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4 More People Who Altered the Integration Industry

Pioneers at Control4, SnapAV and Sonos might have been CE Pro People of the Year in the past.

Since we just created CE Pro’s Person of the Year in 2011, we missed a few influential characters that have substantially impacted the custom electronics industry in the past couple of years.

Had we launched this program two or three years ago, these individuals likely would have topped the list for shaking up the industry.


Will West, Eric Smith: Co-founders, Control4

Before Control4 emerged as a force in the industry a few years ago, no other company had seriously challenged the established home automation pack for 20 years.

Control4 broke through, thanks to co-founders Will West and Eric Smith, who launched the company in 2005. They came to the party with millions of dollars in venture capital and a plan to roll out dozens of products covering the whole-house ecosystem: lighting, energy management, multiroom A/V and home theater.

Smith and West, who also founded the home-control manufacturer PHAST (later sold to AMX) in the 1990s, introduced a new paradigm to the business of home control: mass customization. While CE pros mostly prided themselves on ultra-customized solutions they could tailor to each client, Control4 preached a more cookie-cutter approach to home systems integration. Though the products offered a fairly rich feature set, the interface was (and has remained) fairly static - which keeps salespeople and programmers disciplined enough to deliver solutions to the masses.

Control4 has more than 1,600 dealers in the U.S. and Canada with international distribution in 70 countries. Revenues are now “approaching” $100 million annually, Control4 has said.

It seems Control4’s approach to home control was “correct.” Virtually every new home automation developer since Control4 - with the exception of Savant - has built its business around cookie-cutter control systems that give integrators the chance to “get in, get out, get paid.”


Bob Spaner: Former managing director, Americas and Asia Pacific, Sonos

Bob Spaner did not found Sonos nor develop the technology that would change the face of multiroom audio. But CE Pro considers him the single person responsible for bringing one of the most important new business opportunities to an integrator community struggling with the housing collapse.

When John MacFarlane founded Sonos in 2002, the company introduced arguably the best retrofit whole-house audio system ever - with an intuitive user interface and a rich wireless protocol for streaming music around the home with low latency and high quality.

As with most mass-market products, CE pros generally avoided Sonos at first because it was for DIYers and could not be customized for discerning clientele. But Spaner plugged away, eventually enlisting thousands of independent dealers — many of which claimed during the economic collapse, “Sonos saved my business.”

In 2009, Sonos told CE Pro that the single largest channel for its “DIY” audio system was the U.S. custom integration channel - not big-box retailers, not online retailers, not some other international distribution outlet.

By design, Sonos was (and generally remains) a closed ecosystem, not readily integrated with third-party systems. Because of that, Sonos could control the customer experience. CE pros learned quickly that the most profitable products are the ones that can be sold easily, set up quickly, and not undermined by too many bells and whistles.


Jay Faison: Founder, SnapAV

Who would believe that a distributor of commodity products could be so disruptive to the custom electronics business? But that is just what SnapAV, founded by Jay Faison in 2005, has done.

Before founding SnapAV, Faison ran a custom integration business that imported some of its higher-volume, less-specialized products from Asia. And as long as he was importing these products for his own business, why not share the love with other integrators by reselling the imported goods?

Today, SnapAV designs or co-develops hundreds of products, oversees their manufacturing abroad, and sells them direct to dealers via the industry’s best distributor website (as named by CE pros in our inaugural Quest for Quality Awards earlier this year).

The company does not offer complicated controllers or other high-maintenance products, but it does sell all of those other bits and pieces of a whole-house system - cables, mounts, racks, power products and the like - that can add up to a whole lot of margin.

Unlike the other individuals recognized in CE Pro’s Person of the Year 2011, Faison has not necessarily grown the market for custom electronics, but his company has fundamentally changed the way that thousands of integrators approach their bottom lines.

CE Pro Person of the Year 2011
Steve Jobs: 2011 Person of the Year
How Steve Jobs Made Home Automation Mainstream
3 More People Who Altered Integration Industry
Accepting Nominations for CE Pro Person of the Year

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Article Topics

News · CE Profiles · Audio · Distributed Audio · Home Automation and Control · Control Systems · Lighting · Energy Management · Distributors · Control4 · Snapav · Sonos · Will West · · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]

5 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Jamey Farrell  on  12/08  at  10:34 PM

Well deserved snap. They have truly changed my business and the industry. I wish all companies were as adaptive and proactive as snap av. Thank you for a great 2011.

Posted by Tuck  on  12/08  at  11:56 PM

Snap AV deserves the recognition. They have received alot of flaming over the years from the more snooty crowd, lol.

They have fundementally changed our business by streamlining our purchasing, reducing vendors and just making life easier.

I think the day will come when Snap AV will surpass Control 4 in sales. Good for them.

Posted by Mikey Pruitt  on  12/09  at  11:29 AM

I only discovered SnapAV this year but they have made our low voltage division profitable again. Now we’re looking to expand and acquire more custom solutions.

I will say Control 4 hasn’t let us in their door yet citing we don’t do enough sales to meet their criteria, guess their part of that snooty crowd Tuck mentioned.

Posted by Don Mueller  on  12/09  at  01:51 PM

Kudos to Snap. They are a bottom line/ profitability builder for us. Without question their website is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s extremely well-thought out, easy to use and packed with great information. It should be the template for every distributor & manufacturer.

Control4 has been great for us, too. There are some minor glitches, but nothing compared to what I hear happens with Crestron. Clients generally love the system and the price point is great.

Lastly, we learned to love Sonos years ago. One, because clients rave about it. Two, we learned to use its distributed audio qualities, while upgrading clients to better amplifiers. A win/win for everyone.

Posted by jayobrian  on  12/29  at  06:15 PM

It’s good to see Bob Spaner among those honored for their contributions to our CI channel. His product instincts, marketing savvy, and work ethic are among the very best in the business.

Sonos certainly developed an arsenal of great products, but it took Bob and his team to put Sonos before people and show them how easy listening to music could be. Bob had a clear vision for success, developed a workable plan, and then executed the plan.

Highlighting such influential individuals is a worthy endeavor for CEPro and yet another reminder that it takes exceptional people to make companies great. Thank you.

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