They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This couldn’t be truer than in the home systems integration business. Prospective clients, many of whom are often home technology newbies, respond better to the notion of distributed A/V, automation, architectural lighting control, and other smart-home elements when they can see the solutions in action, preferably in a realistic home environment.
It’s the reason dealer showrooms exist. Showrooms do much more than paint a pretty picture, though. Filled with fully functional technology, a well-designed, properly integrated showroom can become an integrator’s most powerful sales tool — but only if the messaging behind the presentation is on point.
Even the most beautiful, technologically sophisticated showroom can fall short of an integrator’s sales goals if his customers walk away feeling overwhelmed, intimidated or confused.
“It’s an all-too-common error in our industry,” says Doug Dushan, sales and marketing manager at Echo Systems, Omaha, Neb.
When giving the show-room spiel, “Integrators tend to focus on the gear and budget instead of connecting with customers on an emotional level.”
Since opening its 12,000-square-foot “Experience Center” four years ago, the 15-year-old company has enjoyed a significant uptick in sales, with the average project cost nearly doubling, according to Dushan.
Integrators seeking to score more points—and sales—with prospective customers can take a few cues from Echo Systems’ playbook.
It's Good to Get Emotional
A big part of developing an emotional connection with showroom visitors, says Dushan, is creating an experience that leaves a lasting impression and introduces them to a completely new way of thinking about home technology. “The days of the long, drawn-out audiophile demos are behind us,” he claims.
- Company: Echo Systems
- Location: Omaha, Neb.
- Website: echosystemsmidwest.com
- Revenues (2018): Roughly $7 million (projected)
- Years in Business: 15
- Number of Employees: 30
- Specialty: Aesthetic integration of A/V technology
- Top 5 Brands: Sonance, Wisdom Audio, Savant, Lutron, Sony
“Today, what customers want to see, and what they can relate to on a more intimate level, is how well technology can fit into a home’s cosmetics.”
This belief served — and continues to serve — as the foundation of Echo Systems’ showroom design and sales messaging.
“When laying out the plans for the construction of our Experience Center, our emphasis was to execute everything in an aesthetic fashion,” Dushan says.
The decision to grab customers first with a display of eye-catching, high-end cosmetics, and leveraging those aesthetics to demonstrate the company’s expertise at implementing cutting-edge technology has worked well for Echo Systems, which is the No. 33 company in the CE Pro 100.
“We strive to wow our customers with our Experience Center — to sweep them away with something wondrous that they’ve never seen before; not just introduce them to gear,” Dushan explains.
“We want customers to walk away inspired with a clear understanding and appreciation of how technology can be beautifully infused into the décor of a home. Most importantly, we want to grab their attention with the cosmetic details so that they’ll want to take that next step and work with us to deliver many of the same features in our showroom to their own homes.”
Building the Wow Factor
To achieve the “wow factor,” Echo Systems invested heavily in the construction, design, materials, furnishings and architectural details of its showroom, whose location perhaps belies the special nature of what’s in store for customers once they set foot in the door.
“We basically built a $3-million house in a strip mall,” says Dushan. Remarkably, Echo Systems allocated the lion’s share of its showroom budget on the cosmetic materials, décor and furnishings.
“We invested heavily in the things that we don’t sell, and we wouldn’t change this strategy,” Dushan says.
“Things like granite counter-tops and top-of-the-line kitchen appliances help create a complete experience. By focusing a great deal of attention on the design and décor we are able to teleport our Experience Center visitors to a place they would actually want to re-create in their own homes,” he continues.
“They are able to get a complete picture of how tech and design fuse together and we have been able to sell more effectively because of it.”
Offering a 10,000-Foot View
Make no mistake … there’s some serious strategy behind the sweet eye candy. Echo Systems backs up the lavish visuals of the many “rooms” in its Experience Center with a well-defined and practiced-to-perfection “sales language.”
It’s a language that inspires contemplation and reflection, understanding and acceptance, by mitigating the confusion and intimidation that prospective customers often feel after being inundated with tech talk.
“We in the industry often forget that most customers have never seen most of the technologies that we are selling,” Dushan says.
“Therefore, at least in the initial meeting with clients at the Experience Center, we keep our sales language at a very high level. We give a 10,000-foot view of where home technology is at and how our company can help make sense out of it all.”
Don't Flip The Script
The Eye Candy
Echo Systems’ 12,000-square-foot showroom is about more than just smart home technology. Here are other highlights that help make things tick:
- Wolf range
- Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer
- Granite surfaces, polished and leathered
- Reclaimed hardwood floors
- Glass bead faux wall finish in foyer
- Luxury decorative lighting fixtures
- Silver leaf dome ceiling in foyer
- Stacked stone accent walls
- Fancy original artwork
- Custom cabinetry
- Linear fireplace
- Trimless architectural cans
- Human-centric, tunable Ketra lighting
- Trufig HVAC, keypads and outlets
A big part of developing and implementing a successful sales message is sticking to the script to ensure team members are always on the same page with the potential customers — not only the ones taking the Experience Center tour that day but those who might come in a week, month or even a year from now.
“No matter who is taking customers through the showroom, he or she follows the same general script,” Dushan says. “We try to provide the most consistent message possible, so when a visitor leaves and tells their friends and family about us, they receive the same message and experience when they visit us.”
One of the important facets of this introductory script, which flows naturally as an Echo Systems salesperson guides customers through each gorgeous vignette area that comprises the Experience Center, is a 60-second synopsis of who Echo Systems is as a company — how long it’s been in business, number of employees (e.g., eight years ago, there were five employees, now there are 35), the trajectory for growth (e.g., a second Experience Center in Kansas City is on the roadmap).
“At the end of the day, this is our most important asset,” Dushan comments. “Sales are made and lost based on how well we connect with the customer, and that means they need to understand who we are as a company and as people.”
The cosmetic features of the showroom may be what reels people in, but it’s the people — including those behind the scenes like the bookkeeper and warehouse manager, that hooks them. In fact, part of the “home” tour includes a stop at one of Echo Systems’ most recent additions: a state-of-the-art network operations center where Echo Systems provides remote management and support from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., 365 days a year.
Visitors also catch a glimpse of its pristine production area where equipment racks are built and configured.
“These behind-the-scenes areas are hardcore impressive, and once a client sees them, they find it impossible to not go with us,” Dushan says.
On With The Tour
The tour begins by walking into a professionally landscaped “outdoor” area below a custom starfield ceiling. The front door opens into a well-appointed formal foyer where an Echo tour guide points out a Tru-Fig lighting keypad that was faux finished to match the wall.
This is the first of many examples of discreetly placed technology throughout the Experience Center. The showstopper is a custom mirror TV from Séura perched above a fireplace mantel.
This is where Echo Systems begins its conversation about how easy it is to control equipment, like transitioning the mirror into a TV, adjusting the position of the Lutron shades or commanding a motorized 120-inch Stewart Filmscreen screen to lower from a hiding spot in the ceiling.
But they always bring it back to the cosmetics, pointing out how speakers can look like can lights, and HVAC grilles and electrical outlets can be installed seamlessly with the wall surface.
“We show the customer that wherever technology is trying to poke its head up, we can beat it down,” Dushan says.
The tour continues into a gourmet kitchen featuring Discreet Opening speakers from Sonance, placed uniformly in line with the room’s architectural lighting.
“We chose square bezels to match the styling of the recessed lights,” Dushan says. “And we made sure to put the speakers in places besides just over the island — it’s a typical way of doing it, but we want our visitors to see how you can have better music coverage, which leads to better entertaining of friends and family, without having the speakers conflict with the kitchen design.”
The kitchen flows into a dining room where music continues to play through invisible speakers behind the drywall, and other varieties of Lutron window treatments are showcased.
“It’s here that we often ask our clients, ‘what do you want your sound to look like?’” Dushan continues. “Most people don’t even realize that there are options like invisible speakers.”
CE Profile: Echo Systems
Sure, it’s important to update the technology in a showroom to keep it fresh and relevant. But it’s just as important that a showroom's aesthetics are stylish and modern.
Echo Systems utilized the expertise of a top interior designer (Aaron Carlson Design) and homebuilder (Curt Hofer & Associates) to ensure that the show-room would be stylish not only from the day it opened its doors, but also years later.
Rather than fall into the trap of incorporating flash-in-the-pan trends, the designer and builder wisely utilized materials and furnishings of timeless quality.
“Our goal was to include aesthetic features were going to last in terms of style for the longest stretch of time,” says Doug Dushan, sales manager and marketing coordinator.
At the end of the day, the job of a home systems integrator is to solve problems — whether it be securing a home more effectively from burglary or implementing solutions to minimize utility costs.
“We love it when people come to the showroom with objections to home technology,” Dushan says.
“When they say, ‘this is too complicated,’ we are able to show them right then and there that technology, when designed right, can make life simpler; when they say ‘there’s no difference between regular audio and high-performance audio’ we prove them wrong by showing them the difference.”
Music is a Fundamental Right
Consumers have fully embraced being able to have music right at their fingertips, so demonstrating a distributed audio system is essential during a showroom tour. However, as important as it is to highlight the quality of your audio distribution solutions, make sure to focus customers’ attention on how tech can simplify the management of music in a home.
Build From the Ground Up
As a home systems integrator, you are one of many subcontractors involved in the construction of a home, coming into the project and leaving when your job is finished. There’s nothing wrong with that, but by building a showroom from the ground up, you can immerse yourself in every facet of the home building process.
“We were able to gain profound insight into the nuances of home construction during the building of our Experience Center, which ultimately helped us better understand how we can expand our role as integrators,” Dushan explains.
Hit'em While Emotions Are High
Don’t wait long after a customer’s first showroom tour to schedule a follow-up visit.
“You want to talk with them while their emotions are still high from their initial experience,” Dushan recommends. “While ideas are fresh in their mind, you are able to more effectively discuss and create a plan for delivering technology solutions to their home.”
The dedicated home theater includes a top-of-the-line Steinway Lyngdorf LS system with acoustic design by Sam Cavitt of Paradise Theater.
Lighting Lab: Build It And They Will Come
While most rooms of the Experience Center feature a variety of technologies, Echo Systems recently decided to give human-centric lighting technology a space of its own.
It’s a technology that has been touted heavily over the past year by the likes of industry buying groups and CE Pro, and was showcased in several booths during CEDIA Expo 2018.
Echo Systems’ new Lighting Lab features Ketra (recently acquired by Lutron) human-centric lighting solutions. Using a single keypad, Echo Systems elicits several scenes to dramatically alter the atmosphere of the space.
“Following the completion of our Lighting Lab, we’ve seen a marked growth in demand for lighting design and interest in human-centric and tunable white light-ing,” Dushan remarks.
A Game Changer
When asked what has been the best decision Echo Systems has ever made, Dushan without a second of hesitation, replies, “our Experience Center.”
Combined with a cohesive sales message, sound business practices, and quick, reliable customer support, the investment in its luxury, no-holds-barred showroom has been a real game changer for the company.
“It’s helped set us apart from our regional competition, validates our experience and expertise, and helps customers visualize what’s possible in their own homes and connect with what we do.”