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COMMENT:Focal Has A New Distributor, But Who Gives A Stuff

COMMENT:Focal Has A New Distributor, But Who Gives A Stuff

That Focal has moved from its former home, Sydney’s Audio Marketing to another distributor is hardly breaking news.

It’s simply one more sign showing how the Australian audio-video importing and distribution industry morphed from gentlemanly endeavor to the treacherous jungle it is today.

Focal is simply just the latest in a never-ending conga line of brands to change Australian suppliers in what seems like the last sixty minutes. 

A snapshot of brands changing their established distributors in the last few years includes the following:

-Martin Logan from Advance Audio to Audio Active
-Tivoli Audio from Audio Dynamics to International Dynamics
-Macintosh from Castel Electronics to Synergy Audio
-Sonus Faber from International Dynamics to Synergy Audio
-Audio Research from Advance Audio to Synergy Audio
-Sony ES from Sony Australia to Audio Active
-Pioneer Audio Products from Pioneer Australia to Amber Technology
-NAD  from Audio Products Group to Qualifi
-Speaker craft from Audio Marketing to Avation

It’s worth stressing most of these brands changed distributors ethically. 

And no one is suggesting that in adding Focal JM Lab to a portfolio that includes the prestigious Naim and Chord brands, NA behaved with anything less than solid ethics.

But the point that needs making is even after years of solid investment in time and money, as was the case with Audio Marketing and Focal, many loyal distributors lose their brands because manufacturers are always under pressure to respond to a better deal.

That’s business. More pointedly, the way it’s done in Australian Hi-Fi today. 

 As one leading Melbourne Hi-Fi specialist storeowner explained recently:

“We specialists stab each other in the chest, but I’m sad to say when distributors carve each other up they sink the stiletto in each other’s back,” he said.

”Thankfully our brands have pretty stable suppliers for now, but imagine what it might mean to a consumer who simply doesn’t know where to turn for a vital spare part. Or even if he did, will the newbie distributor have as solid an inventory of parts as the previous established business did?”

Len Wallis the man behind Audio Marketing and the Sydney Hi-Fi store, and one of the industry’s most ethical veterans, was philosophical when I spoke to him.

“We handled Focal JM Labs for decades so it hasn’t been one of our better days. But the sun is still shining and we’ll look ahead for something better to supply to Australian music lovers, ” he said.

Clearly one of the major reasons good people such as Len Wallis and other decent distributors of his calibre lose their brands without warning, is financial.

With accountants running Hi-Fi manufacturing, global audio brands are under pressure to get more dollars into their outfits. 

This requires trimming costs. And the first port of call to receive less and less marketing dollars are Australian Hi-Fi distributors.

When I asked Len if Focal JM Labs were more generous with a helping hand than other distributors, he said pared back manufacturing budgets were now the norm facing Australian distributors.

“Manufacturers overall are putting less and less in to establish their brands in Australia, ‘he says.

”That’s the risk you take as a local supplier of an overseas brand. You invest your own money to market your brands and hope to heck someone isn’t coveting your hard work.”

Speaking to more than a few of these business owners is hardly inspiring. Many continue to astound by their grossly misplaced perception of just how small an audio buying population Australia has on offer.

It’s no use explaining that while the country is geographically vast, the population isn’t. Coming from countries much smaller but with far, far denser populations they won’t get it. 

So they continue to wonder about the meager quantity of their product that’s taken up by Aussie consumers. And they’ll look for any way to bolster the bottom line.

 If that means ditching an honest, long standing relationship with one distributor for a newer suitor, they’ll dive in at every opportunity.

It’s the new normal. A never-ending quest to win the game of financial musical chairs. It isn’t a new story or News.

It’s information. That’s all it is. Information that may or may not titillate a few bemused retailers who know how things really work.

But try explaining that to the Thespians populating the online Australian Audio Video Press these days.