Integrators at Azione: Embrace DIY Home Automation or Just Say No?

Dealers discuss DIY smart-home movement at Azione conference, debate whether to embrace the new IoT marketplace or cling to traditional custom home-technology models.


The DIY market for home automation is growing, and home-technology specialists are wondering what to do about it – cling to their traditional custom-oriented business models, or embrace aspects of the mass-market IoT movement?

It’s a little of both for most integration companies, judging by discussions at the Azione Unlimited spring conference last week in San Antonio, Texas. Most of Azione’s 183 dealer members attended the event, where an afternoon was devoted to DIY “threats.”

Travis Leo, Azione board member and principal of Residential Systems Inc. in Lakewood, Colo., introduced the DIY session, asking: “How do we adjust our business models?”

RSI, which historically has specialized in high-end residential projects, has made some adjustments of its own, given the realities of today’s tech shoppers.

He tells about a typical client that strolls into RSI requesting popular DIY devices such as Ring video doorbells, Nest thermostats and Sonos music systems.

“In his eyes, these are luxury products,” Leo says. “These are dream technologies.”

In particular, Amazon Alexa packs the house with clients who proclaim, “I want that,” according to Leo. “The number of those people that have walked into our showroom has exploded.”

And so … “We had to change the sales process,” Leo explains.

RSI adopted the mindset of “do it with me,” the newish concept that straddles DIY and DIFM (do it for me).

If nothing else, promoting a DIWM model helps bring clients in the door, when they might have otherwise bought online.

Leo says this scenario repeats itself again and again: A prospect with a DIY-type project “thought he could do parts of it himself, but still needed someone to help along the way. Instead of going to Home Depot at least he came to us instead.”

“We show them the app approach and then we show them the integrated approach.”

— Tom Stone, Stone+Glidden

Dealers on DIY

Luring in consumers with popular DIY brands is a pretty cheap way to acquire new customers, according to many dealers like Ron Lennox of Definitive Electronics in Jupiter, Fla.

He says that courting today’s clients is all a matter of “getting them in the door and on your side,” so you can become the “trusted advisor” who guides them into better solutions.

Ditto for Steven Ras of Brilliant AV in Costa Mesa, Calif., a company that “embraces” DIY products like Nest, Sonos and Ring.

“With it, we get to upsell,” he says, “so we can bring them in to what we do, and then elevate them to a bigger project.”

Millennials played a key role in the discussions on DIY, and many dealers referred to an Azione presentation two years ago by Tim Costello, CEO of BDX, a leading marketing firm for the home-building industry.

Back then, Costello urged integrators to understand the Millennial mindset, and how this demographic shops. Often they demand “name-brand” products like Nest, and usually they abhor a long, drawn-out sales process.

“We retooled a lot of things in our business after Costello,” says Tom Stone of Stone+Glidden in King of Prussia, Pa.

His integration company can’t help but offer “app-based solutions” for those who are used to app-hopping on their mobile devices. These solutions – including Nest thermostats and Lutron lighting – are featured on the company website, alongside “integrated solutions” like Savant under the banner: “One App to control Your Home.”

Clients may come in for a point solution, but often leave with a more integrated system.

“We show them the app approach,” says Stone, “and then we show them the integrated approach.”

Integrated often wins.

“Wealthy Millennials are just impossible to ignore,” says Chad Lassig of Audio Video Systems in Murray, Utah, who followed up with “any Millennials.”

If AVS has to say yes to DIY-type solutions, then chalk it up to the cost of building business.

“We want to be the answer guy,” Lassig says.

Pono Nauka of Honolulu-based Blueprint Audio Visual couldn’t agree more: “We have a reputation for flexibility. … When they [clients] are happier, they tell their friends.”

Just Say No to DIY

On the other hand, many integrators agree that DIY-centric projects are not for them.

“Learn to say no,” says Chris Smith of New York-based Cloud9 Smart.

“As soon as they push back, I tell them I’m not your guy,”

— Mark Ontiveros,
Audio Images

In an earlier presentation to the Azione group, Smith highlighted the company’s rabid attention to net promoter score (NPS), essentially a measure of how likely customers are to recommend your brand.

In the break-out groups, he noted that DIY products will likely undermine the company’s NPS in the long term: “If we know it will disrupt our NPS, we won’t do it.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Cloud9 rejects clients outright if they demand systems that Cloud9 doesn’t support.

In such cases, the company offers to take on a consulting role, specifying a system and recommending reputable integrators in the area. Typically, Cloud9 charges about $1 per square foot for audio, video and networking, and another $1 per foot for lighting and shading.

Murray Kunis of Los Angeles-based Future Home is in the Cloud9 camp, often eschewing clients who insist on bringing their own DIY devices to a project.

He explains that Future Home can only support clients as well as vendors support integrators.

“I can call Crestron and get answers in minutes,” Kunis says. “I can call Amazon [Alexa] and get a response in three days.”

Even integrators who don’t necessarily embrace DIY certainly don’t ignore it.

“I’ll try anything once,” says Mark Ontiveros of Audio Images in Tustin, Calif., referring to an unsatisfactory experience with a popular networking brand installed in his own house.

Based on that experience, Audio Images demands clients use the company’s choice of high-performance networking gear.

“As soon as they push back, I tell them I’m not your guy,” he says.

At that, Tom Stone remarked on the in-home networking experiment: “That’s powerful. You can share that experience with clients.”

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson