By Steve Wright
We met up with Jordan Reiss, co-founder of Astro Gaming, on the third and final day of the EB Expo in Sydney, just after Daylight Savings had us move our clocks forward by an hour. If only that was my excuse for missing our initial appointment; I simply had it in my calendar for the wrong time. As I explained myself and apologised profusely, Reiss simply smiled and said we could easily conduct an interview, so long as it didn't clash with another he'd booked.
In short, he's a nice guy.
He's also a guy who seemed happy to be at EB Expo even after three days of dim lighting and Carly Rae Jepsen… on all-day repeat. "This is my first trip to Australia, and I've seen the inside of this beautiful Convention Centre, but that's about it," he laughed, also adding he had high hopes to try to see some of Sydney before flight out the next day.
Reiss' happiness – and attendance at the EB Expo, coincidentally – is thanks to Astro's move into the Australian retail market, plus Astro's inclusion in retail markets internationally. Astro's main product is the A40 wired headset, a professional gaming rig that was officially used by the MLG e-sports organisation in their tournaments for several years running. Added to that mix is the new A50 wireless headset.
"We've been selling our wired A40 for five years," said Reiss. "Last holiday with no retail distribution, the A40 was the second grossing headset above $100 in the entire country [of the USA]. What's cool is, we've now introduced the A50 and we've seen our A40 sales pick up a bit and the A50 sales have just layered on top of that."
"Retail is new to us in its entirety; we've been selling online only and we didn't know how well our boxes would sell just sitting on the shelf," he said. "We're getting great data – [the headsets are] selling actually two or three times faster than retail thought it would."
Reiss explained that there is a demand for both wired and wireless headsets. "If you're a pro gamer, or on a desktop set up, you're going to have a wired headset. If you're a living room gamer, you're not going to want a wire across the living room. The A50 has opened the Astro brand to a broader market of folks that want that A40, Astro quality -- without the wires. We're incredibly pleased [that the A50] hasn't cannibalised the A40 sales," he continued.
Reiss attributes some of Astro's success to its interchangeable headset tags: customisable panels that can be connected to the side of each A40 or A50 earmuff.
"Partnering with titles is great," Reiss said. "Titles drive this business. But making a $300 headset, dedicated, to you know, Medal of Honor: Warfighter… that you can't change? A year later you're going to be like, 'Why am I playing with this headset?' They [the headsets] are meant to last four or five years, so having a removable option [with the headset tags] is great. It lets you change the personality of your headset, and I love that."
"The chance to sell at retail is something we've been dreaming about," he explained. "And now, with the deep pockets of our new parent, Skullcandy, we've been able to fulfil that dream and do it internationally."
The push to sell in our country was easy. "Australia's always been one of our best markets -- English language commonality helps with selling," Reiss said. "We'd been shipping from our own website -- obviously charging a lot to air ship our product to Australian consumers -- so, when we had the opportunity to partner with Bluemouth, we jumped at it. They're a great partner; they immediately got us into EB Games and JB Hi-fi. We couldn't be happier."
Reiss acknowledged that a lack of a retail presence meant they had a battle ahead of them in Australia as they fought to gain back some market share. "There's one company in particular that'd had free range in Australia," he admitted. "That reign is over and we've got real estate that we've got to stake out on store shelves. If our success in American retail is any indication, we're going to do phenomenally well here. I know in our price point – which is $200 and up – in the stores where we've launched in America, we're already taking a 40%-50% share."
Reiss, along and Bluemouth – a Melbourne based company who is responsible for Astro distribution in Australia -- have strategies in place to assert their place in the gaming headset scene. They're not ruling our partnerships with local Australian e-sports organisations, either.
"The e-sports market here is very decent. It feels like a couple small groups [are] trying to get something going. We want to do whatever we can to accelerate that. Whether its sponsorship dollars, or equipment, or just organisation, e-sports is our lifeblood and whatever we can do to promote that, we want to be involved in," Reiss asserted.
Reiss clearly has an understanding of the market he's now in though, adding, "we're still kinda learning the lay of the land on [the Australian e-sports] front, but it does seem like your internet connections here maybe aren't up to par with some other countries. E-sports needs eyeballs to succeed, and if you can't stream your tournament, it's hard to get sponsors…"
You're telling us, Jordan. I sheepishly explained the plans for our NBN at this point, feeling embarrassed for the entire country as I said it'd be complete around 2015 or 2016. Reiss seemed to sympathise for us all.