Earlier this week, we broke the news that Plantronics was entering the ProAV market with a new product called Habitat Soundscaping. It wasn’t a complete surprise as Plantronics is one of the worst companies I’ve ever seen at keeping secrets. I found out about the product five months before they called me out of the blue to “tell me” about their new concept for noise-canceling technology in large, open call-center-like office environments. Funny enough, they asked me to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) to keep their secret.
Anyway, by the time we got to InfoComm (a full six weeks prior to the official launch), at least 30 people in the ProAV market asked me if I’d heard about what Plantronics was doing. Like I said, worst kept secret ever.
What is Habitat Soundscaping? The short version is that it’s sound masking using distributed audio WITHOUT white noise — it uses nature elements instead as well as visuals – like real waterfalls (or digital waterfalls). If you really want to understand it, go here and watch the video. But for now, just know it’s creative and could catch on due to a plethora of reasons that should worry companies like Lencore who just use old-fashioned white noise.
The reason so many people asked me about it at InfoComm is that it isn’t often a product this cool, this potentially profitable (to an AV integrator) and this weird comes to the AV channel. The lucky folks over at AVI-SPL and SKC are celebrating as they share exclusive distribution of the product pretty much all over North America and Europe.
AVI-SPL got the best deal of all as they basically own the world for the new Plantronics product line; they share the U.S. (with SKC) but own Canada, UK, Germany, France and Australia. AVI-SPL earned the golden ticket.
I know what you might be thinking: “Why? What’s the big deal? It’s just a sound masking system.”
Well, I’ll address the “it’s just a sound masking system” later, but for now, let me address the bag of money that just fell out of the sky and landed on the proverbial heads of every salesperson and account manager at AVI-SPL and SKC.
You see, it comes down to access. And, Plantronics just gave both integrators access to their most valuable asset: their clients and customers. Plantronics, in case you didn’t know, OWNS — not just plays in, but owns — the call-center and wireless (and wired) headset market for for, well, everyone. Just ask around. If you use a headset or talk to someone who uses a headset while on the phone, there’s an 82 percent chance that that it’s stamped with a Plantronics logo. As AVI-SPL and SKC are brought into the thousands of big-time customer account locations that are large enough for a waterfall-based sound masking system, then they’ll be making lots of friends with people who buy or who have influence in purchasing a bunch of AV gear. So, even if they don’t make the waterfall sale, they, as a byproduct of the Plantronics’ exclusive relationship, will be befriending a pile of potential AV money. Every call center has (or wants) digital signage. Every call center needs AV. Every company with a call center has training rooms. And what goes into training rooms? You got it: AV.<
And, guess who also wears Plantronics headsets — not just Tom Cruise in Jerry McGuire (where the product dominated every camera close-up of the actor using one for the first eight minutes of the movie) but also everyone who works and hates holding office phones up to their ears — basically everyone. Especially C-suite execs.
Like I said, a bag of money just fell from the sky and hit both integrators on the top of the head.
And, no, this isn’t just another sound masking system. The technical details can be found in the link I mentioned earlier in this story — but this stuff won’t be sold due to technical specs (or details) so that crap doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Plantronics will tell all their big clients — you know the ones who’ve purchased million of dollars worth of headsets over the years — that they “need” this and that it will solve all their ambient noise problems in a way that’s creative. And, to be frank, it is. They even own a patent on something that’s simple but cool. For example, with the typical sound masking system, when you have an area where you’re having a private meeting you want to “mask out,” you turn up the level of the white noise so those around you can’t hear — but ironically that makes people talk louder to overcome the loudness of the sound masking. Plantronics has patented a fix to that. So, yes, it works. But if you think that’s the sales approach, you’re wrong. You see, Plantronics has a history or relationships with companies that love their stuff and trust what they say. And, they’ll eat this up. Heck, they might not even know they need sound masking, but because Plantronics tells them they they do, they’ll buy it. And, AVI-SPL and SKC will sell it to them.
Then they’ll sell them monitors, videowalls, AV training gear, AV-over-IP AV systems, projectors, lighting control systems, in-ceiling speakers, amplifiers, AV networks and the list goes on and on and on.
So, again, a bag of money just fell from the sky and hit AVI-SPL and SKC on the top of the head.
Or, I guess the entire sound masking systems market could be a hoax and no one buys it. But, I doubt it.