by Jeremy J. Glowacki
Let’s face it. The residential systems integration business, while seeming like a really big deal to any of us who make our livelihoods from it, is pretty small and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. So, sometimes news that seems like a really big deal at first, may be nothing in grand scheme of things.
That’s how I look at SpeakerCraft’s recent decision to scrap its Nirv home automation product. It’s a big deal only to very few people.
Admittedly, we jumped on the bandwagon for Nirv a few months back by reporting that it was finally shipping after a two-year delay. But, in reality, the product, which had transitioned from an original plan as a full-scale automation platform into a glorified distributed audio product, never really left what most companies would consider the beta stage. There were 27 systems sold into the field, which is a big deal to those dealers who toiled away at getting those products installed, but we wouldn’t classify that as “fully shipping.”
It’s easy to take pot shots at SpeakerCraft president Jeremy Burkhardt because he’s never been shy about self-promotion or hyping the SpeakerCraft brand. And I suppose some people find amusement in seeing other companies or people fail. But sometimes a business decision is just a business decision. According to Burkhardt, the product in the field didn’t fail; it just failed to catch on before Nortek sister brand ELAN’s g! platform became very successful. The parent company pulled the plug on Nirv because it didn’t make sense to support two automation platforms in such a small industry. An automation line just costs a manufacturer way too much money to maintain.
“When you’re talking about getting into automation, you’re talking about millions of dollars in commitments basically forever to continue to support the system,” Burkhardt told me.
So, it wasn’t a hard a decision, according to Burkhardt, to look at both systems and ask if SpeakerCraft’s future was in home automation or if it should remain an audio company. “We’re the audio company,” he stated. “That’s what we’ve focused on. That’s what we’ve always been. We need to focus on creating the greatest audio products that work for custom installation and take good care of our dealers.”
That doesn’t mean that SpeakerCraft will abandon the idea of creating viable wired/wireless distributed audio products in the near future. In fact, there are plans in the works to build off of sister brand Proficient’s Zero wireless audio platform that was introduced at CEDIA EXPO (but has not yet shipped by the way).
“There’s going to be better ways to distribute audio that you’ll see SpeakerCraft introduce that build off of what’s great about Zero,” Burkhardt said. “I think the future is in distributing audio in wireless and wired systems that aren’t yoked to a wired format. And Speakercraft wants to help our dealers get more business. [Whereas] automation is intended for limited high-end luxury market, and there’s a lot more business for traditional SpeakerCraft dealers in the audio distribution category.”
In the meantime, SpeakerCraft, which had to terminate five employees on the Nirv project, is offering either full refunds or continued warranty services to the 27 Nirv projects in the field. “If you’ve sold to anybody we’ll be happy to take it back,” Burkhardt said, offering to field the dealer calls personally. “If you want to keep it, we’ll continue to support it with a warranty. Since the early ’90s SpeakerCraft has been a manufacturer for our dealers, so whatever has to be done, I’m going to help our dealers.”