Audiophile-chic loudspeaker brand, THIEL, just announced that they would be opening uber-e-tailer Amazon.com for a number of their products in the coming weeks. Most of the speakers going into Amazon are the smaller bookshelf models, architectural speakers and some subwoofers including products like the THIEL PowerPoint line, their DewPoint outdoor speakers and some of their SC speakers.
THIEL faces difficulties as an old-world audiophile company that makes hard-to-drive speakers in a market that is run by feature laden receivers more than audiophile amps. With the recent passing of Jim Thiel, the designer and cult of personality behind THIEL speakers, the direction of the company is being questioned by the often-paranoid specialty AV retailers who didn't react well to THIEL being sold at catalog retailer, Crutchfield. From a specialty dealer perspective, opening Amazon.com is either a move of desperation or a slap in the face. Specialty AV brands demand high margins and manufacturer protection even when they sell low volumes of speakers per location. E-tailers like Amazon and catalog players like Crutchfield actually protect prices better than traditional brick and mortar players, but those stores don't always see things that way.
The best selling point of THIEL loudspeakers is their always-cutting-edge wood finishes which are often to the liking of the liberal, green-leaning buyers in the market - yet THIEL somehow stays away from this powerful marketing angle. When I sold THIEL speakers nearly 20 years ago at Christopher Hansen Ltd., consumers loved the exotic finishes including bird's eye maple, zebra wood and beyond. The speakers looked and sounded as fantastic as they do today, but today's market is far more competitive. Consumers seek total value, green marketing and audiophile performance all at a price that competes with the e-tailers who just buy their speakers from a Chinese manufacturer and can sell impressive speakers at even more impressive prices.
THIEL has an impressive legacy but just dipped into the forbidden fruit of distribution that has hurt other audiophile brands via online, catalog and local distribution. If they can create mainstream consumer demand - they will end up just fine. If they rely on 60-plus-year-old audiophiles to buy their speakers - the road ahead is likely to be very rocky.