You had to know that this was coming after the last 14 months when retail was flipped on its head. The new Focal Powered by Naim Houston store has opened and we took advantage of a very kind invite from them to spend 3 days in Houston and get a first-hand look at the new boutique location and do some serious record shopping.
Our Music Editor, Lauren Halliday, is a native Houstonian and was our guide throughout. Not only did she direct us to the best record stores in town, but she provided some necessary insight as to why Houston makes sense right now and how she thinks the store could influence the local market that is bursting with potential customers in the 25-45 age segment.
This brand-new store which has opened in the fourth largest US city, will set the tone for future official openings across the country. Naim and Focal clearly understand that customers want to “experience” their products in a very different type of setting and the Houston store will be their first opportunity of many to do so.
It certainly won’t be the only location in Texas and the changes in the housing market as millions of Americans have moved or are in the process of moving to different parts of the country will certainly play into their long-term strategy.
The Focal Powered by Naim experience will come in two different flavors; boutique locations like the store in Houston, and “shop-in-shop” situations where a more limited range of products will be available inside existing Focal/Naim dealers with the same design look of the larger boutiques.
The Focal Powered by Naim Houston location is unique from the perspective that it is physically connected to one of their largest dealers; Houston Audio which carries the full-range of Focal/Naim products, but also offers McIntosh, Sonus Faber, VPI, Klipsch, and other brands.
One thing that caught our attention right away was the location of the boutique. If you were expecting this very contemporary looking store to be situated in downtown Houston in the center of the most important energy companies in the world — you would be very wrong.
Downtown Houston can look and feel rather deserted during the work week. We stayed directly across the street from the Houston Police Department in the middle of the downtown core and while we know that a lot of the large office towers are connected by the “tunnels” — it was glaringly obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed things. Most of the people walking around during the day were rather aggressive homeless people lingering in front of the many hotels looking for money.
There were not an abundance of tourists and we visited Minute Maid Park, the Convention Center, and some other local landmarks on our own. I spent 45 minutes shopping in the Houston Astros team store all alone and ended up taking an Uber out to Rice, and the suburbs just to interact with other people. Definitely odd for a city with the fourth largest population in America.
Focal Powered by Naim Houston is located to the west of Interstate 610; and the city of Bellaire which is an older and more affluent part of the city. If you’ve ever visited Rice University which is in one of the nicest and most expensive parts of the city, you continue driving west for a number of miles before you find the store.
Houston is a massive city that keeps on expanding and we think that the decision to utilize the available space connected to Houston Audio was a logical decision because it is closer to where more affluent Houstonians live.
Parking is not an issue.
The Customer Experience Takes Centre-Stage
More than simply a store dedicated to audio, Focal Powered by Naim Houston is an experience. This sophisticated 1,615-foot space invites customers to explore the unique world of Focal and Naim, and to immerse themselves in ultimate listening experiences. Up there with the know-how and innovations demonstrated by both brands, the experience offered is exceptional and personalized: visitors have access to Stereo and Home Cinema listening rooms, two open Hi-Fi listening areas and an area dedicated to headphones, enabling them to discover unrivalled acoustic and electronic solutions.
The open contemporary design is long on access and free of the typical rows of equipment racks that define most high-end stereo stores. Focal and Naim have decided rather wisely to simplify things for customers.
Focal have experienced enormous success with their headphone lineup and the decision to introduce the Naim Uniti Atom HE (even if the name is somewhat confusing) version makes a lot of sense. The headphone lounge offers multiple customers the opportunity to try all of the Focal headphones with Naim streaming components and access their favorite music in a very relaxed environment.
Because of the space available in the Focal Powered by Naim Houston location, both brands are able to showcase their entry-level, mid-tier, and state-of-the-art components in a multitude of acoustically treated demonstration rooms; including a dedicated home theater space and room designed for loudspeakers like the Focal Grande Utopia EM Evo and the Naim NAC S1 preamplifier and NAP S1 mono power amplifiers.
Focal Grande Utopia EM EVO $260,000 Naim ND555 Reference Streamer $19,900 Naim PS555DR Power Supply for ND555 $11,990 Naim Statement NAC-S1 Preamplifier $90,000 Naim Statement NAP-S1L Left channel Amplifier $90,000 Naim Statement NAP-S1R Right channel Amplifier $90,000 Naim Fraim Equipment stand for ND555, PS555DR $3,529 Naim SuperLumina Interconnect, Speaker Cable $9,480 Naim Powerline Power Cables (4 each at $990) $3,960 Total $578,859
We’re certainly not the right customers for a $578,000 Focal/Naim system, but based on the number of mega mansions under construction in the city and suburbs — it would not shock us one bit to see this type of system get sold.
Where we think Focal Powered by Naim Houston is going to succeed is in two key areas; the home integration/ dedicated home theater market and 2-channel A/V system category.
The Uniti Series will continue to sell like crazy; 50,000 units and counting — but we think the shifting housing market is going to help this Houston boutique sell a lot more in-wall/in-ceiling systems driven by proprietary Focal amplifiers for multi-room scenarios, and a lot of 2.1 living room A/V systems with Uniti Atoms, Naim SUPERNAIT 3 integrated amplifiers, and Focal Kanta and Sopra Series loudspeakers.
The Naim Mu-so wireless loudspeakers continue to sell like crazy and the ability to control them with Naim’s excellent control app on your phone or tablet, or a Naim Uniti Atom HE (as the streaming hub) in a multi-room scenario will make a lot of sense for customers.
You can audition this type of system in the boutique in an environment that feels more like your home than a stereo store.
Naim is also hard at work with one of the biggest streaming platforms behind the scenes working on ways to make the lossless and hi-res lossless streaming experience better. Big changes are coming to wireless and Bluetooth streaming and Naim/Focal will be one of the brands to offer the benefits of these changes in a more meaningful way.
The Naim engineering team has been hard at work on some items for the future that will make their streaming products — and streaming app stand out. Something that other brands have struggled with and truly matters.
Minus a coffee bar, Focal Powered by Naim Houston was a really wonderful place to spend our time and not feel rushed to try multiple systems at different price points.
A huge thank you to Wendy Knowles, and Robert Bruce of Naim for their hospitality, insight, and warm welcome to Houston.
We suspect both brands are going to succeed with this concept in a very big way. There is this feeling that you get when you walk into the store that doesn’t feel like a Hi-Fi dealer.
High-end audio stores have never been overly welcoming to women or younger customers and this boutique felt quite the opposite. If I was a 32 year-old music lover with a budget of $5,000, I could walk out of the Focal Powered by Naim Houston location with the Naim Uniti Atom, Focal Chora 806 loudspeakers, and pair of Focal headphones and have an excellent stereo that can grow with me.
I get the sense that Naim/Focal understand this. They also know that their Mu-so wireless range sound a lot better than Sonos wireless speakers and that a customer who buys one — might add another. The focus is on teaching customers how to properly use the Naim control app and allowing them to build out their multi-room system, one product at a time.
Roll Out in the U.S.
Following on from South Korea, France, the Czech Republic, China, Australia, and Germany, Focal Powered by Naim stores are now landing in the United States. The Houston space, managed by Jeff Pate, is a prelude to a large-scale roll-out across the country. The VerVent Audio mission remains unchanged: to convey new emotions through high-end products and by meeting all listening needs (in the home, on the move, in the car, in the studio).
Focal Powered by Naim Houston
6352 Alder Dr.
Houston, TX 77081