The planets seemed to align for Tom Skeens and Bill Corwin in 2001. The two men decided to join forces to acquire one of the country's most successful central vacuum dealerships, the Easy Living Store in Des Moines, Iowa. Corwin, who was the store's sales manager, wanted to continue the business, while Skeens managed a security dealership that had just been acquired and was looking for the opportunity to establish a new security dealership that focused on new homes.
Today, the A-TECH Easy Living Store is thriving. The company consistently ranks as the top BEAM Built-in Vacuums dealer in the U.S. Its products can be found in at least 40 percent of new homes in the Des Moines market. And it is the market leader in low-volt product retrofits.
In 2005, Skeens acquired full ownership of the company. Corwin remains sales manager. And A-TECH has emerged as one of the country's strongest combined security and central vacuum dealerships.
Pre-wiring Helps Security Business Take Off
“The relationship we had with builders was solid,” Corwin said. “We were already doing stereo wiring, phone, cable and cameras. We just didn't do alarm systems. When we added security pre-wiring into the mix, it was something they accepted readily.
“We were, almost overnight, the Number One security company in Des Moines,” he added.
Built-in vacuum system installation is fairly similar to installing a security system, especially in new construction, Corwin added. He said the value of pre-wiring for security and pre-piping for central vacuum cannot be overstated. A-TECH charges builders to install pipe and wiring in new homes — a cost most builders are willing to absorb because they differentiate their homes from those of competing builders.
A growing desire among builders to consolidate their subcontractors offered a competitive advantage for A-TECH because it is able to provide a complete portfolio that also includes closet systems, home theatre, home audio, and home automation as well as security and central vacuum. In fact, the A-TECH showroom serves as a design center where builders send their home buyers to select upgrades.
Indoor Air Quality
Another factor in the dealership's success is the growing consumer demand for healthier living environments and the indoor air quality contributions of central vacuum systems. A first-of-its kind clinical study of allergic rhinitis patients by the University of California-Davis School of Medicine found that using a BEAM Built-in Vacuum System instead of a portable vacuum reduced patients' symptoms by up to 61 percent. As a result of the study results, the National Association of Homebuilders and the U.S. Green Building Council award green certification points for new homes equipped with central vacuum systems — three points under the NAHB's National Green Building Standard and one point under the USGBC's LEED for Homes program.
Another plus for the category is the growing demand of home buyers for electronic upgrades. A 2014 study conducted for the Consumer Electronics Association and the NAHB, found that central vacuum systems had experienced the second fastest growth among installed home electronics, second only to home theatre and flat screen televisions.
Turning Builders Into Enthusiasts
As for what advice he would offer to security dealers who take on central vacuums, Corwin said dealers should work with their manufacturers to install systems in builders' model homes as well as in builders' own homes.
“Anything you want builders to recommend to their customers, you want to get it in their house. That's the best way for them to see the value of it.”