Staples Launches Connect Home Automation; Teams with Lutron for Lighting, Shades
Starting at $99, Staples Connect is first of the mass-market home automation systems that incorporates Lutron lighting control and motorized shades; system driven by Zonoff cloud-enabled platform.
Staples is launching a new home automation system that will be sold online and in its roughly 1,500 U.S. stores. In many ways, the system is much like Lowe’s Iris, which launched this year, but appears to be more robust than the DIY offerings from other mass marketers including Comcast/Xfinity and Verizon (not to mention professionally installed systems from ATT Digital Life and all the cable guys).
The solution starts at $99 for a Web-connected hub (made by Linksys) that can communicate with thermostats, lights, door locks and other smart devices for remote monitoring and control over the Internet.
It is powered by Zonoff , whose cloud-based home-control platform also drives the Tahoma control system from Somfy, a giant in motorized window coverings.
What sets Staples Connect apart from the Lowe’s system is its native integration with Lutron lighting controls and motorized shades – a first for any mass marketer. Lutron’s ClearConnect wireless radio and protocol are embedded in the Staples Connect hub, which also includes Wi-Fi and Z-Wave radios.
“Lutron is the preeminent brand in my mind,” says Peter Gerstberger, senior buyer, new business development at Staples. “When I walk around the home and see the switches, I see Lutron. We are very excited about that partnership.”
For the partnership, Lutron is rolling out a new line of affordable dimmers with a different flavor of ClearConnect wireless technology than is found in its other wireless systems. In other words: the forthcoming products are not compatible with Lutron RadioRA2 or HomeWorks, the leading lighting-control systems for the custom installation market.
The Staples ClearConnect wireless products “won’t compromise on Lutron reliability,” says Michael Smith, VP residential solutions for Lutron, “but you won’t have the level of sophistication as you would with RadioRA2 and HomeWorks.”
For Staples Connect, Lutron is making in-wall dimmers, a plug-in module and the diminutive four-button Pico keypad/remote.
Lutron isn’t commenting on prices for the products, but Smith says it will carry a premium over Lutron’s most expensive (dumb) switch, which retails for $39.
Even more unique in the mass-market DIY world is native integration with Lutron’s line of Serena powered motorized shades. As with the new lighting products, the shades communicate via the ClearConnect wireless in the Staples hub.
Consumers will be able to sample the shades at a Staples store, and then order them online through Lutron’s consumer portal.
Other Staples Connect Features & Partners
Beyond the Lutron integration, Staples Connect is similar to other (good) DIY solutions including Lowe’s Iris.
The big difference is that Staples Connect has no monthly fee, unlike Lowe’s $10/month service.
My Electronic House colleague Grant Clauser had an early look at the system at Zonoff headquarters in Malvern, Penn.
What impressed me was how easy it is to program activities. When you add a device it suggests activities to associate with that device and will even suggest additional products you might want to purchase (such as a motion sensor or contact sensor) that would work well with your system. And of course the app will connect you directly to Staples’ online store to buy more stuff.
Out of the gate, when it launches in November, the Staples solution will be compatible with the Lutron lighting and motorized shade products. It also will work with a number of Z-Wave products, but Staples is pushing Yale locks, Jasco/GE lighting, Honeywell’s Z-Wave thermostat and the new Z-Wave smoke detector from First Alert.
All of those products communicate locally with the Staples Connect hub, and then with the cloud to incorporate IP-based functions.
Zonoff CEO Mike Harris says of the Ivee integration, “When you say ‘goodnight’, in addition to setting the alarm to wake you in the morning, it could also lock the doors, turn off the lights and set back the thermostat through its integration with Staples Connect.”
As for Doorbot, it can trigger the lights to turn on, for example, when the doorbell is pressed after sundown.
Can Staples Sell Home Automation?
At first blush, it seems like a stupid marriage: reams of paper next to home automation?
But Staples gives a compelling case. It is the top office-supply company in the world and – who knew this? –the second largest Internet retailer after Amazon. (Amazon itself recently launched a home automation store).
And it doesn’t just sell paper, overpriced ink and tubs of red licorice. Staples sells a ton of networking products for the home and small business to the tune of about 10,000 units per week.
In fact, the light commercial market will be a key target of the Staples Connect initiative.
Staples’ Gerstberger suggests that it’s not necessarily about the types of products (networking) that people buy but the types of customers that Staples sells to – small business owners.
A small business owner coming to the store on a daily basis for IT gear and highlighter pens very likely would make the decision to buy a DIY security system with energy management features for the office – something that is simple to install since “most businesses don’t have an IT guy onsite,” Gerstberger reminds us.
He doesn’t believe for a second that Connect will be an impulse buy but the in-store displays seem compelling – unlike the relatively sad POS displays at Lowe’s.
“You have 20 seconds to capture the customer’s attention,” Gerstberger says.
Spanning 12 feet, the interactive displays will feature a tablet that controls a number of devices. The devices light up when they are being controlled – locks, Lutron shades, lights, etc.—to give a clear indication of the process.
The in-store displays will be complemented by an online emulator.
On Tech Support and Product Fulfillment
Staples already has a substantial tech-support infrastructure in its EasyTech service, which provides in-store, onsite and telephone support.
The “black shirts” will be the first line of defense for tech support calls (and installation if needed), and there will be a seamless handoff to automation partners when more help is required.
Orders will be fufilled by the CE distributor Worthington Distribution because even though Staples is a logistics giant, “it doesn’t pay for them to build kits,” says Worthington principal Richard Scholl.
He won’t give numbers but says Staples has placed a large opening order “so you know they’re serious about this working.”
He likes their chances, saying, “I think they’re the first ones that have thought it all the way through.”
For example, Staples is not supporting “just any old Z-Wave device,” Scholl says. The products have to be built on a specific version of the protocol “so they cut out a lot of problems before they even started.”
Scholl also notes, “The help screens are fantastic, unbelievable” on the Staples Connect system.
While Worthington offers some of the best smart-home tech support on the planet, the distributor is not (yet) providing that support to Staples customers.
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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 email@example.com
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