Jim Carmichael has spent more than 30 years in the central vacuum business and had a front-row seat to the volatility of the home building and custom electronics industry in the early 2000s.
Today, Carmichael, product line manager for BEAM, is optimistic that the industry will sustain a period of long-term growth — a welcome sign after the wild ride of the past 15 years. He offers his perspective on advances in central vacuum technology and the industry's future.
CE Pro: What strikes you about the recent history of the custom installation business?
Carmichael: Looking back since 2000, it really was a period of amazing highs and lows for all manufacturers of installed home products. But it was also a period of tremendous product innovation.
Many of us can remember when the entire neighborhood knew when someone was cleaning their home because central vacuum power units were so noisy. BEAM brought that era to a close by introducing patented sound-suppression technology with our Serenity Series power units that were more powerful, yet so quiet you could have a conversation next to the unit.
Other manufacturers also introduced “quiet” machines. Our next generation technology, the BEAM Alliance, carried noise reduction a step further and coupled sound-reduction with allergen filtration.
We also introduced digital technology. We have systems today, like the BEAM Alliance, equipped with digital technology that allows the user of the system to control power and monitor the system's diagnostics at the hose handle. This allows the user to increase or decrease power — full power for cleaning floors and low power to clean delicate fabrics like window treatments. It also indicates when it's time to empty the collection bucket and when to call their dealer for service.
What innovations do you see down the road?
Carmichael: The basic functions of a central vacuum system will remain the same. What will emerge are technologies that make cleaning sets more versatile and the process of cleaning more convenient. We have a number of initiatives in these areas that we will be bringing to market in the future.
Also, look for additional digital innovations; for example, technologies that allow the homeowner to monitor the system remotely.
How do you see the market changing?
Carmichael: We're really moving into a positive market environment for all custom electronics as residential construction is approaching historical norms. New construction has historically been the largest driver of the central vacuum industry.
When the market was overheated in 2004-2007, we actually experienced an overall decline in penetration because homes were going up so fast and prices were shooting up so fast that many builders stopped adding amenities. Now we're seeing more and more builders adding central vacuums as an affordable way to differentiate their homes from their competitors' offerings.
Homebuyers also are increasingly interested in having central vacuums to address air quality concerns. We're very proud of the work we have done at BEAM in this area by playing a key role in articulating the advantages central vacuum systems offer by removing captured dust and allergens from the living space.
That is why installed central vacuums qualify for certification points on both the National Green Building Standard and LEED. And our BEAM power units all have earned the Home Innovation Laboratory's Green Approved certification.
How Do You See the Role of the Integrator Evolving in Your Business?
Carmichael: The independent installation retailer is essential to our business — more so than for some other segments of the industry.
Most homes in the U.S., both existing and new, are not piped to accommodate a central vacuum, so a trained installer is required. Independent dealers have the installation skills necessary to grow our market. Plus installation represents a lucrative profit center for integrators and our products offer some of the best dealer margins in the home electronics industry.