Recently, Fritz Werder, Vice President & General Manager, Nuvo/On-Q at Legrand, sat down with CE Pro to discuss what's trending with Millennials and other homebuyers, why integrators are key to upselling lighting, how the company's brands align, and Vantage's role in particular.
How would you describe the state of the builder market and their attitudes towards technology?
Werder: I would say that the interest from a builder’s standpoint, particularly the production builders, is very high. They’re continuously looking for ways to differentiate themselves in the market or in some cases neutralize competition.
With modern homebuyer lifestyles and expectations around technology, they’re very aware of that need to deliver.
When you think about voice control, being able to control certain functions inside/outside the home remotely, the mobile device, app-driven lifestyle that all of us lead, builders are engaged in that. They’re aware. They're looking to meet the needs of those types of homebuyers.
I would say the other thing, just looking at what’s happening with the market, is it starts with the infrastructure of the home. The builder has traditionally done structured wiring.
They continue to do structured wiring, but it’s definitely morphed into more of a hybrid infrastructure environment and the recognition that a robust home network with both Wi-Fi and, in many cases, wired infrastructure, they see as critical to delivering that repetitive, reliable experience for the homeowner.
Lighting, multiroom audio, security…what are Millennials, first-time buyers and production builders finding to be attractive amenities?
Werder: I think what you see, particularly with the largest builders, is they typically start with where they’re comfortable. They’ve got very long-standing relationships and existing national agreements with traditional hardware-type products or mechanical products like door locks and thermostats or lighting and electrical.
Where that’s moved then is the smart versions or the connected versions of those products are often what they’re turning to as the first level of either standard or option that they would offer—smart door locks have a high degree of penetration; connected thermostats, another one that’s very common with the bigger builders offering some sort of smart connected thermostat.
Security, in many cases, would be another key one. Then it starts to get into lighting control. Often, when you’re talking about the bigger production builders, they’re not doing the entire home with smart lighting controls.
Sometimes they’ll do a spotlighted area or a couple of key areas of the house or a room or two where they can hang the hat on of, “We’ve got smart lighting.” Then it goes to the integrator to be able to upsell additional rooms or additional packages and programs.
Certainly not the degree of penetration of smart thermostats, locks and security, but audio has obviously, with the move towards streaming media, become a more visible and important piece of the entertainment in the home that builders recognize.
What are the biggest challenges that an integrator still needs to overcome in creating a good working relationship with a builder?
Werder: It’s an important question. I think where the relationships are successful is where you’ve got a strong triangle relationship between the integrator, the builder and the manufacturer.
The integrator plays a hugely vital role to the builder. They’re the technical experts in terms of making recommendations and selection of products.
The builders, oftentimes they know enough about the technology trends, but they’re not deep enough in the technology to make the right decisions or push on the right questions in some cases.
They heavily rely on the integrator partners to help build the right offering that delivers that repeatable and consistent experience. They’re relying on the integrator to be able to do the install. They also rely on the integrator to do the training for their internal salespeople and marketing people.
[We were] talking about a model home experience. That only happens by the integrator and the manufacturer working with the builders to make sure those model home personnel are able to communicate the value.
When a homeowner walks in and they experience that connected doorbell or the smart lighting controls or the home automation system, that only happens if they’ve got a partner that’s been able to help them transfer that knowledge. That’s definitely a piece of it.
Legrand has purchased many brands over the years. Where’s the company headed in terms of all the strength of the individual brands, but also pushing the Legrand name?
Werder: One of the challenges, obviously, [is] bringing those disparate pieces together and presenting them in a unified fashion that’s thoughtful and, in many cases over the long term, looking for ways to make them work better together.
That’s always a challenge when you’re dealing with products that when they were originally developed weren’t necessarily designed to all work together.
I would say where Legrand has been headed with it has been we’ve created a global IoT program called Eliot. That really encompasses our ambition and guides us from what’s our strategy in the areas of cloud, product innovation, partnerships.
It’s really meant to mobilize our capabilities around all these product lines and product businesses that have been acquired and try to bring the pieces together to accelerate our development and really have a thoughtful program around the Internet of things.
It’s not a product. Eliot’s a program from Legrand. There are many different products that will fit under that umbrella.
There are three key things that we believe in from that that are guiding our mission as it relates to IoT and smart devices. One is enhancing value in terms of the product’s use. Second is design, designing products that are intuitive to use and easy to install, so exactly what we were just talking about with production builders.
Then as cloud and data have become more important, respecting the user of that information or the homeowner’s confidentiality of their data.
Where we see it headed is much more around open, interoperable IP-based and the importance of partnerships, both internally within Legrand of working better together but also with other manufacturers to deliver that full experience.
We’ve made small steps in that up to this point with products that work together, lighting solutions that bring QMotion shades into the fold and control those QMotion shades or Luxul networking products working with Nuvo audio systems and so forth.
Is Vantage still your control brand? Do you see it as the connecting brand between all these other systems, or is it now just your lighting brand?
Werder: I would say you’re right in that the focus with Vantage is around lighting as an application and not trying to compete on the high end of the control systems. We have to pick and choose where we think we can differentiate and stand out in the market. Vantage has very strong lighting in terms of panelized lighting and architectural dimming.
That position in the market is something that we don’t want to lose sight of. Trying to compete on the higher end of control was an area where I just don’t think that that’s where we want to be.
Vantage is really, at its heart and soul, a lighting company. It’s not the only lighting piece. That's more at the luxury end of the market.
We have Legrand offerings for smart lighting controls that are Alexa-enabled and Google Assistant-enabled that are part of our Radiant collection and Adorn collection that have remote access. They connect to the cloud.
You can control them inside the home, outside the home and use voice control for it. We’ve got a spectrum of lighting from more the entry level all the way up to the luxury level as an example with lighting control. That is an important application space for us.