Plantronics, the convergence proxy

During California Gold Rush, the most money was made by folks who were selling picks and shovels, not the speculators. The same holds true for Silicon Valley. Back in the go-go 1990s, it was the Cisco-Sun-Oracle-EMC team that walked away with most of the money. History also offers us another great lesson. Today, many of us forget that during California gold rush there were peripheral companies that raked in the big dollars as well. Like Levi’s Strauss, the denim maker.

Wireless, VoIP, and convergence are growth businesses, and chipmakers Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, are the ones who are benefitting the most. They are the pick-and-shovel guys. But Levi’s of this convergence boom is Santa Cruz, California-based Plantronics. The wireless headset company has just announced that it is buying speaker-maker Altec Lansing for a whopping $166 million. The deal gives Plantronics an instant share in the fast growing iPod economy and helps them extend their reach into the home digital music business. Altec Lansing had sales of $100 million last year. Given than most recent mergers & acquisitions are going between 1.5-to-2 times next 12 month sales, this is a pretty good buy for Plantronics. The purchase also gets the company closer to the billion dollars in sales mark.

I have been a fan of Plantronics, and always thought it was a safer bet on the wireless/voip boom than betting on the actual handset makers or service providers. The legislations that mandated handsfree calling whole driving benefitted them the most. As Skype became more popular, more people were going to buy their headphones and microphones.

The demand for bluetooth headsets/headphones was also going to benefit this small but fast growing company. Sure it has had problems in the past, but for now it looks like a pretty good proxy for the digital and unwired consumer. It also gives the tiny company a good shot at taking on the Asian peripherals makers and Logitech, the 800-pound gorilla in this business. Plantronics, however, should not stop here. They should expand their share of the iPod economy by snapping up smaller but well regarded players such as Ten Technology and Griffin Technology.