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Control & Automation

Integrators at Azione: Embrace DIY Home Automation or Just Say No?

Dealers discuss DIY smart-home movement at Azione conference, debate whether to embrace the new IoT marketplace or cling to traditional custom home-technology models.

Integrators at Azione: Embrace DIY Home Automation or Just Say No?
Home technology specialists at Azione Unlimited conference discuss the DIY trend in smart-home technology and how to address the market.

Julie Jacobson · March 21, 2017

The DIY market for home automation is growing, and home-technology specialists are wondering what to do about it – cling to their traditional custom-oriented business models, or embrace aspects of the mass-market IoT movement?

It’s a little of both for most integration companies, judging by discussions at the Azione Unlimited spring conference last week in San Antonio, Texas. Most of Azione’s 183 dealer members attended the event, where an afternoon was devoted to DIY "threats."

Travis Leo, Azione board member and principal of Residential Systems Inc. in Lakewood, Colo., introduced the DIY session, asking: “How do we adjust our business models?”

RSI, which historically has specialized in high-end residential projects, has made some adjustments of its own, given the realities of today’s tech shoppers.

He tells about a typical client that strolls into RSI requesting popular DIY devices such as Ring video doorbells, Nest thermostats and Sonos music systems.

“In his eyes, these are luxury products,” Leo says. “These are dream technologies.”

In particular, Amazon Alexa packs the house with clients who proclaim, “I want that,” according to Leo. “The number of those people that have walked into our showroom has exploded.”

And so … “We had to change the sales process,” Leo explains.

RSI adopted the mindset of “do it with me,” the newish concept that straddles DIY and DIFM (do it for me).

If nothing else, promoting a DIWM model helps bring clients in the door, when they might have otherwise bought online.

Leo says this scenario repeats itself again and again: A prospect with a DIY-type project “thought he could do parts of it himself, but still needed someone to help along the way. Instead of going to Home Depot at least he came to us instead.”

“We show them the app approach and then we show them the integrated approach.”

— Tom Stone, Stone+Glidden

Dealers on DIY

Luring in consumers with popular DIY brands is a pretty cheap way to acquire new customers, according to many dealers like Ron Lennox of Definitive Electronics in Jupiter, Fla.

He says that courting today’s clients is all a matter of “getting them in the door and on your side,” so you can become the “trusted advisor” who guides them into better solutions.

Ditto for Steven Ras of Brilliant AV in Costa Mesa, Calif., a company that “embraces” DIY products like Nest, Sonos and Ring.

“With it, we get to upsell,” he says, “so we can bring them in to what we do, and then elevate them to a bigger project.”

Millennials played a key role in the discussions on DIY, and many dealers referred to an Azione presentation two years ago by Tim Costello, CEO of BDX, a leading marketing firm for the home-building industry.

Back then, Costello urged integrators to understand the Millennial mindset, and how this demographic shops. Often they demand “name-brand” products like Nest, and usually they abhor a long, drawn-out sales process.

“We retooled a lot of things in our business after Costello,” says Tom Stone of Stone+Glidden in King of Prussia, Pa.

His integration company can’t help but offer “app-based solutions” for those who are used to app-hopping on their mobile devices. These solutions – including Nest thermostats and Lutron lighting – are featured on the company website, alongside “integrated solutions” like Savant under the banner: “One App to control Your Home.”

Clients may come in for a point solution, but often leave with a more integrated system.

“We show them the app approach,” says Stone, “and then we show them the integrated approach.”

Integrated often wins.

“Wealthy Millennials are just impossible to ignore,” says Chad Lassig of Audio Video Systems in Murray, Utah, who followed up with “any Millennials.”

If AVS has to say yes to DIY-type solutions, then chalk it up to the cost of building business.

“We want to be the answer guy,” Lassig says.

Pono Nauka of Honolulu-based Blueprint Audio Visual couldn’t agree more: “We have a reputation for flexibility. … When they [clients] are happier, they tell their friends.”

Just Say No to DIY

On the other hand, many integrators agree that DIY-centric projects are not for them.

“Learn to say no,” says Chris Smith of New York-based Cloud9 Smart.

“As soon as they push back, I tell them I’m not your guy,”

— Mark Ontiveros,
Audio Images

In an earlier presentation to the Azione group, Smith highlighted the company’s rabid attention to net promoter score (NPS), essentially a measure of how likely customers are to recommend your brand.

In the break-out groups, he noted that DIY products will likely undermine the company’s NPS in the long term: “If we know it will disrupt our NPS, we won’t do it.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Cloud9 rejects clients outright if they demand systems that Cloud9 doesn’t support.

In such cases, the company offers to take on a consulting role, specifying a system and recommending reputable integrators in the area. Typically, Cloud9 charges about $1 per square foot for audio, video and networking, and another $1 per foot for lighting and shading.

Murray Kunis of Los Angeles-based Future Home is in the Cloud9 camp, often eschewing clients who insist on bringing their own DIY devices to a project.

He explains that Future Home can only support clients as well as vendors support integrators.

“I can call Crestron and get answers in minutes,” Kunis says. “I can call Amazon [Alexa] and get a response in three days.”

Even integrators who don’t necessarily embrace DIY certainly don’t ignore it.

“I’ll try anything once,” says Mark Ontiveros of Audio Images in Tustin, Calif., referring to an unsatisfactory experience with a popular networking brand installed in his own house.

Based on that experience, Audio Images demands clients use the company’s choice of high-performance networking gear.

“As soon as they push back, I tell them I’m not your guy,” he says.

At that, Tom Stone remarked on the in-home networking experiment: “That’s powerful. You can share that experience with clients.”



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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


Control & Automation · Automation · Business · News · Products · Azione · DIY · Nest · Ring · Savant · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by antoniohardeman on March 22, 2017

Don’t forget that a lot of users are used to and are ok with switching between multiple apps because that’s what they do everyday.  Some of these DIFM systems like Smart Things, Wink, Nexia can be designed without the user even opening the app.  Some will use one app to disarm the alarm system, one app to control the a/v system or another app to cast music.  That’s not really a major pain-point for most.

In most situations I’d venture to guess that there will not be many customers that try to disarm the alarm, turn on the a/v system and play music at the same time by.  But I think that we’re forgetting that voice control plays a huge role in this.  With voice control the home control app starts to fade to the background.  No longer is there a need to open the control app or walk over to a tablet that is on the wall.  Just ask Alexa or Google Home to complete the task.  So when you talk about showing them a one-app approach keep mind that the one-app approach may not resonate as much as you think.

Posted by Hagai Feiner / Access Networks on March 21, 2017

Great discussion, and I think there is a place for both concepts. “Easy to install” does not equate “easy to use” in the world of integration. Imho, DIY, DIFM and DIWM are all introduction lessons to the ultimate goal/desire of a one-app home. Sure, many people will do just fine with various gadgets and apps to use said gadgets on their phones. But once you have the use case of a one-app home (quantified by amount of devices you have and what you want to do with them) there is only one way to go.

Posted by DIGITAL DELIGHT / DIFY TECH on March 21, 2017

Last year Digital Delight challenged the industries philosophy or motto of “Don’t Sell Out of Your Pocket”, and asked ourselves the question “What would a system look like sold out of my pocket?”. Well first, that meant changing the products we would use & install more of the “DIY” or “Consumer Based” products like; RING Video Doorbells, NEST Thermostats & Cameras, SONOS & BOSE sound systems and Logitech Harmony control system. Also, this meant that the “Control Rack” would have to go away & all the products would have to be “SYLO’d” or “Local Sourced” in each rooms location. One of the major things we learned when evaluating the new product lines we would push was how small in size, simple to install & how much easier it was for the end user to control and interact with (Wife). For example when you compare the traditional security camera app interface to a Nest Cam or Logi Circle Cam app interface, the “Consumer Based” or “DIY” products were so simple a kid could figure it out & that is what clients want on ANY budget. The simplicity when using their investment. This is what we have been striving to accomplish all along for our clients. What we found was that a lot of the “Dealer Only” products seem to be designed just for the dealer and made to be to complex for the end user. Now you may say that’s the point…, but what we realized is that even though these “Consumer Based” products are supposed to be “DIY” there is a looming problem with that concept… Clients DON’T WANT TO DO IT.

• Can they buy these products of the shelf? Yes…
• Can they install these products? Maybe?
• Can they customize them to their own personal lifestyles? Maybe.
• Do they understand how these products work? Maybe.

So Digital Delight has adopted a new philosophy & motto… Instead of it being “DIY” our solutions is “DIFY TECH” or “DOES IT FOR YOU TECHNOLOGY”. Not only does the Technology Do It For You, but our Technologist Do It For You by providing the systems, installing them, customizing them to each individuals personal lifestyles and most important educating them on their new tech investment. You see, when you change over from the “Dealer Only Sold” product mentality an go to these “DIFY TECH” based solutions, you make your business model more about the SERVICE. Yes we understand the margin on these “DIFY TECH” based products are slimmer, but return is higher in many ways.

• First, systems like this save the company money on the labor force. You no longer need a $60K a year programmer. “DIFY     TECH” systems are designed to be “Wizard” or App based set ups.
• Second, these systems can be installed in a fraction of the time that a traditional control system can be set up in.
• Third, the cost of these solutions are at a third of the cost of a “Traditional” control system.
• Fourth, these systems price tags open you up to more than just the top 1% of earners in your market. Can & do these types of solutions still work in large scale applications? YES! You just have to change your mind set on how a system is designed, and relies that just because this client has money doesn’t mean you have to sell them on only high end gear they can’t get off the shelf themselves. Chances are that the stuff they could get off the shelf would work more reliably & should something fail they are much easier to work with when a $400 off the shelf device goes out as to a $12,000 exclusive product. With technology ever changing & prices becoming more & more affordable it is key that the price tag of each solution is comfortable when upgrade time comes around.
• Also, with these “DIFY TECH” solutions, our experience with the manufactures tech support team is great! 

Finally, we have the answer. It’s to provide simple, affordable, solutions that just work & our clients have been loving them and can easily use them. The closest reference to a existing business model is “How Does Taco Bell Make Money Selling 99 Cent Tacos?”… YOU SELL A LOT OF THEM! These “DIFY TECH” based systems have allowed us to grow & complete more projects with happier customers than ever before. Get ready because the “DIFY TECH MOVEMENT IS HERE!!!”

 

Posted by hhjones43 on March 21, 2017

Welcome to what those of us in IT have been dealing with for the past 30 years.  Everyone thinks they are a computer expert.  The end result of this is that many if not most IT people have given up on the home market and work exclusively in businesses (which may have their own “experts”, but they don’t have time from their job duties to get deeply involved in a problem).  Any business segment that can be commoditized will be, as manufacturers push prices ever lower and create more “ease of install” videos for the home user.

Posted by hhjones43 on March 21, 2017

Welcome to what those of us in IT have been dealing with for the past 30 years.  Everyone thinks they are a computer expert.  The end result of this is that many if not most IT people have given up on the home market and work exclusively in businesses (which may have their own “experts”, but they don’t have time from their job duties to get deeply involved in a problem).  Any business segment that can be commoditized will be, as manufacturers push prices ever lower and create more “ease of install” videos for the home user.

Posted by DIGITAL DELIGHT / DIFY TECH on March 21, 2017

Last year Digital Delight challenged the industries philosophy or motto of “Don’t Sell Out of Your Pocket”, and asked ourselves the question “What would a system look like sold out of my pocket?”. Well first, that meant changing the products we would use & install more of the “DIY” or “Consumer Based” products like; RING Video Doorbells, NEST Thermostats & Cameras, SONOS & BOSE sound systems and Logitech Harmony control system. Also, this meant that the “Control Rack” would have to go away & all the products would have to be “SYLO’d” or “Local Sourced” in each rooms location. One of the major things we learned when evaluating the new product lines we would push was how small in size, simple to install & how much easier it was for the end user to control and interact with (Wife). For example when you compare the traditional security camera app interface to a Nest Cam or Logi Circle Cam app interface, the “Consumer Based” or “DIY” products were so simple a kid could figure it out & that is what clients want on ANY budget. The simplicity when using their investment. This is what we have been striving to accomplish all along for our clients. What we found was that a lot of the “Dealer Only” products seem to be designed just for the dealer and made to be to complex for the end user. Now you may say that’s the point…, but what we realized is that even though these “Consumer Based” products are supposed to be “DIY” there is a looming problem with that concept… Clients DON’T WANT TO DO IT.

• Can they buy these products of the shelf? Yes…
• Can they install these products? Maybe?
• Can they customize them to their own personal lifestyles? Maybe.
• Do they understand how these products work? Maybe.

So Digital Delight has adopted a new philosophy & motto… Instead of it being “DIY” our solutions is “DIFY TECH” or “DOES IT FOR YOU TECHNOLOGY”. Not only does the Technology Do It For You, but our Technologist Do It For You by providing the systems, installing them, customizing them to each individuals personal lifestyles and most important educating them on their new tech investment. You see, when you change over from the “Dealer Only Sold” product mentality an go to these “DIFY TECH” based solutions, you make your business model more about the SERVICE. Yes we understand the margin on these “DIFY TECH” based products are slimmer, but return is higher in many ways.

• First, systems like this save the company money on the labor force. You no longer need a $60K a year programmer. “DIFY     TECH” systems are designed to be “Wizard” or App based set ups.
• Second, these systems can be installed in a fraction of the time that a traditional control system can be set up in.
• Third, the cost of these solutions are at a third of the cost of a “Traditional” control system.
• Fourth, these systems price tags open you up to more than just the top 1% of earners in your market. Can & do these types of solutions still work in large scale applications? YES! You just have to change your mind set on how a system is designed, and relies that just because this client has money doesn’t mean you have to sell them on only high end gear they can’t get off the shelf themselves. Chances are that the stuff they could get off the shelf would work more reliably & should something fail they are much easier to work with when a $400 off the shelf device goes out as to a $12,000 exclusive product. With technology ever changing & prices becoming more & more affordable it is key that the price tag of each solution is comfortable when upgrade time comes around.
• Also, with these “DIFY TECH” solutions, our experience with the manufactures tech support team is great! 

Finally, we have the answer. It’s to provide simple, affordable, solutions that just work & our clients have been loving them and can easily use them. The closest reference to a existing business model is “How Does Taco Bell Make Money Selling 99 Cent Tacos?”… YOU SELL A LOT OF THEM! These “DIFY TECH” based systems have allowed us to grow & complete more projects with happier customers than ever before. Get ready because the “DIFY TECH MOVEMENT IS HERE!!!”

 

Posted by Hagai Feiner / Access Networks on March 21, 2017

Great discussion, and I think there is a place for both concepts. “Easy to install” does not equate “easy to use” in the world of integration. Imho, DIY, DIFM and DIWM are all introduction lessons to the ultimate goal/desire of a one-app home. Sure, many people will do just fine with various gadgets and apps to use said gadgets on their phones. But once you have the use case of a one-app home (quantified by amount of devices you have and what you want to do with them) there is only one way to go.

Posted by antoniohardeman on March 22, 2017

Don’t forget that a lot of users are used to and are ok with switching between multiple apps because that’s what they do everyday.  Some of these DIFM systems like Smart Things, Wink, Nexia can be designed without the user even opening the app.  Some will use one app to disarm the alarm system, one app to control the a/v system or another app to cast music.  That’s not really a major pain-point for most.

In most situations I’d venture to guess that there will not be many customers that try to disarm the alarm, turn on the a/v system and play music at the same time by.  But I think that we’re forgetting that voice control plays a huge role in this.  With voice control the home control app starts to fade to the background.  No longer is there a need to open the control app or walk over to a tablet that is on the wall.  Just ask Alexa or Google Home to complete the task.  So when you talk about showing them a one-app approach keep mind that the one-app approach may not resonate as much as you think.