It’s not easy for an integrator to make the leap into a new product category, specialty or target market. Often, the insecurity of taking that first step can prevent a CE pro from moving into a lucrative area of the business or addressing a different demographic segment. That’s where strong partnerships and guidance from a supplier can come in handy to help dealers overcome these challenges.
That was the situation with two integration companies - TYM Security in Fort Worth, Texas and Acoustic Visual Innovations in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. - which both relied heavily on Lutron Electronics to move their respective companies successfully into the residential automation/integration, motorized shade and lighting control business, and help them target new clients in different income brackets.
Adopting an Automation Portfolio
For TYM Security’s Matt Montgomery, president, and Greg Montgomery, vice president technical operations, it all began back in 2009. The company also builds homes under the name TYM Homes and has locations in Fort Worth, Texas, Boise, Idaho, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Dallas.
Four years ago, the duo believed it was time to offer customers more features. “Features that they would actually interact with and use,” says Matt. While stand-alone security systems serve a useful purpose, clients don’t tend to interact with these systems consistently, which led eventually to a perceived devaluation of owning an alarm system. On the one hand, control systems interact with lights, shades and thermostats, so homeowners are bound to use the system more often and feel they offer a greater sense of value.
According to Greg, the company has been integrating lighting for years but his sales team had “lost their enthusiasm” with the products. “We wanted to offer products customers would be excited about, and want to talk about and tell their friends about,” he notes.
Back then, security-based TYM was reliant on partnering with other trades, such as electricians or custom installation companies, to help get their integration projects completed. Also, Greg says the service component was larger than expected, citing that it was a lot of trial and error experience with Z-Wave devices.
“It was a lot of fun, but it felt more bleeding edge than cutting edge,” he says. With the help of local distributor Automated Outlet, TYM Security evolved.
“We actually went from being a security company that was offering some automation, to being a company that now offers more, control, automation, integration, lighting, blinds etc., than we do security,” says Greg.
The story is similar for Raman Bahlawan, president of Acoustic Visual Innovations. The company started back in 1988 focused on professional audio, doing A/V for night clubs, concerts and live music shows. By 1995, the company started dabbling in the residential space, and by 2005 it was doing whole-house control and automation, including lighting and shades.
Finding Scalable Products is Key
The key for both companies was embracing the right product lines, including Lutron and others. According to Montgomery, he wanted vendors that offered strong service and training, and products that can integrate with other product lines.
“Lutron is the first product I’ve seen that does all of that, so we can offer it as a correct and best solution to more people,” he says. Montgomery says the flexibility of Lutron systems has been instrumental in helping TYM solidify business with a homebuilder in Salt Lake City that has two demographic types of clients: Older generation customers who are non-technical, and clients with high-end custom homes hungry to have the latest tech gadgets.
“Lutron lights and shades fit both customers’ needs perfectly,” says Greg. “That homebuilder is thrilled because they can use one product for their very diverse range of clients, and their staff and Realtors can learn it easily.” He cited popular features such as the stand-alone capability of the system, along with the ability to tie it into security or home control, as the key selling points.
“In the security world, companies often charge $70 a month for those same features. It’s super easy to use for the non techies. Scene controllers are easy and simple to use and understand; no training required. Now my dad feels like he can have a smart home, and not be scared of it. On the flip side, you have the casual and super techie customers. They want to tinker a little or a lot,” he says.
For entry-level clients, Greg says the scalable solution works the best. “Customers love the idea of integrating, but in the lower income bracket, they seem excited to just use their iPad. That’s their integration system. Give them a CasaTunes app, a Lutron App and an Alarm.com app on their iPad, and they think that’s the coolest things ever. They are scared of the $40,000 to $100,000 systems; they worry they will be outdated too quickly. So pitch the iPad as their control system, they already have one and already know how to use it, no learning curve. It resonates and makes sense, and they are quick to buy in and see what toys they can integrate,” he says.
Bawlawan has always taken a conservative approach when adding new lines. First installing the product in his house and then testing it for a full six months. If it passes in terms of compatibility, reliability and ease of use, then Acoustic Visual Innovations adds it to its portfolio.
He says product selection is the first big hurdle to overcome when moving into the residential world.
“We look for products that can play well with others (compatibility), reliability and manufacturer support is a major decision maker to carry the line, and has passed my wife’s approval after six months. We also look for manufacturer that offers quick product development and reacting to market needs. Lutron has all of the elements we look for in a product and manufacturer, compatible with every home control system, very reliable and great 24/7 tech support,” says Bahlawan.
Standalone vs. Integration?
When moving into a new category, often dealers ask themselves whether they want a product that is standalone or one that can integrate with other components and subsystems? For the guys at TYM Security, they wanted both.
According to Matt Montgomery, that duality is ideal. “With Lutron, we find that people love that it’s standalone, that it’s scalable, and that it’s solid. Customers like to know they can integrate when they’re ready, but they like knowing that they can grow with Lutron. A number of our customers are coming from other lighting technologies, and when they see how simple the app is, and how responsive the dimmers are, they’re always sold,” he says. The company uses HAI, 2GIG, Elk Products and Alarm.com in conjunction.
For Bahlawan, the auto discovery feature in Lutron products is his top feature because it eliminates hours of programming time. But for his clients, the smartphone control is at the top of the list. “The growing popularity to control your security system remotely has great impact, and now with integrating Lutron with Honeywell security panels, clients can set lighting system to Away mode by simply arming the security panel from their app, to save energy and secure their home,” he says.
Vacation, Away, and Security modes that illuminate a safe exit and flash exterior lights in the event of an alarm are most common macros programmed into the system. But Bahlawan confides that he routinely gets feedback from clients who love a certain feature that they initially said they would “never use.”
He says the Lutron app with the ability to customize scenes and change schedules, and integrate with Honeywell Security puts Acoustic Visual Innovations in a better position to compete in the market.
Greg says moving into home automation has not burdened TYM’s service department. “I love UPB, Insteon, Z-Wave, ZigBee products and we sell a ton of them. But most customers can’t program those or make changes. So any small changes require me to roll a truck, and charge the customer for something simple, and then feel like a heel. With Lutron however, customers can change their scenes, set timers for outdoor or indoor lights, set up random timers for when they are out of town, and program all their thermostat schedules right from their smart phone. They love it, it’s just enough they can do everything they want to and we don’t need to roll a truck. Everyone walks away happy, builder, installers and clients.”
Greg calls the Lutron system “dummy proof. “The products are familiar and easy to install. My sales rep walks the house, inputs a few items and gets the correct dimmers and loads. No repeat trips to bid out systems”
Beyond lighting, the systems have allowed TYM Security to launch into motorized window treatments. One of the homebuilders the company works with routinely uses a designer that recommends blinds. Soon, TYM staff was meeting with the design community to incorporate blinds into the automation system.
“Suddenly we are selling blinds. It’s fun to tinker and figure things out, but sometimes it’s nice to have the right person available too,” adds Greg.