PORTSMOUTH — Nicholas Mark describes himself, and the others in his business field, as system integrators.
It’s a subtle description for the broad, yet highly detailed, work of integrating the many components that comprise the smart home technology to manage everything from when the shades draw down against the setting sun to how loud the music from the entertainment system should be in the kitchen.
Mark is president of DC Home Systems at 170 West Road. Mark and his team design, integrate and install home technology and automation systems.
Here’s how the company envisions one application of what it does: “Turn on the bedroom TV, turn off all the lights in the house, adjust the nightlights for the kids, draw the motorized drapes, and set the temperature back with the touch of one button while snuggled in your bed.”
Mark recently won two awards from CEDIA, an industry organization of the professionals who manufacture, design and integrate goods and services for the connected home. One award recognized Mark for Best Home Cinema and the other for Best Special Project.
Mark’s company has grown in size and purpose since its start in 1980 as a parts and service business on Lafayette Road operated by David Copestakes and his wife Sharon.
The business focused on some appliances – microwaves, for instance – and stereo and video systems for the home and car. Known as DC Audio Video Systems, it relocated to Islington Street then to Pease International Tradeport. “They built a nice business in town,” Mark said.
Mark left an electronics sales and design job in Portland, Maine, in 1997 to partner up with the Copestakes, and the business started a gradual transition from sales and services to home electronics installation.
Then David Copestakes died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in May 2007.
Mark and Sharon Copestakes in the fall of that year agreed to sell the company to Mark, and he moved it in February 2008 to one of three spaces he would ultimately occupy at 170 West Road, the subsequent space larger than the previous. The relocation to West Road, according to Mark, helped move the company and its employees from their grief over the loss of Copestakes.
“We chose to use it as a fresh beginning, and we rebranded to DC Home Systems,” Mark said.
And, he said, they wanted to more narrowly define what they did as a business: “Let’s focus on the home, let’s focus on the innovation.”
Then came the Great Recession, requiring some downsizing and another round of refocusing.
“That was tough,” Mark recalled. “The business shrank, the workforce shrank. It was painful.”
Added Leslie Mark, the company’s director of marketing: “We made a lot of tough, soul-searching decisions, which is a reason we’re still here.”
The business survived the recession – and has grown – by focusing on higher-end clients who want high-quality material and seamless integration of technology and electronics in their homes. And it may be more than one home for each client. That house DC Home Systems might do in Rye for a client might be followed by that client’s vacation house in Aspen or the Turks and Caicos.
Most jobs, according to Mark, run between $20,000 and $25,000, while the higher-end jobs can cost up to $1.5 million.
What clients get for their money is a process that seeks to build an automated, integrated home around the personality of the home owner.
The process starts with a consultation during which Mark and his team get to know the clients. They aren’t even talking about equipment at that point, they’re talking about number of people in the house, how many are tech savvy, do they travel a lot, do they like music, do they like movies.
“It starts with an understanding of the person,” Mark said.
Then the DC Home Systems team develops a scope of work that begins to address the needs and desires expressed during the consultation: The client likes music and entertains a lot, for example, so they’ll have audio components in six rooms in the house with a special emphasis on the kitchen where the guest spend most of their time during a party.
“We want them to understand on the front end what they’re getting,” Mark said.
It’s then up to the engineers to start piecing it all together in terms of a design and the hardware and the components and how it’s all going to be tied together. The engineer’s concept is then benchmarked in-house in a process Mark calls ATP – assemble, test and prepare.
Once it checks out correctly at DC Home Systems, everything is shrink-wrapped and brought to the house for installation.
“That’s half the business,” he said. “The other half is the service afterwards. We have a very active, pro-service approach.”
The installed system can be monitored remotely by DC Home Systems. If something, say, is wrong with the Apple TV connection, DC Home System gets an alert.
“We may know about a problem before the customer does,” Mark said. “If something goes awry, we can react to it.”
The special project for which Mark received the CEDIA award was for a client in Meredith and the client’s 15,000-square-foot “playhouse” that is separate from the main house on the lakeside estate. The playhouse has, among other features, a four-lane bowling alley, basketball court, an area for teens, a play area for toddlers and a lounge for the adults.
Surveillance, HVAC, an automated draft system for the fireplace flue, music, video and window shades easily managed from touchpad controls were a few of the components that DC Home Systems installed for the playhouse.
DC Home Systems currently occupies 8,000 square feet in the space it now occupies on West Road. It has 20 full-time employees, with field offices in Portland, Maine, and Pembroke, Massachusetts. Employees work such jobs as engineering, project management, networking and information technology.
Mark sees a future where he expands the number of field offices responsible for sales, project management and service. He intends to keep engineering and ATP in Portsmouth.
And he sees a future where his clients want a smart home as a comfortable home.
“They want to create a really fun landing spot for people,” he said.