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Control4’s Very First Dealers: What Were They Thinking?

Six of Control4's original dealers explain why they went with the home automation start-up 10 years ago: IP control, easy installation, company vision.


Six original Control4 dealers, with Control4 CEO Martin Plaehn, Control4 co-founder and chairman Will West, and CE Pro's Julie Jacobson
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Control4 (Nasdaq: CTRL) is 10 years old and, like all home automation companies, this venture got off to a slow start. In 2003, founders Will West and Eric Smith (with Mark Morgan) attempted one of the most substantial home-control launches of the generation – coming out of the gate with a full suite of products from smart thermostats to lighting controls to amps and whole-house audio/video.

“You had an all-in-one solution,” says Joe Whitaker, a CE Pro contributor, product developer and longtime Control4 dealer. “You had the control and then all the other trinkets that we needed at that time. … Nobody was doing it.”

Whitaker joined six original Control4 dealers, along with Control4 CEO Martin Plaehn and chairman/co-founder Will West, at a 10-year retrospective roundtable during CEDIA Expo 2013.

For three hours, we discussed the vision of Control4 ten years ago, the reasons these dealers took the plunge, and the prospects for the home-automation company going forward.

In this installment, we take a look at why these six original dealers took a chance on a new automation firm when so many others before it had failed.

IP-Based Platform
Control4 was built from the ground up with an IP-based architecture. After all, Smith and West both had extensive networking experience as founders of STSN, a leading provider of Internet service for the hospitality industry.

At that time, around 2003, IP-enabled architectures were deemed to be the next big thing in home control, but early efforts from the likes of Xanboo and Premise Systems fizzled.

When Control4 emerged, Scott Fuelling of Phoenix Unequaled Home Entertainment in Memphis, Tenn., thought, “Finally somebody gets it. We’re dealing with an IP-based solution now.”

Fuelling had jumped on other IP bandwagons before Control4, which is why his wife and business partner Danis Fuelling chimed in, “When he said we’re going to do something new I went, ‘Oh lord.’ We jumped on so many bandwagons. … Let somebody else do this first and let’s see what happens.”

She lost.

[continues]

Control4 dealer roundtable, part 1

People & Vision
Several times throughout our discussion, dealers noted they simply trusted that Control4 could pull it off.

“The light bulb went off when we met everyone there and saw the vision,” says Aaron Mayer of Vision Electronics in St. George, Utah. “It was the people, the faith of the people, the product.”

MEET THE CONTROL4 DEALERS

He and partner Brandon Hart launched their automation business around Control4, having left their employers to start their own company.

“For us, hands down it was the people,” Mayer recalls. “Ernie [Coulter, director of sales] was phenomenal in the beginning. We had questions and we got honest answers and when we needed support he was there.”

Of course, there were the usual start-up pains, according to Mayer: “It was tough. There were times you wanted to call somebody up on the phone and yell and scream because something isn’t right and you can’t fix it and you don’t know why. But we always got someone to back us up and help us find a solution to the problem we had.”

Control4 never made a secret of its plans to cast a very wide net, which meant there would be a large number of dealers to compete against. Dealers then, as they do today, believe the size of the overall mainstream market would compensate for a high saturation of competitors.

Simpler Product, Broader Market
At the time of Control4’s launch, there were no affordable, easy-to-install integrated whole-house automation and A/V offerings on the market.

Scott Fuelling, whose company Phoenix previously was doing primarily high-end jobs, said Control4 “allowed us to tap a larger market and get in and get out quicker and make some money at it.”

While Control4 helped industry veteran Fuelling tap new markets, the company helped computer guy Dick Rozic tap any market when he launched his Houston-based home-control business Aveon in 2003.

“We became a system integrator and fortunately we found what Will and Eric and company were talking about – a configured solution which I think is a huge leap forward,” he says.

Control4 dealer roundtable, part 2

More on Control4 10 Years
Bad Customer Experiences No. 1 Challenge Facing Integrators
Control4 Up 25% on First Day of IPO; How Did They Get There?
Introducing Control4: Automation Vets Plan ‘Unrivaled’ Product Launch (2004)



  About the Author

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. Email Julie at [email protected]

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