A First World family feud and a lights-out epiphany in Central America resulted in two of this year's most talked-about launches at the 2014 International CES, the world's largest consumer electronics trade show, held each January in Las Vegas.
For many of the show's big-name exhibitors, their new product lines were the result of years of market research, industry analysis and research and development. Their booths at the 2-million-square-foot annual geekstravaganza occupied vast swathes of the city's convention center last week, and the firms rented entire ballrooms in area hotels to convert to meeting space for wheeling and dealing.
But two local small businesses that set up booths for the first time this year took a different approach to product creation: personal necessity.
Newport Beach-based Stellé Audio Couture showed off its line of fashion-forward speakers created to marry form and function, while Fountain Valley's ZeroHour Innovations launched an innovative, tactical-grade flashlight with integrated dual USB battery backup.
Stellé housed itself in the show's lifestyle-focused iLounge Pavilion, while ZeroHour set up in the Eureka Park area, dedicated to displaying the hottest new concepts by up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Beauty in the details
Stellé Chief Executive Anna Perelman's idea was simple: Figure out a way to get husband Wayne Ludlum's large, clunky black speakers out of the living room.
Rather than launch an all-out offensive against Ludlum, an audiophile and established speaker designer, she chose to work with him to develop a speaker that joins on-trend aesthetics with high-end acoustics — one that looks as good as it sounds. .
"As beautiful as the design is, if they take it home, and it doesn't sound great, then it's going to end up gathering dust," Ludlum said.
The company showcased its two wireless speaker designs: the minimalist Audio Pillar and the Audio Clutch, which resembles a handbag. Both won acclaim at the prestigious CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards.
"It was really exciting as a new company to win for both our products," Perelman said. "The show's been really, really great. We made a point of really differentiating ourselves from a design perspective, and also in the design of our booth, and people have been really positive and really complimentary. The feedback's been amazing."
Her husband added, "We had one of the top home designers and interior designers in the country come by and say, 'We have been looking for this.'"
Stellé focuses on designing female-oriented luxury speakers that blend into the environment, or become art objects in their own right, while still boasting the premium sound quality coveted by men and women. It is housed in Newport's Cannery area, which the pair said influences their day-to-day work.
"My husband and I started the company together, and we both wanted to be somewhere that inspired us," Perelman said. "We're in a section that has a lot of artists, so from a creative perspective, that is great."
The company has partnered with top lifestyle designer Dwell Studio, and future design and retail partnerships are due to be announced. Dwell founder and creative director Christiane Lemieux even designed Stellé's sleek CES booth.
Perelman noted that although women outspend men on consumer electronics and make the majority of a home's purchasing decisions, few such products cater to their aesthetic.
"Our focus is always going to be on the female consumer," she said.
Designed to fit into a room without being obtrusive, Stellé's pillar speaker is friendly to technophobes, requiring just 10 seconds to connect, with no manual required. It also doubles as a speakerphone. The battery lasts 15 hours before needing to be plugged back in. The pillar is available in five colors for $349 and two Dwell patterns for $399.
The pillar design is so subtle that booth visitors scoured the space for the source of the music they heard, even lifting a decorative sea urchin off a table to see if a speaker was hidden underneath.