When Bruce Garipay founded Automated Homes in Phoenix, Arizona five years ago, he thought of the area as a “small town.” After all, he was a savvy Los Angeleno who had moved into the rapidly growing, but much less flashy, Sun Belt.
Garipay had arrived in Phoenix determined to start his own business, but he was undecided. And home automation was the last thing on his mind. That is until he decided to build a house.
Garipay began his career working in the operations department at Hughes Aircraft in the early 1990s, following in the footsteps of family members who had worked there during the space race. While working at Hughes, Garipay also attended the University of Southern California’s Lloyd Grief Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. “I wanted to have higher education under my belt,” Garipay said “but I wasn’t interested in pursuing the typical finance, marketing, accounting track. I wanted to learn about doing my own thing.” USC’s program appealed to Garipay, because it focused on building businesses in real-world situations. To that end, the school had fostered a relationship with many high-profile members of the Los Angeles business community who came to lecture the students on their experiences.
Garipay’s main graduate school project was formulating a feasibility analysis and business plan for a hypothetical entrepreneurial venture. As it turned out, his day job proved to be the perfect source of inspiration.
“I chose to do my study on a brand-new business that I knew about from being on the inside at Hughes,” Garipay said. “It was DirecTV.” An infant company at the time, Garipay interviewed the entire staff of DirecTV to complete his feasibility analysis and business plan, which was easier that it might sound. At the time, DirecTV’s only employees were president Eddy Hartenstein, a systems engineer that was running the antenna farm in Colorado, and the head of marketing.
Garipay graduated from USC in 1992 and stayed at Hughes for another year. He entertained staying on at Hughes to work in the DirecTV program and went as far as to interview for a management position, but Garipay soon realized his heart wasn’t in it.
“More and more as time went on, I decided I needed to get out of the corporate environment and try to do something else smaller scale,” he said.
Garipay then moved out to Phoenix to start his own business, although he had no idea that he would one day be working again with DSS, only from the other side of the table.
In March of 1994, Garipay helped found the Network Logics, a company that offered office space and technical support to independent computer professionals. After about a year, he gave up the Network Logics to help resurrect Motorsports Promotions, a local company in turnaround that manufactured and marketed items for NASCAR and Indy Car racing. By 1996 Garipay had spent a year righting Motorsports, and he once again felt the itch to be his own boss. While pondering his future, he and his in-laws were simultaneously preparing to build houses in the Phoenix area, and he was interested in installing home automation.
“I was familiar with the concept of a smart house from living in Los Angeles and being around technology,” Garipay said. “So I started investigating companies in Phoenix and saw that for my own house, there was nobody here who was going to do the job the way I wanted it done.”
Garipay looked at automation systems from all the major players, but didn’t feel confident committing to any of his local providers. He sensed an opening in the market. “It intrigued me, so I wrote a feasibility analysis and it looked good,” he explained. “It’s one of those things where all the elements just came together and it made sense–starting a company that would provide integration and home automation.”
Automated Homes’ first official act was to attend CEDIA in September of 1996. It was there that Garipay investigated various control system manufacturers and decided to base his business around AMX’s Phast. Several months after the show, Garipay had sold his first six-figure installation.
Today, Automated Homes has five full-time and one part-time employees, and the company is servicing homes in the greater Phoenix area and beyond. Garipay and his employees do all the custom installation except for wire pulling, which is subcontracted out. Currently, most of the company’s projects are referrals for projects in the $100,000 to $150,000 range.
Because of the steady referral work, Automated Homes doesn’t do much advertising. Garipay works out of an office as opposed to a retail space, but he says that in most cases, his clients understand the technology he sells before they come to him and they are there because they trust his recommendations.
“With Bill Gates building his own smart house and the Internet coming into the home,” Garipay said, “there’s greater exposure to this kind of product. It has heightened people’s awareness.” However, he’s always more than willing to give a customer the rundown of the automation system installed at his office or a tour of a nearly-completed project.
Cities like Phoenix are attracting technically savvy homeowners, Garipay said. In fact, most of his business doesn’t come from the average 30-year resident, rather it’s the influx of new people moving into the area building primary or secondary residences who are Automated Homes’ main customers.
Ed and Diane Watson, the owners of the million-dollar home that was one of the company’s latest projects, are just that type of client. After splitting time between Wyoming, Florida and Arizona, the Watsons have settled into a mission-style home nestled in the hills of suburban Phoenix.
The Watson’s home, designed by architect Ken Brown, took 18 months to build and is centered around AMX’s Phast control system and CommScope structured wiring. Garipay installed keypads in nearly every room as well as an AMX touch panel. Speakercraft in-wall speakers and amplifiers power a 16-zone music system which puts audio into nearly every room inside and even outside the house including an old west saloon-style rec. room, the patios, courtyard and even the guest house. Video from six DSS receivers is also routed throughout the house to Toshiba TVs, including the centerpiece 56-inch Toshiba HD set in the home theater, which features a Parasound processor. The house also includes an Apex security system, Panasonic phones and a 30 load lighting control from Phast.
Garipay also sold the Watsons on a new piece of hardware from Imerge called the Soundserver. A next-generation replacement for the CD jukebox, the Soundserver copies and stores CDs in an uncompressed or MP3 compressed format on a 75 GB hard drive and interfaces with AMX products for control.
The Soundserver can hold 122 hours of music at a one-for-one copy or 1,350 hours in the MP3 format. It also has the ability to download title, track and artist information automatically from the Internet. According to Garipay, most Soundserver setups will combine both compressed and uncompressed audio. Currently the Watsons are using the Soundserver to distribute background music throughout the house, so their music has been encoded in the MP3 format. However, when the couple builds a Meridian-powered room in the future, Garipay says that it will be necessary then to copy music to the server with no compression, for the high-end listening environment.
What Garipay finds intriguing about the Soundserver is that it is capable of downloading music directly over the Internet, although this feature has been temporarily disabled pending the resolution of the legal actions against Napster and other MP3 swapping sites. “Once these issues are resolved,” Garipay said, “we look at an integration product like AMX as a way of making it easy for the client to operate a product like Soundserver. Our client wants to be able to go a touch screen that’s easy to read with an interface that they’ve had some input in creating. They don’t want to be banging keys on a computer keyboard.”
Hearing Garipay describe networking the Soundserver, it’s easy to forget that five years ago, he was a client looking to purchase the kind of systems he now sells and installs. “When I started the business I was actually looking to get a partner that had a more technical background. I had worked for a technology company but on the business operations side,” he said. “But instead I ended up doing it myself.
“I’ve spent the last few years learning, so now we’re at the point where I’m comfortable with my overall feel for these products,” Garipay added. “I can go in and install myself. Now, we’re starting to look to promote our business which we haven’t done before. We’re starting an effort to grow the company and to expand.” In recent months, Automated Homes has been breaking out, taking on projects in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and San Diego. He also has a large contract on the horizon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, doing the control and media installations for a hotel and residential community surrounding a golf resort–a project that he expects will require Automated Homes to contract out a second office in Mexico. Ten years ago while attending USC, Bruce Garipay listened to the business leaders of Los Angeles lecture him and his classmates on how they can be successful running their own businesses. In a short time, Garipay will probably be the one doing the talking.
Adam Wisniewski is a writer in Brooklyn, New York.