Car Toys Adjusts Course

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It’s rare that Dan Brettler, chairman/CEO of Seattle-based Car Toys, gives an interview, but it turns out, he’s got a lot to say about the 52- store chain expanding into new product segments in the car and wireless markets.
In a nutshell the store, with $130 million in annual sales, wants to evolve into an auto boutique, complete with detailing and expand its wireless phone business deeper into netbooks, eReaders and possibly tablets.
Car Toys will start carrying the iRex 3G $399 eReader (DR800SG) in the next 30 days, it said.
On the auto side, the company is rolling out auto detailing to all stores. It’s looking at weather restoration, rim repair, headlight restoration and window tinting. “We think we have a lot of trust with the customer in terms of working on the car,” said Brettler.
“In car, we see ourselves evolving into more of an automotive brand. We started that over a year ago in detailing in all our Washington stores. Now we’re rolling it out to all stores in the next couple of months. That’s the anchor product around an auto salon concept,” he added.
Within car electronics, the company plans to enter advanced driver safety and is presently rolling out Audiovox’s FLO TV and will likely carry ATSC or Mobile DTV.
In the second quarter, another car salon-type product entry is planned although Brettler would not name the product. “It’s an automotive related product where installation adds value, but you don’t see it at CES,” he hinted.
Given that core auto sound sales in CD players, amps and speakers are down and innovation in car AV has been slow, the company is trying to push the envelope and expand. “Yes, we are trying to drive a much, much higher level of innovation in our business. We think there’s an opportunity there and also because core car audio is a pretty depressed industry, dropping close to 20 percent last year.”
The chain is not leaving traditional car audio, however. “We’ve been in mobile electronics and wireless for 23 years and we think our brand is strong in both. We’re not looking to travel significantly beyond our base and what makes sense to our customers.”
Just as mobile carriers are now retailing netbooks and other wireless devices, so Car Toys is broadening its mobile department beyond phones.
“We’re really excited about the eReader business…We want to get into the business for 3G embedded devices,” Brettler said. Car Toys will also carry basic non-connected e-readers for a full selection. It stocked Aztak eReaders in time for Christmas and also began dabbling in netbooks. “If it’s cool and wireless and it has service built in…we’ll probably have it.”
Car Toys also carries the Flip camcorder and digital picture frames, according to its web site.
So where does the overall car electronics market go from here? Will it keep shrinking? Brettler says, “I think the answer is yes, car electronics is going to continue to shrink. I also think [the contraction] will decelerate… We have a lack of innovation in 12 volt and inherently a lack of demand for our products. I see the decline decelerating …But I think there are some interesting drivers: driver assistance products, iPod integration and FLO TV. “
Car Toys is a member of the PRO Group and operates stores in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Texas. It employs over 1,200 people. Its former VP merchandising Jim Warren recently returned to his earlier post at the chain and will oversee much of the changes at the store. He replaced industry veteran Dan Jeancola.

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1 Comment

  1. Internet connectivity, cellular device connectivity, live TV and iPod (MP3)integration are not car electronic devices. They are mobile “connected” devices that some consumers may also want to use while they are in the vehicle. The Mobile Electronic business has changed and it has now become a connected accessory and connectivity focused business. It is no longer about audio and video.

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