Home systems integrators — and increasingly also homebuilders and homeowners — realize that the easiest, most economical time to add technology to a house is while it’s being built.
Before the walls are up, all of the essential low-voltage networking, audio and control wiring — the elements that usually come to mind as a critical part of a prewire — can be installed several times faster and easier than had the wiring been added to finished space.
DataSmart, a systems integrator in the Houston area, is taking the preconstruction installation strategy a step further by capitalizing on a less popular “prewire” component — a central vacuum system.
Although central vacuum (central vac, or CVAC) has been available for decades, it’s one of the newest product categories to join DataSmart’s portfolio of high-tech home options, and during its seven years on the product roster, CVAC systems have played a significant role in the company’s increasing profitability.
Though central vac may not be near the top of mind when thinking about a systems integrator’s stable of technologies and services, that doesn’t mean its impact should be underestimated.
Now could be the perfect time to push CVAC systems harder or enter the fray thanks to an improved builder market and continued solid margins (at 50 points).
Design Centers Provide Hub for System Sales Process
According to DataSmart director of marketing Jaime Garza, sales of Beam/Electrolux built-in vacuum systems, along with structured wiring, lighting controls, home theater systems and security systems, represent at least a 25 percent growth in profits over the past two years.
The built-in vacuum systems represent a key cog in the sales and design process as talk of one system naturally flows into talk of a CVAC addition.
“It just made sense that we offer them as part of a standard prewire plan,” says Garza of the company’s decision to delve into central vac systems. “During this phase of home construction we can discuss with customers where to put central vacuum inlets at the same time as we’re deciding with them on where to put HDMI jacks, for example.”
Presented in this fashion, the uptake on DataSmart’s Beam central vac offering has been better than expected.
“We had originally thought that it would be an item that would appeal mainly to owners of custom homes, but it’s proven to be a popular request across the board, from owners of production homes to those building semi-custom and custom homes,” Garza reports.
DataSmart attributes much of its central vacuum success to a unique sales strategy of locating its own design centers and sales staff inside the design centers or adjacent to the design centers of many of the area’s leading homebuilders, including Ryland Homes, Beazer Homes, Taylor Morrison Homes, and Newmark Homes.
DataSmart’s recently opened design center for Taylor Morrison homebuyers, for instance, has enabled the integrator to bundle a technology package for the builder based on Legrand’s Intuity platform that includes automation, wireless networking, surveillance, deadbolts, video doorbell intercom, surround-sound audio and more.
Due to success generated by DataSmart’s embedded production builder design centers, the company established in 2014 a standalone 4,000-square-foot design center to serve the Houston area’s custom home-builders. Since opening this design center, the company’s Beam built-in vacuum sales have jumped by nearly 30 percent.
REPORT: Install Central Vac, Earn RMR
“Our competitive advantage is our relationship with our builders,” Garza says. “When we are contracted by the builder to conduct a technology consultation with clients, we have a controlled appointment time with which to present the builder to technology and automation options that fit their needs and wants.”
After DataSmart explains the benefits of a central vac system, and the fact that is can be installed easily and affordably, it’s an amenity many customers decide to add to their tech package. “Some people are interested in having entertainment; others are more interested in convenience features like a central vac,” says Garza. “We never really know which technologies consumers will decide to invest in.”
Builders Appreciate Central Vac Option
So why follow in DataSmart’s path instead of just sweeping the idea of selling central vac under the carpet? Homebuilders and home-buyers are looking for stylish, state-of-the-art products that not only deliver new technology, but also enhanced benefits both to their daily home routines as well as overall health (CVAC is commonly cited as for its benefits to reducing indoor allergens and dust).
When it comes to homebuilders, DataSmart has tapped into a fruitful integrator relationship. According to a recent study by the Consumer Technology Association and National Association of Home Builders’ Home Innovation Research Labs, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of U.S. builders offered built-in vacuums systems in new homes or remodeling projects in 2015, up 10 percentage points from 2013.
“This clearly shows builders’ growing interest in meeting the needs of buyers who are looking for greater convenience, cleaner indoor air and healthier living environments,” says Edwin Cadena, U.S. director of sales, Beam/Electrolux.
Another CVAC manufacturer, H-P Products, recently emphasized its commitment to the builder channel by joining the Home Builder Association (HBA) Rebates program, which creates partnership opportunities and rewards builders and integrators who regularly install central vac.
Demos Do Make a Difference
Integrators like to know they’ll receive manufacturer support when entering a new technology category. H-P says its recently enhanced Dealers First program guides integrators with business practices, marketing programs, dealer savings programs, and dealer service/support. The company is helping integrators demo the products like they would other smart home technology.
“When consumers get a taste of central vacuum convenience, they never want to go back, so it’s important for us to help create a positive first experience for our customers no matter what stage of life they are in,” says Greg Calderone, vice president, H-P.
A face-to-face consultation with clients prior to home construction is just one part of the DataSmart’s winning sales formula. Being able to show clients how a Beam system can be easily integrate their homes and lifestyle is what Garza says ultimately seals the deal.
“If you can show it and demo it, the customer is going to more seriously consider it. So, our take rate is directly tied to our ability to show the customers the product,” says Garza.
Showing systems for DataSmart involves letting customers who visit a design center feel the weight of a CVAC hose, connect a variety of power head accessories to the hose, experience the ease of connecting the hose to a wall inlet, and inspect the size and features of the canister that collects the debris.
During this time, DataSmart also walks clients though the floorplan of their home, indicating where inlets would be best positioned. Beam supports these efforts by providing the equipment, as well as literature and visuals that help homeowners choose the right system for their home.
Through this roughly 10-minute tutorial clients are able get well acquainted with a system, but DataSmart decided long ago to refrain from demonstrating a fully operational setup. Garza explains that the only place available to locate the power unit is inside the design center, which doesn’t accurately represent a recommended setup, in which the power unit resides in a garage or basement.
“We didn’t want our customers to get the impression that they’d be dealing with having to find a spot for a power unit within the living spaces of their homes, so we elected to stick with simple show-and-tell style of demonstration,” Garza says, “and it works.”