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How to Handle Takeover Jobs

Westco Smart Homes evolves from a commercial electrical contractor to a residential lighting specialist, and finally to a full integration company that targets existing homes.

"In this economy, sales is the most difficult part of our job," says Jack Goldberg (pictured), owner of Westco Smart Homes.
Jason Knott · November 8, 2011

It was Kenny Rogers - “The Gambler” himself - that started Jack Goldberg in the residential automation business. Now nearly 28 years later, the move turned out to be a jackpot.

Back in 1984, Rogers needed someone to automate his 35,000-square-foot home renovation and turned to then commercial electrician Goldberg. The rest is history, as they say. That first big job formed the seeds for the launch of Westco Smart Homes, which nearly three decades later is still a small, niche custom installation firm that specializes in takeover jobs.

All along the way, Goldberg evolved his company to fit market changes and conditions. Among Westco’s latest projects is a massive takeover job of a 12,000-square-foot home in ritzy Bel Air, Calif. The pursuit of business has even led Westco to installations in the Middle East and the establishment of a training facility in Abu Dhabi and three offices in the U.S. Not bad for just a seven-person company. The lesson for other integrators is that your company can never stop evolving.

Follow the Money
Even before Rogers’ job, Westco Smart Homes had migrated from a commercial electrical service company.

“We started in 1982, doing mostly commercial projects. As time went on, a lot of the commercial owners asked us to do the electrical in their home, so we started doing residential,” Goldberg recalls. “The Kenny Rogers’ home in 1984-85 was the first big project we did. We were installing the electrical systems in an office building project in Los Angeles for him, and were asked to look at his Beverly Hills home that was also being remodeled.

“The construction manager told me that he felt that the electrician working on the project was charging too much for the rewiring of the 25 air handling units and a cooling tower. I was asked to consult on this project. I looked at the project and ball-parked what a fair price for the work would be. A month or so later I had asked him what the outcome was on the HVAC wiring. He said that they were replacing the electrical contractor, and could we start the job on Monday!”

Westco went on to do more than $250,000 worth of electrical work on the home, which had an existing finicky Touch-Plate Lighting control system.

“This was one of the first home automation systems around, a simple relay turned on and off each lighting load,” recalls Goldberg. “We needed to troubleshoot and rework the system, making it operational. In addition Rogers wanted to be able to dim his bedroom and some other lights from both of the eight button Touch-Plate keypads at his bedside.

“As the lighting to be controlled was more than 1,000 watts and electronic dimming as we know it today was years away, we installed several Luxtrol commercial dimmers (the size of large shoe boxes), researched and found some small bi-directional motors and set them up so that one button on the keypad operated a relay that turned the dimmer up, and another turned the dimmer down.

“It was a pretty expensive way to do this, but it worked! That was automation at the time. From there we went on to do work for some of his friends, Lionel Richie, Luther Vandross, Lisa Hartman and Al Jarreau. That was our start in custom homes.”

That job guided Westco into its next iteration as a residential lighting and shade control specialist. “We continued doing custom homes, one or two a year, until the late ’90s when the retail work dried up somewhat. As home automation and smart homes became more prevalent, we started doing larger and larger systems, becoming more proficient, and working for more celebrities. Gene Simmons, Queen Latifa, Maria Sharapova, and Rudy Tomjanovich, are among our clients,” says Goldberg.

By 1997, Goldberg had discovered Vantage and immediately employed it into a 43,000-square-foot home. At that point, the company was still primarily doing lighting and shade control, as well as lifts and just about anything with motorization. Westco was only doing A/V sporadically. Using Vantage as his platform, Westco evolved to its current business as a whole-house control expert, having done more than 150 large Vantage projects over the years. All along the way as it continued to branch into new areas, Westco kept the skills and market presence necessary to thrive in each specialty - electrical, lighting, shades, commercial, retail, residential, motorization, etc. It’s come in handy with the ebb and flow of the economy.

“You have to keep your hand on the pulse of the business market you are in,” advises Goldberg. “Early on, I could see that you need to keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. You need to keep reinventing yourself and be on the cutting edge. When my company started nearly 30 years ago, our work was mostly electrical contracting for the then-popular Hollywood studios, including United Artists, Paramount, AVCO, Embassy and ABC/Watermark.

“As some of those companies came and went, we began working on commercial office spaces throughout Beverly Hills and downtown L.A. Through working with general contractors on our various projects, we were able to make some great contacts in the retail world, such as Neiman Marcus, Bullocks, The Broadway, Ferragamo, Rodeo Collection, and Saks Fifth Avenue,” he says.

  About the Author

Jason Knott is Chief Content Officer for Emerald Expositions Connected Brands. Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990, serving as editor and publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He joined CE Pro in 2000 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of that brand. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He has been a member of the CEDIA Business Working Group since 2010. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at jason.knott@emeraldexpo.com

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