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108: An Outdoor Entertainment Overview with Furrion

Written by Rob Stott

March 1, 2022

Over the past two years, the outdoor space has garnered a great deal of attention from consumers looking to invest in their at-home entertainment experience. Furrion, makers of outdoor TVs and other entertainment gear, breaks down the market and opportunities for independent retailers.


 

Rob Stott: Right. We’re back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and excited today, first time getting to chat with one of our vendor partners, Furrion, who has been with Nationwide for a little bit, but my first chance to get to sit down and talk with Mr. Aaron Mellow, the Senior Key Account Manager for Furrion. Aaron, appreciate you taking the time. You’re actually closer to our headquarters than I am. I’m in Philly. You’re down there in Raleigh, is that right?

Aaron Mellow: That is correct. That’s correct.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Winston-Salem and Nationwide Marketing Group not too far away. Closer to, what’s that? Duke country, out where you are.

Aaron Mellow: Oh, be careful. UNC.

Rob Stott: UNC!

Aaron Mellow: There you go. There you go.

Rob Stott: All right. Sorry, sorry. Good point. Good point. But no, I appreciate you taking the time and calling in and chatting with us today.

Aaron Mellow: Yeah, for sure, man.

Rob Stott: Just to start, tell us a little bit, before we dive into the brand, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, and how you got to Furrion.

Aaron Mellow: Oh, sure. I’m a longtime consumer electronics guy. Started as the retail salesperson on the floor back in probably 2006. Worked my way into an assistant buyer role, eventually became a buyer. And then from there, I jumped over to the dark side, manufacturing, and I’ve worked for the likes of Sony Electronics, Monster, Beats by Dre, Sennheiser, and Parrot, which is actually where I started the same day with who is now my boss over at Furrion.

Rob Stott: I got to ask you a question, because you said a brand name him in there. It feels like everyone in the CE space at some point has crossed paths at Monster. Do you feel that same way too, like everyone has some ties to Monster across this space?

Aaron Mellow: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I think Monster was absolutely a fantastic organization. I probably learned the most in my CE career over there, and everybody knows the name in one way, shape or form.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Well now obviously today, got tied into Nationwide Marketing Group as a vendor partner with Furrion. For someone that doesn’t know the brand … Obviously, we’re familiar with you, but anyone listening that might not be familiar with Furrion, what’s your elevator pitch on the brand? Or how would you explain it in short?

Aaron Mellow: Yeah, that’s a great question, because we get that a lot. People will introduce us, “Here’s Furrion.” It’s Furrion. Because they’ve never heard the name before, right? Up until five years ago, the company’s main focus was in on-the-go tech company, lifestyle company, primarily focused on the RV and marine industries. That’s where we came on board five years ago to try and develop that retail, e-tail space that we all know and love, and focus specifically on consumer electronics.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And obviously, you mentioned the marine side and the vehicle side is always fascinating. Now, do you get to dabble on that side as well?

Aaron Mellow: Well, that’s kind of funny because I know nothing about RVs. I could barely spell it. That’s my run-in joke. But yeah, it absolutely is. And that’s where we look at the products that are used in the RV and marine space and try to figure out how can we adapt, modify, change, tweak those products and bring them across the line to the traditional retail e-tail space? It’s kind of fun, but it’s a huge learning curve at the same time.

Rob Stott: Well actually, the more I think about it as I’m sitting here, the RV space is sort of a scaled down version of what we’re doing at Nationwide, and trying to find products across the home and get them for our retailers to be able to sell. The RV is kind of all of that in one. I know you guys, there’s appliances that you do for RV specifically, and I’m imagining bedding. Are there RV mattresses and things like that? Does it get that granular?

Aaron Mellow: There’s a couple of different things. If I take a look at just Furrion, who’s the company I’m associated with now, and then I can also look at our parent company … We were just acquired six months ago by Lippert. Basically between Lippert and Furrion, there’s probably 90% of an entire RV you can build with the products that we both have. For Furrion, we do all of the appliances, observation camera systems, entertainment systems, TV systems. Then you cross the line over to Lippert, then you’ve got vehicle leveling systems, furniture, mattresses, and exactly what you’re talking about.

Rob Stott: Wow. That’s great. That’s pretty cool.

Aaron Mellow: Yeah. That’s kind of the fun place where we’re at right now. We’re only six months into this relationship with Lippert. It’s like, okay, well what can we pull across the line? And some of that stuff is what we showed at the last primetime show.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I know the big focus has been with Nationwide, obviously the outdoor entertainment. That’s kind of a category that has been booming of sorts. Talk about that side of the business. I know you guys got a lot going on, and what’s going on there right now for Furrion?

Aaron Mellow: Yeah. Well, I mean if you look at the overall numbers for outdoor products in general over the past two years, they’ve been staggering. You think about the first few months of the pandemic, you couldn’t stay at a hotel even if you wanted to. So what did people do for recreation? They invested in their backyards. They invested in recreational vehicles and boats. Well, we play in every, single one of those spaces. As we all know, with the parts shortages and supply chain challenges, there’s no way to know how high was up. For us, it has been a banner, last 18 to 24 months in the space.

Rob Stott: You think back to those early months, the way it has gone, would you have pictured it having gone how it has?

Aaron Mellow: I don’t think anybody really could have, so I’m going to separate the consumer side, which is the outdoor TVs, and the RV side. The RV business exploded. Obviously, people were just like, “Well, I can’t go to a hotel. I want to take my vacations. I want to spend time with family and friends. I’m going to buy an RV.” And you couldn’t get one. They sold out so quickly. And of course, everything being shut down, production lines and all that, they couldn’t build them fast enough. And then on the flip side, you have the folks like myself who would just prefer to stay at home and redo my backyard. Well, outdoor TVs and outdoor entertainment products were explosive. And that’s the exact, same time that we had launched our outdoor TV line. I remember being in New Orleans at one of the trade shows with my boss and our distributor. And that’s when they basically shut everything down. And that’s when we were trying to launch the brand and get everything off the ground. It was pretty crazy.

Rob Stott: Yeah. That’s nuts. And thinking about from a product standpoint, as you’re going through these two years, obviously there’s a lot of factors like supply chain and being able to get materials and things like that. But does what you’re seeing from consumer demand and how consumer behaviors change, does that impact the product roadmap at all for you guys? Is that something that you’re thinking, “Man, there’s a lot of this focus on outdoor. Let’s see what more we can do, and milk out of what we’re doing in outdoor”?

Aaron Mellow: Yeah, absolutely. I think you’d have to break it down into a couple of different segments, so just focusing on the outdoor TV space first. Because that’s obviously my bread and butter, what I’m most passionate about. And putting aside the benefits, if you will, of the pandemic for a minute, I think the outdoor TV space was in need of some exposure, for lack of a better term. Samsung jumped into the swimming pool as well as us. We were the most affordable outdoor TV solution. People were becoming enlightened to the fact that there was TVs designed to work, stay outside regardless of the elements. It was a little bit of an awakening for folks who were trying to figure out that space. And then on the flip side, it’s like, well, what else can we do? How high is up for the outdoor space? Which is some of the categories and products that we’re starting to tackle for 2022.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Talking about those TVs specifically, people might hear outdoor TV, indoor … They don’t hear indoor TV, they just hear TV, and then outdoor TV. How would you describe it? You mentioned the key word there, which is the elements. How would you explain the difference between the way an outdoor TV is built as opposed to what’s sitting in my living room downstairs?

Aaron Mellow: Well, I think that’s actually the biggest challenge for outdoor TV manufacturers, and I’ll include Samsung, ourselves and some of our other counterparts in that space. In my opinion, that’s where we’ve got the biggest focus we have to engage with the customers on, is to let them know that there’s actually technology and design built into an outdoor TV that we haven’t been able to communicate effectively, in my opinion, to the end customer. They think, “Okay, well it’s a TV. I can just take my regular TV and put it outside.” A large part of the population has no idea that a true, dedicated, outdoor TV exists. They can go and buy something specific for that space to put on their porch, their patio, their deck, whatever, and leave it out year-round. People don’t know that I could walk up and down my street, 30 of the 32 houses have no idea that an outdoor TV exists.

Aaron Mellow: That’s part of the education that we have to focus on going forward. Weatherproofing is a key factor that people need to understand. The other side of it is the brightness. People think, “Okay, well, outdoor TV, I’ll just take a regular TV, put it outside, doesn’t matter.” But nobody really thinks about the effects of the sun. As the sun is passing from east to west, you have to compensate for those lighting conditions. You have to know, when you’re qualifying a customer, whether or not the TV is going to see any direct sunlight over the course of the day. If it’s not going to see any direct sunlight, you can go with a lower brightness panel, a more affordable TV, and put it out there. But still something that’s designed for the elements to sit out there year-round, so you don’t have to wheel it into your garage at the end of the season, that type of thing.

Rob Stott: I mean, I’ve seen examples where you could take … There’s products out there. You could take a TV and wrap it in something and outdoor-proof it per se, but obviously not the same. Exactly. That’s the kind of reaction that I have in my … Because it still doesn’t feel completely safe. I mean, how different construction-wise is it from the type of TV that you would typically see indoor?

Aaron Mellow: Yeah. Most of the outdoor TVs that you see now are a fully sealed chassis. If you take a look at your regular TV that you have, flip it over, if you could, and you look at the back, you’ve got vents across the top of it. Because that has to radiate the heat away from the panel to keep it cool so it can operate. Well, those are also openings, which would allow moisture, bugs, dirt, dust, debris to get inside the television. You have to keep that all out. What you do is you build a completely sealed chassis, and then utilize a fan system to monitor the temperature of the TV so you can operate it in extremely warm and extremely cold conditions. That’s a huge factor that most people have no idea that they need to do.

Rob Stott: Now, you mentioned the patio and being completely outdoors. I’ve seen someone might have an outdoor fireplace or fire pit-type situation and have a TV over it. Is it something that one of these TVs could be left outside of a patio and be in the open? Is that a fine application? Like, it could withstand snow to high heat, that kind of thing?

Aaron Mellow: Yeah, exactly right. When it comes to outdoor TVs or pretty much any outdoor product, they have what they call an IP rating, which is Ingress Protection, how much it will allow from a dirt/dust/debris as well as moisture level to get inside the unit. A dedicated outdoor TV is an IP 54, 55 rating, and end user customer has no idea what that means. But the easiest way to explain it to them in language that they would understand think of an action sports camera, where you can fully submerge it in water, get it wet, get it in all the elements, you go through the desert, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Nothing is getting inside that chassis. The same thing applies to an outdoor TV to be able to keep all of those elements out. You can take our TVs, leave them out all year round. My boss, who I mentioned earlier, will watch the Super Bowl in January, in his backyard in Minnesota, when it’s 18 degrees out, because it’s built for the elements. It’s designed to work in extreme conditions.

Rob Stott: Now I question why he’s outside in Minnesota in February, but that’s another point.

Aaron Mellow: They love it. They love it. They love it. That’s what they do.

Rob Stott: That’s Tuesday afternoon to them, huh?

Aaron Mellow: Exactly right.

Rob Stott: But you mentioned those ratings, and the other thing that comes to mind and I can relate it to is consumers might be a little more familiar with it these days because of smartphones. I think of iPhones and Android phones and you’re seeing these IP68. I know the two numbers mean something different, right?

Aaron Mellow: Right.

Rob Stott: It’s like the first number, and second number means-

Aaron Mellow: First number is dust and second number is moisture.

Rob Stott: Yeah. It’s getting a little more into, I think, the normal lexicon, hopefully for consumers. But for those that aren’t, what kind of advice or tips could you give to a retailer to help them, like a Nationwide member that has a customer coming in. What’s the best way to help educate the consumer on the differences here?

Aaron Mellow: Yeah. I think sometimes when you’re dealing with the end user customer, especially in the outdoor TV space, you don’t have to necessarily give out all those detailed specs and speeds and feeds. Just let them know that based on the construction of the unit, and you can take a look at our TVs and knock on the back, the entire thing is the metal chassis. It’s not plastic, it’s not flimsy. It’s designed to be robust and put in the outdoors so they can leave it out there year-round. It’s not going to make a difference. Spring comes around, the pollen hits, take your garden hose and wash it off. It’s absolutely going to be fine.

Rob Stott: That’s all. And have you ever seen a retailer demo that? Like, taking a hose to one of your TVs?

Aaron Mellow: Funny you mention that. In one of our displays that we use for different trade shows around the country, we call it our rain wall. We actually have one of our TVs mounted on a fixture and have a drip line that rains on the TV the entire time at the show. Never have any issues. Haven’t had one since. But it kind of gives you that aha moment that it can be put out in the elements year-round. We’ve had some retailers or some members ask about that. It’s like, “Could we get something like that for our space?” It’s like, “But you could try to build it and we’ll show you how, but we don’t actually build them for you.” But it is done. And it’s a great example to show a customer of like, “Oh wow, I get it,” to give them that aha moment.

Rob Stott: Right. And that’s exactly what I was going to say, is that if you can recreate that, showing that at a trade show or showing that at a show like PrimeTime, that’s something where you’re giving a retailer an idea of a way … Consumers are very visual. You can talk to them all day, but they need to see it. They need to experience it. That was so much of what the conversation at PrimeTime was, was the shopper experience. And if you can have that kind of display where they’re physically seeing a TV get soaked and still work, or even having it near a window and putting it in some direct sunlight and what the screen looks like in an outdoor setting, it’s going to click.

Aaron Mellow: A couple of different points. I was just traveling this week and I was in New Jersey at a retailer who has south-facing windows across the front of their store. That’s where their outdoor TV display is, to show customers how it works. On the flip side of that, talking about fancy drip line rains walls, we are coming out with a new merchandising display that calls out specifically outdoor televisions. It has kind of a look and feel of an outdoor space. Because we’ve learned over the past two years that people take the outdoor TVs, doesn’t matter if it’s our brand or another brand, hang it on the wall, the customer looks at it. It’s like, “Wow, that’s a really expensive 55-inch TV. And boy, is that thing thick. I’ll take that one for $499.” The messaging is key. That’s what we have to try to get across the line here in 2022.

Rob Stott: Yeah. I can certainly understand that. And has that been a struggle? Have you seen retailers where they have them too close to other TVs and they get kind of muddled together, and the messages get mixed?

Aaron Mellow: Yeah. I’m not going to mention names, but there’s a retailer that I did training for in all their locations out West, and they pivoted or put on the endcap, pretty high, three different outdoors TVs, us being right in the middle, eye level, which was great. But both sides of that other run of the wall were regular TVs. There was no signage, no messaging, nothing. So unless you knew the brand, which most people don’t know outdoor TV brands, they had no idea that it was an outdoor TV.

Aaron Mellow: I think for manufacturers, us included, we need to find a way to communicate that message both to the end user customer, who is walking in the store, as well as the salesperson who is selling on the floor to understand what that TV is. Because they’ve got, what? 50”, 60” TVs in store. It’s like, “Well, I don’t really understand what this is. The guy put it up on the wall. Okay, great. This one is $3,000, but I could sell one here for $1200 and make the customer happy,” not knowing that one is dedicated for the outdoors.

Rob Stott: Have you noticed at least an improvement over the last two years because of the interest in outdoor? Has it gotten better at all, the understanding and awareness around the outdoor space, outdoor entertainment space?

Aaron Mellow: For end user customers, a little bit. I mean, when we first launched into the category, there was pretty much only one other major player in the space. And I would tell you probably 90% of the population in the US had no idea that an outdoor TV existed. And if there was a customer that said, “Yeah, I’m looking for an outdoor TV,” they were presented one option at an extremely high price point. So, 90% of those customers decided, “I’ll just take a cheap TV, put it outside. If it dies in a year, I’ll just replace it. I’m still ahead of the game.”

Aaron Mellow: That’s exactly where Furrion came into the game, was to say, okay, well, how can we bridge that gap? If you’re a member and you can sell that five, $6,000 television, great. Do it. But for the 80% of the population that says I cannot or will not spend that kind of money on an outdoor TV, let’s not let them buy a $499 TV to put it outside. Let’s give them a solution in the Furrion line, that’s between $1,100 and $3,000.

Rob Stott: Obviously the TV, just like a living room … And we’re talking about the differences between outdoor and indoor, but like the living room, the TV is that centerpiece of the entertainment experience. Same goes for the outdoor setup. What other elements have to be thought through? And what ways are you guys thinking about the rest of that outdoor entertainment space?

Aaron Mellow: Yeah. Well, I think one of the big things that we still have to communicate at the retail level as well as the customer level is qualifying that customer. I kind of hinted on it before. It’s like, well, what TV do they need for the outdoors if they’re actually looking for a dedicated outdoor TV? And they need to understand the different brightness levels that come across the line. Is it going to see any direct sunlight over the course of the day? No, it’s not. You can go with a more affordable, less expensive, full shade panel. Now, “My TV is going to see some direct sunlight as it passes over.” Then you probably want to step into a partial sun television. Or there’s the customer that’s like, “Yeah, my TV actually gets a lot of sun. It’s out by the pool,” type of thing. Then you want to qualify that as a full sun customer.

Aaron Mellow: And all the brightness levels in outdoor TVs are measured in a unit called nits. A nit is basically just a measurement of luminance. How much light is being sent from that given area of the screen to your eyes? That’s kind of what the outdoor TVs look at. An indoor TV, basic, regular one off the shelf might be 250 to 300 nit brightness level. Ours start at 400 for a partial sun TV, and go up as high as 1,000 nits for something that’s going to see a lot of direct sunlight, where you’re going to want to be able to offset that sun, offset those glares from your pool, your stainless steel appliances and whatnot, to get that best possible picture. That’s one of the big things that we need as an industry, we all need to focus on. And Furrion is going to tackle that hard, especially with our marketing and messaging we have for 2022.

Rob Stott: How about quality-wise? Is there any sort of misunderstanding about how picture quality is impacted by being outdoor? Or anything along those lines from the consumer perspective? Do they come in thinking that, “Oh, it’s outdoors so it’s not going to be as good as an LED TV on my indoor TV setup?” Anything like that?

Aaron Mellow: That’s a great question. And I think one of our outdoor TV counterparts has done a really good job of messaging what the best could possibly look like. And I’m not going to sit here and ignore it. Samsung currently is the best outdoor television available in the market, but they’re very expensive. So if somebody is looking for, “I want the brightest, I want the best. I want the smartest outdoor TV,” that’s probably what they’re going to go with. But again, there’s a large population that’s not going to spend $5,000 on a 65-inch TV to put out in their back patio. That’s where we want to grab that customer and say, “Well, we have something that has got 75% of the technology for 60% of the cost,” to provide them that solution. Technology-wise, outdoor TVs are catching up to indoor TVs. You think in terms of resolution. It was HD 1080p, and then it turned into 4K. Your 1080p became the most affordable TVs, the disposable ones.

Aaron Mellow: In outdoor TVs, it was kind of the same thing. For a long time, it was just 1080p outdoors, but it was 4K indoors. Then Furrion came into the game. Samsung came into the game, “We’re offering 4K TVs for the outside,” taking technology further. Obviously, Samsung is a behemoth in the TV space. And they were the first ones to introduce smart into an outdoor TV. That hadn’t been done before. Because they make millions of TVs, that’s easy for them to do. But for the rest of us, we don’t produce enough outdoor televisions or manufacture enough outdoor televisions to get that board set on our TVs. Not anymore. For this year, all of the Furrion outdoor TVs will actually be smart as well. There is a little bit of lag from a technology standpoint, but we’re catching up very rapidly. People will just need to understand the difference that this is built for the outdoors, this is what I use inside my house.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I love the idea of that messaging. And our retailers, our dealers, are on those front lines. So, obviously important for them to understand how that messaging goes or how that messaging should go, and help you guys get presented out there in the best light. But looking ahead, you mentioned a little bit about some of the things that you’re looking ahead to here in ’22. And without diving into company corporate secrets and espionage and having to off me after the podcast, what kind of things can you talk about, about what Furrion is doing and looking forward to over the next year or so, that we can look forward to?

Aaron Mellow: That’s always a fun question, right? Let me throw my line in the water.

Rob Stott: Yeah, right?

Aaron Mellow: But I’m literally the other side of the boat and see what I can reel in over here. That’s kind of what you’re going for.

Rob Stott: That’s the journalist in me. That’s my [inaudible 00:22:22].

Aaron Mellow: No, I totally get it. Totally get it, and I love it. At Furrion, we’re actually working hard to develop and introduce products that will hopefully establish us as the outdoor entertainment brand. So, thinking beyond just outdoor audio, video space, what else can we do in the rest of the backyard? What else can we do for those customers that are on the go? Be it vacationing or camping, or just enjoying the outdoors. Again, Furrion was established as the outdoor, on-the-go, tech, fun company. That’s where we want to take things to the next level in the member space, in the retail e-tail space, where Furrion hasn’t played before. Even though we’re a 14, 15 year old company, we’ve only been doing consumer electronics for about four years now.

Rob Stott: Yeah. Crazy. Well, awesome. Awesome to follow. And I know obviously lots of great tech that showed up at PrimeTime that we’re looking forward to seeing, moving forward. And I guess the last question I’ll leave you with is have you been on the yacht? Has the yacht been in the water and have you been on it?

Aaron Mellow: Okay, that’s two different questions. I have been on the yacht, when we had it at the Consumer Electronic Show a couple of years ago. I have not been on the yacht on the water. Not that far up on the ladder. But it was quite an amazing vehicle that we actually produced to give people some insight into some future technologies that we’re working on from the AI space and things of that nature. But yeah, I have not seen that yacht in some time.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, Aaron, I appreciate it. This was a lot of fun. Great chatting with you and diving a little deeper into the brand.

Aaron Mellow: Absolutely.

Rob Stott: We’ll do this again before another PrimeTime, or maybe at a PrimeTime. We’ll get in the booth and see what else is going on. We appreciate it.

Aaron Mellow: Let’s do it, man. Let’s do it.

Rob Stott: We appreciate it. And look forward to catching up again soon.

Aaron Mellow: Sounds great. Thanks, man. Appreciate the time.

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