The Thing That Will Save Custom

Sep 28

Written by: John Sciacca
9/28/2012 2:30 PM  RssIcon

“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.

5 comment(s) so far...


Re: The Thing That Will Save Custom


I'm pleased by your optimism and appreciate your take on the automated doorknob as the Messiah of custom installation.

My argument would be, that given the ease of installation and relatively low cost, how long will it take before this is part of a standard ADT/Guardian security system?

I can see it now, 3 contacts, a motion detector, a keypad, a security panel with wireless, and a DOORKNOB for $199 with a 3 year contract at $49.99 per month with web access and reporting.

Game Over if that happens. . .

Mark Coxon
Orange ProAV

By Mark Coxon on   10/2/2012 1:35 PM

Re: The Thing That Will Save Custom


You need to do more homework on your companies have a business model that, in some instances, gives away very low-cost entry level, limited capabilities products for access to the customer...but, even they have to charge to cover their products costs and time to do these more advanced the end, though, I think of security companies like I think of my credit may not cost me much up-front but it sure will cost me many times more in the long run...and the more they give away, the longer the contract will have to me, they get their money in the for their customer, i would suggest that paying for everything up-front with no lifetime service fees will cost them way less in the long run....and then there is support, my customers can call me anytime....I'm there for them and I take care of you really think a security company employee is going to do the same? I highly doubt it.

By Troy Janda on   10/2/2012 4:08 PM

Re: The Thing That Will Save Custom


I believe that you are right, the Media Room is where CE dealer can really demonstrate the added-value service that they offer.

Yes using a simple door knob to illustrate how CE products simply their life is a great way to demonstrate the value CE to a client.

And I also agree that the $100K Media Room deals have given way to more $20K deals, especially since I know that many customers are switching from other over-priced Media Servers to our more cost effective Solo "all-in-one" Media Server.

Because the market is evolving to a lower cost-effective model means that CE dealers need to be better educated on what cost effective products exist so they can offer them.

Using a door knob might be a good way to demonstrate the value of CE but the real value proposition is in actually meeting the clients needs with the most cost effective solution.

That means that the dealer needs to be fully educated on what cost effective solutions exist.

I submit to you that a majority of your readers could use a simple resource that they can draw upon to offer the most cost effective solution in this rapidly changing cost driven market.

The CE market is unnecessarily convoluted and confusing which results in lower sales because the uneducated dealer is not able to offer a customized cost-effective solution.

The “saving” of the CE market will not come from just a better presentation but from a better educated dealer and broader offerings which will allow them to “customize” the solution to the clients actual needs.

If more cost effective solutions were known to exist and offered by dealers to meet the markets demand then the market potential for dealers should increase from meeting a broader, lower budget market.

There are many significantly lower cost Media Room products that offer 90% of the client’s needs in which the dealer can offer to broaden their ability to satisfy five $20K budget projects in lieu of one $100K project. But many dealers do not know about these products.

There is no simple comparison table of CE products for dealers to refer to like what exists for example in the personal computer market.

Most CE articles I read in most CE magazines get too caught up in the technical details (that most clients do not care about) and forget about how to COST EFFECTIVELY meet a specific need or solving a specific problem.

What is needed to improve the CE sector is a simple product comparison table that compares both the products functionality AND PRICE, such as Media Servers (Mozaex of course), displays, control systems and even door knobs.

By having this simple, easily disseminated information at their disposal your readers will have what they need to present the product that the customer CAN AFFORD and in doing so build their business into any project whether they are $100K or $20K projects.

With this resource the dealer will be able to offer a customized, COST EFFECTIVE Media Room and a whole home solution that meets the specific client’s price – performance needs.

With this knowledge at their disposal they will then of course be able to prove how this customized price-performance solution will simplify and enrich their client’s life whether it is simplifying their door knob or their media room.

Maybe John you can begin to create this price-performance comparison database for your readers. Such a resource would truly benefit your readers business and the CE market.


Douglas Kihm

By Douglas Kihm on   10/2/2012 4:28 PM

Re: The Thing That Will Save Custom

Mr Douglas Kihm,You really said it clearly. It would not be too hard to gather this data from industry veterans if all were cooperative. The key would be to get the suppliers to work together to come up with a method of quickly updating such a database monthly. Also feedback ( real time ) on products from installers would be vital info. Great suggestion Sir, Where do we start? Regards,"Ole School A/V Technologist"

By Rick Mandala on   10/2/2012 7:04 PM

Re: The Thing That Will Save Custom

Good luck getting suppliers to work together....Our job is to be able to sort through our suppliers when were putting projects together to be able to buy the components we need at the lowest possible price. When we have 3 rep firms in our area who all sell the same products and price varies from anywhere between 3 to 15 bucks more or less. Its gotten down now to really one local supplier for me and quite a few out of state firms which I deal with to beat my local competitors that cant stand to order in equipment and wait to schedule the installs or who dont understand that most custom jobs cant be done the same day you meet with the customer the 1st time.

I do beleive and agree that we need to come up with systems designs that are cost effective for the clients. I think the days of those 100k rooms are over but of course there will be some in the mix that want to do it up big. I have built my business in such that I can deliver cost effective solutions that the competitors would have to charge 3 or 4 times more for the same thing or in some cases I can deliver a much better system that the competitors wouldnt have even concidered.

Its great that we have a lot of new products comming out now that are more cost effective and the ones that have been out there that were over looked in the past by the som peopple that were too cheep but the guy like me took note and started usign and intoducing them to customers. I think whats happening is you are going to find really good main stream sytems that will be in everybodies home and then there will the systems for the elite that they paid thousands to own but the reality is the performace isnt going to be that much better.
I remember when these door locks came out there were only sold in select places, go to Home Depot now and youll find them.

If you can tell the story to people and show them a reason to own automation and nice Audio Video they will buy it. Its when you dotn know your client, dont understand their needs that they become less interested in what you have to offer. And if you cant or dont know how offer performace with less then the elitest of equipmentn then custom isntall today is not for you.

So its not only educating the client but 1st and foremost its becoming our jobs as stated in earlier responces to be more eductaed dealers on more universal approaches with equipment suited for todays more tightly budgeted lifestyles. I know a lot of people that ask me if im still doing Audio / Video and I say YES I DO. These same people that ask if Im still here are no longer in business or lost interest inthe business when they couldnt sell the upper echelon of equipment everyday of the week.

By victor ciccarone on   10/5/2012 12:57 PM

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