The Clarity Alliance, the UK hi-fi industry’s trade body, held its AGM and Conference yesterday, at which it announced the appointments to its board of directors and a sell-out audience enjoyed thought provoking and informative presentations from a number of guest speakers.

Held once again in the impressive surroundings of Dolby’s European HQ in London, the Clarity Conference is the UK hi-fi industry’s only annual conference, attracting an audience from across the UK hi-fi sector.

During the morning, members of The Clarity Alliance gathered for the Annual General Meeting, at which the results of the ballot for the board directors were revealed. Taking their place on the board for 2018 are: Tom Barron (PMC); Andy Clough (Haymarket); Geoff Coleman (Acoustica); Elizabeth Gould (Martins Hi-Fi); Phil Hansen (Red Sheep Communications); Adam Lee (Bowers & Wilkins); Geoff Mathews (Soundcraft Hi-Fi) and Simon Talbot (Bartletts HiFi). The past chairman, Laurence Armstrong (Henley Audio), remains on the board in an ex-officio capacity and Tom Barron remains as chairman for 2018. The board will be announcing additional co-opted directors over the coming weeks. Richard Trotter (Arcam) has retired from the board and thanks were expressed for his hard work and contributions to the running of Clarity over the past few years.

Following an impressive demonstration of Dolby Cinema, presented by Matt Desborough of Dolby, the conference commenced with the first appearance at the event of Gennaro Castaldo and Chris Green from the BPI (British Phonographic Industry). The pair presented an overview of the changing trends in music consumption in the UK. The shift to streaming (52% of all music), double digit decline in CD sales (-12%) and the 27% rise in vinyl sales will have an obvious impact on the hi-fi industry and the products it sells. Clarity has begun working with the BPI to cooperate on areas of mutual interest, given that the software and hardware markets are inextricably linked.

Highlighting this correlation was the annual state of industry presentation from Nick Simon of GfK. Total sales of audio equipment have shifted over the past few years away from traditional separates, home theatre systems and loudspeakers, which accounted for over 50% of the market in 2012, to soundbars, Bluetooth speakers and network audio systems (62% in 2017). However, within their niche categories, sales of traditional audio separates have remained resilient, with the turntable revival still showing strong performance, albeit slightly down on last year – referred to as a ‘market correction’ by GfK. Looking to the future, both the BPI and GfK predict strong growth in the sales of smart speakers as consumers switch to voice assistant equipped convenience solutions.

Two guest speakers from Haymarket Media, Knut Henriksen and Charlotte Shakespeare, took the audience on a journey through hi-fi buyer behaviour research and the changing face of social media, which has come about as a result of the reaction to the fake news issue. Charlotte announced that all business users of Facebook will have to change their strategies away from simple review and product postings to more engaging content if they are to maintain visibility. Clarity is looking into running training courses on this issue during the year.

Standing in for Chris Shelton of Hitachi Finance, who was unable to attend, Howard Saycell, CEO of Retra, presented the benefits of consumer finance offerings as powerful retail tools.

The conference welcomed back Peter Aylett, with his thought provoking and popular CES Technology Trends presentation. Artificial Intelligence and smart products were the focus of much of the new technology unveiled at CES and Peter helped the audience put into perspective what AI is, how the smart city and smart products may evolve and the benefits that they may bring over the coming years to consumers.

The final guest speaker of the day was Clarity member David Shevyn, from leading acoustic treatment company, GIK Acoustics. David’s talk focused on the importance of getting the correct acoustic treatment installed in retailers’ and manufacturers’ demonstration facilities. He explained that, “Enabling the equipment to perform as it was designed, without undue influence of the room”, is key to helping consumers make the right purchasing decision.

Closing the day was a short presentation from Clarity reflecting on the success of 2017 and outlining its plans for 2018. Much of the activity will be the designing and launching of new training courses during the year, which will focus on sales and business management. Clarity will also be looking to work with Google once again to run courses on web marketing.

Commenting on the coming year Tom Barron observes, “We believe one of the most useful functions we can provide as a trade association is to centralise training for the industry. Based on the premise that ‘people buy from people, not companies’, we will be working hard over the next few months to put together modern and relevant training programmes, that will equip our members with the most up to date thinking regarding the sales of luxury goods and services to discerning consumers.”  He concludes, “We are looking forward to working with our members and industry colleagues during 2018 to help strengthen the hi-fi sector in the UK and bring quality audio experiences to more people.”