Azione Unlimited, the big home-tech buying and networking group with 220 dealers and $750 million in buying power, hosted more than 250 home-technology pros recently in Seattle for the association’s annual fall conference.
Wellness and biophilia were key themes of the event and a priority of Azione in the coming year. Biophilia, a rapidly growing theme in technology and design/build circles, refers to human beings’ innate attachment to nature. Manufacturers and dealers are quickly entering the category with products, ecosystems and services to create environments that bring (simulated) nature into the indoors – circadian lighting and temperature controls, purified air and water, sounds and sights of the outdoors, or other stimuli found in nature.
Azione already counts as vendors the two home-automation companies that had the best demos of circadian lighting at CEDIA Expo in September: Savant and Vantage (Legrand). In addition, Azione supplies light fixtures and design services – including color-tunable solutions – through Circa Lighting, Breakthrough Lighting, LumaStream and USAI.
Azione founder and chief Richard Glikes swore he wasn’t interested in more vendors but couldn’t help himself when indoor air quality, water purification and smart slumber tempted his wellness sensibilities. (He caved to a few other new vendors as well, noted below).
New Wellness Vendors: Clean Air, Pure Water, Sound Sleep
Pure is a leading brand for indoor air quality and water purification, currently providing over 9,000 hotel rooms with Pure Room wellness systems. While the company (a Healthway brand) has focused on hospitality over the years, Pure now is “aligning with several high-quality home builders … to provide near-perfect air from every vent, and better-than-bottled water from every faucet,” said Healthway Founder Vinny Lobdell in an interview with CE Pro earlier this year.
Pure is working on a “more holistic” solution for the home-technology channel, with the goal of integrating with third-party systems such as home-automation, indoor air quality monitors, and motorized windows.
Incorporating smart sensors and algorithms, Pure’s roadmap includes a platform that demonstrates “how a built environment is performing and how it impacts health,” Lobdell says.
The next step for the channel would be providing a “clear educational roadmap of how they [integrators] can fix the problems.”
Pure isn’t saying much publicly about its plans for integrated systems in wellness and biophilic design, but we should expect to see something concrete before CEDIA Expo 2020.
“We want to be the #1 wellness provider in the market,” Lobdell says.
The home-technology channel is getting its first smart bed – Bryte from Bryte Labs. The bed isn’t the first to offer personalized settings for motion, temperature and firmness. It isn’t even the first to declare multiple sensors, artificial intelligence, and a sophisticated platform that learns a person’s sleep patterns and adjusts the bed’s settings automatically to produce a good night’s sleep.
And, like Bryte, there are other smart-bed manufacturers that tout health-and-wellness applications, circadian feature sets, and the support of scientists and prestigious research labs.
Still, Bryte appears to be winning the comfort and wellness wars, according to co-founder Ely Tsern, who has been speaking with CE Pro for several months as the company invests in integration.
Bryte boasts a superior product when compared to other beds – smart or otherwise. But when it comes to “smart,” no one can match wits with Bryte, with its AIDEN AI engine that lulls sleepy-heads to bed with a wave motion that hits specific pressure points; active cooling and warming that optimizes body temperature “using science-based algorithms”; and Dynamic Coils that adjust automatically based on sleeper feedback.
And that’s just the start of smart. Bryte appears to be first bed maker to commit to the home-tech channel, third-party integration, and an entire ecosystem built around healthy sleep to support circadian rhythms.
Already, Bryte integrates with Philips Hue lighting and Nest thermostats. Come wake-up time, the Bryte system will gently ramp up the lights and raise the temperature – via the thermostat and/or the bed’s built-in temperature controls – in true circadian fashion.
“We create a natural wake sequence,” says Tsern. “If you tell it to wake you up at 7:00, it will wake you up with temperature and lighting.”
The effect produces a “slight nudge,” Tsern says, just as we would see in nature with the gradual sunrise and rise in temperature.
At the Azione conference, Bryte brought a bed to dinner at the Seattle Aquarium. It was a huge hit with the group, many of whom skipped a sea-otter feeding for a roll in the coils.
Bryte, which sells direct to consumer, is brand new to the channel, having only discovered it this year when one of its beds landed in the Dallas showroom of Hometronics, a top home-technology integration firm that is building out a wellness section in its sprawling Dallas Market Center space.
Now that Bryte has seen the light, so to speak, the company is rushing to integrate with other (potential) components of a wellness environment, especially when it comes to the bedroom. Each intelligent element of a Bryte bed – and the algorithms that go with it – will be accessible through a home automation system, which can then coordinate artificial lights, natural light (through motorized shades or other mechanisms), temperature, air flow, sounds and other environmental factors that can impact the sleep cycle.
Wellness Touches Everything at Azione
Wellness showed up in conversations, training and presentations at Azione … even when they weren’t actually about wellness.
Lighting was a key focus at the event, with Level 1, 2 and 3 training program that mostly emphasized the technology, aesthetic concerns, logistical considerations (lots and lots of boxes – one for each LED), interactions with trades and clients, business models, and a whole lot of caveats and tips related to lighting.
Naturally, wellness crept into the conversation, too. Hey, don’t knock warm-dim light fixtures as a “poor man’s tunable white,” said Joe Pineda, president of Azione partner Breakthrough Lighting. “It can be very effective” for simulating natural lighting conditions.
Elsewhere at the Azione affair, I caught up with Rayva president George Walter, who said the company is making great strides in translating its turnkey home-theater businesss into a wellness play.
At CEDIA Expo 2019 Rayva introduced the concept of “Outdoor Simulators” — self-contained Wellness Rooms that let the user escape to nature … virtually. Just a few months later, the pieces are falling into place. (Story coming soon.)
And then, during an Azione panel with three residential architects, (phenomenal discussion, expertly moderated by integrator Bryan Mills of Mills Technologies), wellness came up as one of those things that just might get architects excited about meeting with a home-tech pro.
“Air quality is becoming a big issue, especially in Seattle with wildfires,” said local architect Sheri Olson.
Her compatriot John DeForest advised integrators, “The way to get in earlier [with architects] is about not just selling products.”
Although wellness “hasn’t particularly been on my radar,” he said, it would be one example of how an integrator could catch the architect’s ear. Stay tuned for a separate article on this enlightening panel discussion.
Yours truly presented the final keynote address at Azione, capping the event with a lesson on biophilic design, wellness, and the opportunity for the home-tech channel. (We call it biodigitry: biophilia meets IoT.) A packed house of manufacturers and dealers sat pretty quietly during the presentation, wincing occasionally at the term “biophilia” and wishing for more time to address: “OK, what now?” (Next time!)
Some dealers are already digging in.
“Global Wave Integration is currently in the process of building out our new home base in Burbank,” wrote Sarah Steele after the event, “and I desperately want to incorporate as much as I can from your biophilia presentation.”
Others wrote to ask how biophilia could be presented to architects, designers and builders in their regions.
Much More Azione News
More New Vendors
In addition to Bryte and Pure, Azione brought in another vendor representing a brand new category for pros: Blackdove, provider of video content, including new-media art, nature and other eye-popping visuals. The solution is packaged nicely for pros, who can enjoy recurring revenue for client subscriptions.
Another Azione newcomer is Wilson Electronics, maker of cellphone signal boosters – a category that, surprisingly, has evaded Azione in the past. Industry veteran Dave Donald joined the company earlier this year as the CEDIA national account manager.
“It’s Dave Donald,” Glikes said. “You can’t say no to Dave.”
Finally, Vital Mgmt joined Azione as a strategic partner. The consulting firm, run by the business gurus of the CEDIA channel Paul Starkey and Steve Firszt, is steering Azione dealers to a fairly standardized set of businesses practices and processes. Once dealers fall into alignment, then they become attractive for mergers and acquisitions – just as occurred with Bravas Group under their leadership.
The 15 dealers that adopted the Starkey and Firszt way … merged in September with the help of a $75 million private-equity investment.
The dynamic duo led the Process track at Azione, packing ‘em in all day, and then some. Dealers came back for more during their “free time.”
In concert with Vital Mgmt, Azione brought Maxaware into the group. The maker of cloud-based project-management software is a start-up in theory but the software has been used by the founders for over a decade in their own integration business, Sight and Sound Systems.
Glikes is hoping Maxaware could be a platform that Azione dealers might rally around, in the interest of unifying business processes.
And Yet More Azione Initiatives
While Starkey and Firszt led the “Process” track, two other groups of trainers led the Lighting track and Operations track. Each track included three courses running a half-day, and repeated over two days.
“Normally these are shorter segments, but we wanted to go deep.” Glikes said. “This time we made them into courses, taking them [dealers] from freshmen, to seniors in college to grade school.”
Also at the fall event, Azione presented its first Marketing Playbook, developed after dealers this year declared marketing as the #1 discipline begging for a handbook. Thirteen different contributors, including dealers and vendors, lent wisdom to the document, which reads like the cookbook compiled every year by the Temple Sisterhood, with detailed notes on making the perfect matzo ball or browning blintzes to kvell over.
The Playbook helps Azione members “go the next level beyond best practices … to actually implementing,” said Azione’s Patrick McCarthy.
You know who else besides Azione’s U.S.-based dealers can get implementing? The new Canadian contingent! The group now has eight members from north of the border.
“We want 30 to 40 Canadian dealers, eh,” Glikes said. “There’s retail in Canada. Not in the States anymore.”
The other big CE buying groups aren’t courting the Canucks, Glikes said, because of a number of obstacles such as duties.
We wonder how the Canadians enjoyed their tour of the AudioControl headquarters, a short bus ride away from the Azione hotel.
Feisty CEO Alex Camara was overheard saying, “You boys stick with the Canadian bacon, eh, and we’ll bring the salmon.”