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.
“An opportunity came to us a few years ago to work with a large corporation in Abu Dhabi, called UTT, to provide smart home technology for a multitude of condos on Al Reem Island, a nearly barren island just off of the coast of Abu Dhabi,” says Goldberg.
“We have since set up a training facility in the UAE, and a separate company, called HAME (Home Automation Middle East), to provide the systems in Abu Dhabi. We have already supplied around 50 systems, and over 2 million feet of station bus wire for the system keypads. As soon as the first 5,000 units at Marina Square begin to become occupied, we expect to become really busy over there.”
He adds: “Basically, it is important to go with the flow, learn how to differentiate yourself from the crowd, keep up with technology, and redefine yourself if necessary. Always, keep an eye open for opportunities!”
Will Do Anything
Today, Westco’s main focus is high-end custom projects, both new and remodel, for controlling lighting, shades/drapes/skylights/awnings, temperature, pools, fire places, cameras, audio/ video, etc. Goldberg says about 95 percent of his revenue is coming from automation versus electrical work, because “the economy is so bad.” Whether as the primary integrator or as a subcontractor, Westco works for general contractors, electricians, audio/video contractors, lighting designers or interior designers. No project is too big or too small.
“It might be a 2,000-square-foot home or a 43,000-square-foot home,” says Goldberg. “We really enjoy our work, we like the systems we install and pride ourselves in making easy to use interfaces.”
That chameleon-like mentality has come in especially handy today. “In this economy, sales is the most difficult part of our job. In the past, we priced a job, and received the approval to go ahead within a few days, and most of the time for complete systems for the homes. Nowadays, most homeowners have cut back on their expenditures, and our systems seem to be the first to go,” says Goldberg.
He notices a growing trend of homeowners wanting automation only in the “public areas” of the home, i.e., halls, stairs, kitchen, living room, den, family room, great room. In most cases, they add automation to the master suite (usually at Westco’s suggestion), but other bedrooms are being cut out.
“The design is easy for us, as I am also an electrical contractor and a registered professional engineer, and thus we either perform the installation or supervise the client’s electrician. We design the system, provide simple-to-use CAD plans, and actually have not found an electrician who had a hard time installing the system. In fact many times the electrician asks what else he needs to do, when he is done, not believing his work could be completed,” he says.
Even though the company is small, Goldberg believes it is important to be able to demo systems for clients. Thus, Westco has three local showrooms in Los Angeles, and one small sample showroom in New York. The L.A. office (in Rolling Hills Estates) is a fully working showroom of “pretty much every Vantage system component,” he says. It includes automated shades, A/V equipment, thermostats, pool valves, fans, cameras, etc., all interfaced with a Vantage control system with keypads, touchscreens, iPads/ iPhones and Android devices.
The company also has a small renovated vacation home that doubles as a showroom in posh Lake Arrowhead, a mountain resort area east of Los Angeles. Goldberg allows area contractors access to the home to showcase control systems for prospective clients. The newest showroom is an unmanned area inside a local custom lighting store in Torrance, Calif. Westco has a small system there that controls several of the lighting booths, including Swarovski, Schonbek and Bruck. The idea is that clients purchasing lighting fixtures for their residences can also see how an automation system can benefit them.
Fittingly, it’s just another example of how the light bulb never goes off for Goldberg.
Takeover Job Dos and Don’ts
Westco Smart Homes’ attitude of taking on any job in any situation has led it to become a specialist of the dreaded “takeover” job where the previous installation company has either been thrown out or abandoned the project.
“If a system is not intuitive and very easy to use, it’s not worth putting in. The last thing we need is a homeowner that is unhappy that they put the system in,” says Jack Goldberg, owner of Westco.
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. 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 is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org
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