Integrators at Azione: Embrace DIY Home Automation or Just Say No? – CEPro
The DIY market for home automation is growing, and home-technology specialists are wondering what to do about it â€“ cling to their traditional custom-oriented business models, or embrace aspects of the mass-market IoT movement?
Itâ€™s a little of both for most integration companies, judging by discussions at the Azione Unlimited spring conference last week in San Antonio, Texas. Most of Azioneâ€™s 183 dealer members attended the event, where an afternoon was devoted to DIY “threats.”
Travis Leo, Azione board member and principal of Residential Systems Inc. in Lakewood, Colo., introduced the DIY session, asking: â€œHow do we adjust our business models?â€
RSI, which historically has specialized in high-end residential projects, has made some adjustments of its own, given the realities of todayâ€™s tech shoppers.
He tells about a typical client that strolls into RSI requesting popular DIY devices such as Ring video doorbells, Nest thermostats and Sonos music systems.
â€œIn his eyes, these are luxury products,â€ Leo says. â€œThese are dream technologies.â€
In particular, Amazon Alexa packs the house with clients who proclaim, â€œI want that,â€ according to Leo. â€œThe number of those people that have walked into our showroom has exploded.â€
And so â€¦ â€œWe had to change the sales process,â€ Leo explains.
RSI adopted the mindset of â€œdo it with me,â€ the newish concept that straddles DIY and DIFM (do it for me).
If nothing else, promoting a DIWM model helps bring clients in the door, when they might have otherwise bought online.
Leo says this scenario repeats itself again and again: A prospect with a DIY-type project â€œthought he could do parts of it himself, but still needed someone to help along the way. Instead of going to Home Depot at least he came to us instead.â€
â€œWe show them the app approach and then we show them the integrated approach.â€
Dealers on DIY
Luring in consumers with popular DIY brands is a pretty cheap way to acquire new customers, according to many dealers like Ron Lennox of Definitive Electronics in Jupiter, Fla.
He says that courting todayâ€™s clients is all a matter of â€œgetting them in the door and on your side,â€ so you can become the â€œtrusted advisorâ€ who guides them into better solutions.
Ditto for Steven Ras of Brilliant AV in Costa Mesa, Calif., a company that â€œembracesâ€ DIY products like Nest, Sonos and Ring.
â€œWith it, we get to upsell,â€ he says, â€œso we can bring them in to what we do, and then elevate them to a bigger project.â€
Millennials played a key role in the discussions on DIY, and many dealers referred to an Azione presentation two years ago by Tim Costello, CEO of BDX, a leading marketing firm for the home-building industry.
Back then, Costello urged integrators to understand the Millennial mindset, and how this demographic shops. Often they demand â€œname-brandâ€ products like Nest, and usually they abhor a long, drawn-out sales process.
â€œWe retooled a lot of things in our business after Costello,â€ says Tom Stone of Stone+Glidden in King of Prussia, Pa.
His integration company canâ€™t help but offer â€œapp-based solutionsâ€ for those who are used to app-hopping on their mobile devices. These solutions â€“ including Nest thermostats and Lutron lighting â€“ are featured on the company website, alongside â€œintegrated solutionsâ€ like Savant under the banner: â€œOne App to control Your Home.â€
Clients may come in for a point solution, but often leave with a more integrated system.
â€œWe show them the app approach,â€ says Stone, â€œand then we show them the integrated approach.â€
Integrated often wins.
â€œWealthy Millennials are just impossible to ignore,â€ says Chad Lassig of Audio Video Systems in Murray, Utah, who followed up with â€œany Millennials.â€
If AVS has to say yes to DIY-type solutions, then chalk it up to the cost of building business.
â€œWe want to be the answer guy,â€ Lassig says.
Pono Nauka of Honolulu-based Blueprint Audio Visual couldnâ€™t agree more: â€œWe have a reputation for flexibility. â€¦ When they [clients] are happier, they tell their friends.â€
Just Say No to DIY
On the other hand, many integrators agree that DIY-centric projects are not for them.
â€œLearn to say no,â€ says Chris Smith of New York-based Cloud9 Smart.
â€œAs soon as they push back, I tell them Iâ€™m not your guy,â€
In an earlier presentation to the Azione group, Smith highlighted the companyâ€™s rabid attention to net promoter score (NPS), essentially a measure of how likely customers are to recommend your brand.
In the break-out groups, he noted that DIY products will likely undermine the companyâ€™s NPS in the long term: â€œIf we know it will disrupt our NPS, we wonâ€™t do it.â€
That doesnâ€™t mean, however, that Cloud9 rejects clients outright if they demand systems that Cloud9 doesnâ€™t support.
In such cases, the company offers to take on a consulting role, specifying a system and recommending reputable integrators in the area. Typically, Cloud9 charges about $1 per square foot for audio, video and networking, and another $1 per foot for lighting and shading.
Murray Kunis of Los Angeles-based Future Home is in the Cloud9 camp, often eschewing clients who insist on bringing their own DIY devices to a project.
He explains that Future Home can only support clients as well as vendors support integrators.
â€œI can call Crestron and get answers in minutes,â€ Kunis says. â€œI can call Amazon [Alexa] and get a response in three days.â€
Even integrators who donâ€™t necessarily embrace DIY certainly donâ€™t ignore it.
â€œIâ€™ll try anything once,â€ says Mark Ontiveros of Audio Images in Tustin, Calif., referring to an unsatisfactory experience with a popular networking brand installed in his own house.
Based on that experience, Audio Images demands clients use the companyâ€™s choice of high-performance networking gear.
â€œAs soon as they push back, I tell them Iâ€™m not your guy,â€ he says.
At that, Tom Stone remarked on the in-home networking experiment: â€œThatâ€™s powerful. You can share that experience with clients.â€
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