Integrators and Pirch: Want a Home Automation System with That Fancy Shower Head?
Home-technology dealers in the HTSA buying group are riding the coattails of Pirch, setting up shop in the posh kitchen and bath stores.
Julie Jacobson · June 29, 2016
Pirch doesn't sell high-end kitchen and bath appliances. The upscale retailer of plumbing stuffs sells “joy.”
When Pirch CEO Jeffery Sears explained this philosophy during a presentation last year before members of the Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) buying and networking group, some may have rolled their eyes. They’ve all heard it before from big brands like Nordstrom and Ritz Carlton that sell “experiences,” not clothes or hotel rooms.
But Sears’ story resonated with the HTSA integrators in the room because, well, they’ve been selling joy for decades in the form of home theaters, multiroom music systems, mood lighting and more.
And now they’re starting to sell these things from within Pirch stores, including the newest location in New York City’s SoHo district, where Plainview, N.Y.-based Audio Video Systems maintains the Connected Loft, the first dedicated home-technology showcase parked in a Pirch.
The way they support the client is what I believe in,” says AVS COO Franklin Karp. “They have a manifesto. They adhere to that.”
Before joining AVS a decade ago, Karp ran the iconic Harvey Electronics store as CEO for 15 years.
These guys are actually doing what I dreamed of for Harvey but didn’t have the finance or support,” Karp says.
If you’re not familiar with Pirch (now nine stores and growing), rather than cramming a bunch of dishwashers, shower heads, toilets and faucets in a giant warehouse, the company displays and demonstrates the high-end products in multiple vignettes including a commercial-grade kitchen manned by up to five professional chefs per day, according to one of the chefs during a recent CE Pro visit to the Pirch store in San Diego.
The chefs that day were prepping the fresh produce they had just picked up from the local farmers’ market to teach some cooking classes and demonstrate how everything tastes better when prepared in a $4,000 Miele steam oven, for example.
The classes are free, just like the fancy coffee and other beverages they serve as you enter the store.
So what are the ingredients for cooking up a successful relationship between Pirch and the custom integration industry?
How AVS Does Pirch
AVS, No. 9 on the CE Pro 100 list of highest-revenue home-technology integrators, is not taking its Pirch relationship lightly. The audio, video and home automation company hired a full-time employee to man the loft. Other than that, AVS does not pay fees for its space and its visibility in the store. In fact, it pays nothing to the retailer other than spreading a good word about Pirch and providing excellent service befitting the Pirch credo.
“Quite honestly, we’re opening up opportunities for their associates,” Karp says. “We tell architects, builders and clients all about Pirch. They’re a tremendous word-of-mouth organization, so it’s very symbiotic.”
In preparation for the Pirch SoHo launch, Karp addressed the store’s 30 sales associates, “providing a brief outline of who AVS is and, more importantly, to share with them that we have the same vision of how we service the client,” Karp says. “I told them how we’re 24/7 service and we’re there to support their efforts, make sure their clients have a good experience.”
AVS plans to hold customer meetings at Pirch, booking any of several well-appointed “Dream Rooms” that are available to Pirch “Synergy Partners,” as well as builders, architects and other trade partners that need a meeting space and some liquid refreshment from the welcome bar.
“If we want to do a red carpet thing,” Karp says, “they’ll cook lunch there with one of their chefs.”
Leading with the Network
Interestingly, while audio, video, home automation and other cool things like Séura outdoor TVs and Leon Speakers’ Media Décor TV concealers are on display at Pirch SoHo, Karp prefers to lead with the network.
“I’m not going to talk to you about audio and video and how great it is,” he tells Pirch associates. Instead, he runs through the routine of how you might have a great network experience during the day when you’re working and watching YouTube over “this little two-lane highway,” but then at night you might add Apple TV and maybe Sonos and the kids and their friends all have their smart devices … and then the network slows.
Peek Inside the Pirch Showroom
“Our job is to make sure you have an open highway,” Karp says to “a lot of heads nodding.”
He explains that all the devices in the Pirch showroom will one day be connected, “but without a really robust network, you can have a lot of disappointed clients, and we’re not gonna let that happen.”
It All Started with Barrett's
AVS’ affiliation with Pirch started brewing last year when Sears spoke at that fateful HTSA conference. The Pirch CEO was there at the behest of Joe Barrett, principal of Barrett’s Technology Solutions in Naperville, Ill. Barrett had befriended Sears when Pirch landed in Chicago, and the duo bonded over a shared business philosophy of extreme customer service and a penchant for tribal marketing — in this case embracing (and sharing) influencers in custom home building, architecture, interior design and, of course, home appliances and custom A/V.
Pirch allows — rather, encourages — allied tribes to make themselves (and their consumer clients) at home in the store.
“In-store, they treat you like it’s your home,” Barrett told CE Pro back in 2015 during the HTSA meeting. “The greet counter is also the coffee counter. They give you latte and make you feel safe.”
Like other Pirch “Synergy Partners,” Barrett’s is the exclusive partner in its specialty, holding meetings at the store and enjoying sway among Pirch sales associates.
“I’ve gotten to know the 17 salespeople at the store,” Barrett said last year. “I start my day there, I end my day there.”
He would like Pirch associates to “think of Barrett’s when they get some blueprints,” he says. “We want blueprints to be the trigger. We hope they ask just one question: Have you considered your residential technology needs?”
Barrett’s returns the favor: “I bring my contacts from interior design and custom home building, luxury real estate, architects … they’re all shared contacts,” Barrett says. “Each of our revenue generators works with [Pirch’s] outside sales agents. If we get blueprints, we bring them to Pirch. We tell them: Here’s the builder, here’s the owner, here’s the architect.”
This new kind of relationship-driven business makes work exciting again for Barrett, who used to run a big retail operation. Now his company has a technology design center, which can be controlled remotely for demo purposes, for example, from a Pirch store.
“That’s where it gets fun,” he says.
Teaming (and Teeming) with HTSA
Barrett’s was the first technology firm to team with Pirch. Joe Barrett brought that relationship to HTSA, and now that group is partnering with Pirch stores throughout the country.
Barrett’s has no dedicated space in the Chicago Pirch. AVS has the smart loft, but it was an afterthought that had to conform to the building’s existing design. The next store with Dallas Sight and Sound in Austin, Texas, “will have an even bigger opportunity” to showcase home technology, says AVS’ Karp. Meanwhile, HTSA member Audiovisions is touting technology through Pirch stores in California.
Savant Systems, an HTSA vendor partner, provides the automation systems that run the Pirch showrooms. When guests press buttons on a touchscreen to test the different shower heads, for example, they’re using a Savant system.
“The folks at Pirch are really starting to understand our importance to the end user,” Karp says. “I think it will go even further in the next store.”
Back in Chicago, Barrett and team continue to ask their own clients, “Have you considered your home appliances? Why don’t we have our next meeting at Pirch?”
7 Clever Ways to Hide Home Technology - CE Pro Download
Most technology products are not that visually appealing. Black boxes and tangled wires do not add to the character of a high-end smart home project. Luckily, our integrator readers have a number of clever solutions so these components don’t have to be visible in your next project.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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