The Thing That Will Save Custom

9/28/2012 6:30:00 PM
“When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

If one isn’t careful, it can be far too easy to sneak past the protective guard rails, walk right up to the edge, and then lean over; peering deeply into the future of the custom installation industry and see nothing but a dark, cavernous abyss.

When talking about the future and longevity of custom installation as a whole, it is easy to find reasons to be concerned. Things continue to get easier to install, system no longer require wires or complex connections, people enjoy the click-to-buy-at-lowest-price experience of on-line shopping, and many components come with free control apps that work with the smart phone that everyone already carries with them.

Who would have imagined that the thing that rescued and propelled this industry for so many years—flat panel TVs—would be the very thing that would drive so many billion dollar companies to extinction? Even now the seismic, shockwave ripples of no-margin video devices are threatening to put other major players—both manufacturers (Sony, Sharp, Panasonic) and retailers (Best Buy)—out to pasture. And it won’t be the stud farm for these companies either…

Of course, I’ve written about the difficulties this industry faces before. Stories like, "I love you, iPad, just don’t put me out of business," "Black Friday’s video race to extinction," and the always upbeat, "Custom Installation State of the Union Address."

When I got into this business, the thing that got me most excited was the big, dedicated media room. I loved everything about it. I loved making scaled drawings to determine seating, layout and sightlines. I loved the prewire where I’d painstakingly lay out speaker locations down to the inch. I loved delivering the boxes in that fresh, empty room. I loved the smell of the Stewart screen fabric when you unrolled it and snapped it into the frame. I loved putting the gear into the rack and the excitement of making all the connections and system configurations. I loved programming the controller and then that first moment you pressed “Watch Movie” and could sit back and watch the expression on the customer’s face as you just delivered on a promise of, “I’m going to make you something awesome!” that was made maybe a year or more earlier.

Of course, I *still* love the dedicated media room; it signifies the marquee jobs that this industry is so known for. But it seems like those big, cool jobs are harder to come by these days. And the $100,000 rooms have often been replaced by $20,000 ones.

But you know the thing that gets me the most excited now and the thing that has the best shot of saving the custom installation industry? It’s this:

Yeah. A door lock. Totally boring, right? Wrong.

Because the automated door lock represents the tip of the automation iceberg; the iceberg that is going to save the Titanic which is custom installation.

In our showroom, the humble, unassuming Kwikset automated door lock, a Control4 system and an iPad is the easiest bit of automation to explain and weave a story around.

You can show automated lighting and explain how one button can turn on/off all the lights in the house, and you can show a smart thermostat with temperature read-out and say how you can make adjustments from anywhere in the world, and you can talk about integrating with a home’s security system, but those all elicit a kind of blank, apathetic, “Uh-huh, yeah, I can see that,” blasé, non-committal response from people. These things are all cool, of course, but unless you’ve lived with them, it can be a difficult concept to really grasp.

But the thing that has the best story to tell; the thing that people can actually wrap their minds around and totally understand the concept of living with home automation?

Yep. It’s the door lock.

People start to laugh at first when you say, “Come here, I want to show you a doorknob. I think it’s actually one of the coolest things we have.” But then they quickly stop laughing and start listening and then start nodding and smiling, because the doorknob oozes a lifestyle they can understand and envision for themselves.

Because a door lock is universal. Everyone has one. Everyone understands how it works. And everyone has had some moment in their life when they wish that it would have worked better. Smarter.

Here’s some of the crazy-cool stories/scenarios you can *easily* do and demonstrate with a smart door lock and a Control4 system that everyone will be able to relate to:

Unlock on arrival – Ever get to the front door with arms loaded down with groceries or luggage or a sleeping child and wish you didn’t have to fumble with the keys and the deadbolt? Why not unlock it from your car while you’re pulling up. Oh, and turn the lighting on while you’re at it.

The late night door check – “Can you check to make sure all the doors are locked?” I can’t tell you how many times that question has made me be the one that has to get up out bed to walk around the house checking the (stupid) doors. Wouldn’t pressing one “Goodnight” button that did this for you—and set the lights and HVAC and security and powered off the AV gear, etc.—be so much more simple and awesome? And then maybe a status feedback that actually SHOWS that the doors are locked?

Controlled access – Imagine that you have a housekeeper, dog walker or personal wine-rack riddler that comes to your house on Wednesdays. You can provide them each with a code that only works for them and that only works on that day. Or only works with a specific window of time if you like that better. Because if my wine guy doesn’t get to that Moet and Roederer by 2 p.m., so help me!

Temporary access – Say that you need some kind of service call visit to your home but you can’t be there. Instead of worrying about leaving a key somewhere, or arranging someone to meet them or leaving the house unlocked all day, you can set up a temporary code that you can give out and then easily delete.

Emergency access – Ever worry that you lost your house key and that they only way to let yourself in would be with a brick? Or ever been on vacation, say this past May at Disney World, and then had someone, say your wife, whose name may or may not be Dana, mention that they were suddenly worried they had forgotten something important, like say, turning the oven off of Broil mode? Instead of calling your neighbor and saying, “If you see black smoke pouring out our house, please call the Fire Department, would ya?” you could say, “I’m going to unlock my front door; would you mind checking the oven and then calling me back?”

Notification upon entry/exit – Want to know what time your kids really came home? Or exactly how long the “three hour housecleaning” really took? You can get e-mail or text message alerts anytime a code is used; knowing who came in or out of the house and at what time. Makes it tough to sneak into the home when your door code expires at precisely 12:01…

The cool thing about the door lock is that it lets you describe situations and scenarios that are easily understandable and relatable to any audience: male, female, single, married, family, full-time resident, vacation/second home... Everyone has at some point in their life had a situation that can be addressed and improved by a relatively inexpensive smart door lock and automation system.

And once you get control of the door, then you’re all set to take over the rest of the home with all of the other cool automation systems that we can provide. And that’s what’s gonna save custom. #Unlock
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.


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