Runco: The outdoor market is a growing segment, as outdoor living is an important lifestyle trend and one of the bright spots in the otherwise challenged construction and remodeling market. Outdoor kitchens and living spaces are becoming important “must haves” in the luxury home and are finding their way to the mainstream.

Simon Wehr, Sonance: Sonance is not currently working in the wireless speaker space. However, devices such as Apple AirPlay will certainly create new opportunities as people discover the freedom of being able to stream their favorite content to and from various devices. In my opinion, the hardware (speakers, amplifiers and some type of receiver such as Apple TV) will still need to be hard-wired to deliver the reliability in the extremes of outdoor use…and this means we will still need skilled installers to provide the solution.

The wireless side will come into play as the listener streams the content to the receiver via a mobile device—whether it be songs or videos on their iPod or iPad, the music library they are controlling on their iTunes, or online providers such as Pandora or Rhapsody. This is where the installer will be able to expand their offering by providing solutions that embrace this technology and combine them with the performance and reliability of a well-designed solution. Wireless speakers will simply be portable devices that people take outside when they are needed.

Mal Hollombe, Soundcast: We’re seeing a growth in our outdoor business because it is an elegant solution to a problem. Wireless audio has been done very badly for a very long time. Many dealers’ first reaction is, ‘No thanks. Been there, done that.’ And the CI marketplace gets paid to pull wire—no question about that. But there are times they can’t, when they need an alternative, and we’re providing solutions for that.

Many products in the market are built to a price-point—what we think people will pay for something. Of course, that requires compromise. We elected early on not to compromise sound quality and quality of service. Our sound quality has to sound as good as wireless, period.

Our view of wireless is that it’s an accessory to the CI world but also, an alternative for the consumer.

Jeremy Burkhardt, SpeakerCraft: We’ve been making high-end outdoor speakers since 1995. In the outdoor market, we’ve done a lot of studies with our dealers. We find that they tend to sell a lot of outdoor audio for placement in the front of clients’ homes, to welcome guests when they enter. Dealers are also specifying subwoofers for outside where they haven’t in the past, so the category is growing overall with this broadening of applications.

We’ve got speakers that can be hidden easily in the bushes, or up under eaves and also, for the back of the house, you can put multiple on-ground speakers that look like Malibu lights with subwoofers and get a wide-dispersion field outside.

Lynn Stearn, SunBriteTV: We grow in increments of about between 15 to 25 percent per year. We’ve been very fortunate, because of the demographic we appeal to, that we haven’t been affected by the economy. Our buyers don’t necessarily worry about spending $3,000 for a TV. We also grabbed a little bit of the market of people who decided in the down economy not to spend $10,000 on a vacation but rather spent on “staycations” where they’re making their backyards their oasis of entertainment—adding an outdoor kitchen, outdoor furniture and outdoor TVs. That’s helped us to maintain a higher level of sales as well, even in a challenged economy.

CR: What are some of the newest solutions you are offering in outdoor?

Baron: Our Garden Sub Sat system is part of the new wave of landscape or garden speakers that disappear. People are looking for innovative ways to achieve “invisible” sound outside with speakers that don’t resemble dinosaur dung.

Aling: One of our newest all-weather products that actually goes beyond the demands of the home are the Paradigm AMS X-treme Moisture speakers. These marine speakers can not only assist dealers in high-moisture applications such as bathrooms, saunas, home spas and around pools, but their resistance to corrosive salt spray and other elements makes them suitable for boats and other leisure crafts.

The wider customer base for outdoor A/V is really homeowners with a passion for technology and entertainment. “On the go” music and audio content is more accessible than ever, so having it stored in a central location, easily accessible inside or outside, is an appealing sell for installers and a trend rapidly catching on with consumers.

Wehr: The new Sonance Landscape Series has been designed to maximize the experience for listeners in an outdoor environment. The separate satellite and subwoofer design, combined with the scalable 70-volt configuration, allows the installer to create a full and even sound throughout an entire garden or patio area, without dead spots or hot spots. The PVC color-molded composite construction and triple-sealed enclosure design deliver high-fidelity sound and reliable operation in extreme weather conditions of -20 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, and even when subjected to sand, salt, surf, snow and rain.

Burkhardt: Our box speakers, the Elements series, range from $299 to $389 each, and are available in eight-, six- and five-inch versions as well as six-inch dual-tweeter and five-inch dual-tweeter stereo versions. The Ruckus rock-style speaker series is designed for very high power handling and comes in five-, six- and eight-inch versions; the models range from $225 to $450 each. There’s also a Ruckus single stereo speaker, and a Ruckus rock sub with a 250-watt powered amp for $999.

Then there is the OG—for On Ground speaker, at $175 each, in a Malibu light design. That speaker mates with our new Boom Tomb powered subwoofer—an underground speaker with amp. It offers 250 watts of power and the woofer is ported above ground. It can be matched with any speaker product, and will be priced at about $999 with the amp. All our outdoor models carry a lifetime warranty.

Kroll: The new line of outdoor speakers called Ventura includes three models. We’ve paid significant attention to the durability of these speakers. We’ve had an independent laboratory certify these at IP 65 [a rating that measures durability of a product against penetration of it by solids and liquids]. They’ve been salt-spray-tested for 1,200 hours with no degradation. Every exposed part of the speaker, if it’s metal, is either aluminum or brass, which means they won’t corrode. And all plastic is UV-treated.

Our core philosophy for outdoor sound is that more is better. Using more speakers to cover a given area gives seamless coverage without hot spots, meaning you don’t need to turn one pair up to cover a larger area because you have coverage from area to area. This line has been specifically scaled so that at any given budget, you can use a quantity of them outside to give you seamless coverage over a very large area. Everything depends on placement, so we always tell consumers to talk to a skilled installer who can make knowledgeable recommendations for the best possible coverage, given the environment.

Davis: Runco’s Climate Portfolio Series of outdoor flat-panel displays are engineered for maximum protection from adverse environmental conditions, including temperature, exposure to moisture, dust, oils and intermittent direct water spray. They use an aluminum-sealed cabinet to ensure protection from the elements and feature a specially designed internal ventilation system for cooling.

Furthermore, this flat panel uniquely offers Runco’s ThermoCare internal thermostat, which activates the cooling system regardless of whether the TV is on or off, to protect and cool the display in hot temperatures. As a result, Runco CP flat-panel displays surpass IP 56 weatherproof standards, which will allow you to leave it outside year round, without worry. The CP displays’ include gallery-style frame and a range of personalization options.

Stearn: SunBriteTVs are geared to a higher-demographic buyer because of our price-points because it is a solution. Our high-end Pro series, available in 22-inch, 32-inch, 46-inch and 55-inch screen sizes, is an all-aluminum powder-coated unit with detachable speakers.

Then, we came out with our value-engineered HD series line. That line has a 32-inch model that has been out for a while and also, a 46-inch model, 4630, is just being released. These have built-in speakers and are of ASA outdoor-rated plastic resin. Because we did injection molding and did a plastic case, it’s less costly to build without all the metal parts and powder coating. We also don’t include one control feature set in these models, so that has enabled us to take the pricing down by $500 for the same size in the higher-end series.

Hollombe: Our iCast transmitter or our UAT transmitter can support any two of our receivers; that would be an OutCast, an OutCast Jr. or a SpeakerCast. Those products are part of our current line. Now, we have introduced a new technology that supports four receivers for each transmitter, and each receiver can select from one of three different sources. So you have a four-zone audio system with the use of this product—it’s the 3.4 system, and the range includes the OutCast 3.4, OutCast Jr. 3.4, UAT 3.4, and so on. It is a separate line and uses a different set of firmware than our other line, but has a broader application reach. And there is no programming with our product out of the box, so it is an elegant path to multi-zone without having to go to great lengths to do it.

We also have a product called SurroundCast, an application product to overcome front-to-back wire objections by the client. It allows you to go from front to back wirelessly, and there’s a 50-watt digital amp in the receiver module so you can go left and right. We’re seeing that being used in rooms where it wasn’t thought surround was needed originally. The next evolution of that will be developing a multi-room transmitter/receiver system.

CR: In what product development directions are you heading for future introductions of profitable outdoor solutions?

Aling: Although we have a strong track record in performance and build quality, Paradigm engineers are always looking at new materials and techniques to increase the lifespan of an outdoor speaker. We will also be looking at our entire outdoor product line from a ‘style’ perspective. There’s a trend toward minimalism in A/V; people don’t want towering speakers obstructing a natural outdoor view or becoming a distracting visual focus. Give them a speaker that fits unobtrusively into their outdoor landscape, however, and that gets them excited.

Wehr: Sonance will continue to expand and develop its Landscape Series range, as well as provide high-quality system designs for our installers through our “Sonance Design Services,” which provides in-house expertise to dealers, assisting with product selection, system configuration and speaker positioning, based on the architectural drawings and layout of the space.

Burkhardt: We’ve found that the more unobtrusive we can make products—from burying them in the ground to hiding them within traditional outdoor applications, the wider the acceptance will be. The Boom Tomb in-ground sub is a 10-inch with 250 watts of power, and, of course, everybody always wants more bass, so you can look at us as providing something that will be even bigger than the single Boom Tomb in future; by next spring there will be additional models.

Davis: Runco’s parent company, Planar, is a leader in outdoor displays used for digital signage, fast-food menu boards, and many other applications where mission-critical reliability is expected, and we will continue our Climate Portfolio products to address the needs of the authorized Runco dealer and their clients.

Baron: We’re looking to expand Polk’s offerings, building upon our success with the Garden sub/sat system. Installers love it because of the installation flexibility, unobtrusive nature and, of course, the sound quality. Those three ingredients must be part of any future outdoor offering if it’s going to capture the imagination of the integrator and the consumer.

Stearn: Probably next year, we might look at adding the 55-inch screen size to expand our HD series line. At some point, perhaps before the end of the year, we might also transition to some of the LED/LCD panels; right now we offer CCFL backlit panels. CR

More Hot (and Cool)
Outdoor Solutions

Some of what else is out there for you
and your exterior-loving clients:

• Boston Acoustics’ Voyager Rock Speaker Series (in sandstone [shown,] granite and river rock finishes) is represented by the eight-inch RK8T2 ($500 each). Voiced for open-air environments, it uses mica-filled woofers with a butyl rubber surround. A custom-stepped basket that moves the woofer flush with the enclosure surface minimizes “tunnel effect.”

• Crestron’s UFO-WPR-3ER Waterproof Wireless Remote offers extended-range RF performance and a color LCD display will float, and is immersible to 10 feet. The Caribbean blue rubberized housing is easy to spot and won’t easily slip from the client’s grip. The system includes an indoor surface-mountable docking station and there’s an optional outdoor station.

• From Niles’ GeoRealistic line, the RS6Si rock cabinet speaker features integrated textured aluminum grilles. With proprietary injection-molded TCC six-inch woofer and two one-inch Tetron tweeters, the RS6Si can be operated in monaural, traditional two-speaker stereo or single-speaker stereo input modes. It comes in granite (shown), speckled granite, sandstone, coral and shale brown finishes.

• Pantel’s PAN421 ($4,999) 42-inch 1080p LCD weatherproof flat-panel HDTV is one of five models that range from 20 to 65 inches. It is rated work in temperatures of -40 degrees up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and it features a rust-resistant, powder-coated aluminum chassis and a dipped, anti-reflective tempered glass surface for image-viewing on a sunny day.

• Connector maker PPC’s Weather Protection System (WPS) is made to work exclusively with its AllTight series of compression connectors for 50-ohm corrugated and smooth wall feeders and jumpers. The system, of a rubber silicone designed to withstand exposure to sales and other abrasive particles, protects the connectors’ base metals and equipment ports from pollutants, while enabling quick installation and easy access for maintenance calls.

• RTI’s U2 Weather-Resistant Universal System Controller ($499) features eight programmable soft buttons and a high-contrast LCD screen that can display custom buttons, graphics and text in sunlight. It also offers 33 programmable keypad buttons for easy access to frequently used applications. Programming is a simple matter, with RTI’s Integration Designer software.

• WeatherHawk’s four-model 500 Series weather stations, which come in direct-connect and wireless versions that are equipped with or without heaters, measure wind speed and direction, temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, solar radiation and rain. The stations include solid-state sensors with no moving parts and an unobtrusive, low-profile design for when the device is placed in high-visibility locations.