At CEDIA EXPO last month, AMX and Lutron, two of the best-known companies in the custom systems industry, debuted a co-branded lighting control solution, the ALD-H48. The new product, which both companies say is the fruit of intense collaboration, will be sold directly through AMX and supported natively by the NetLinx platform.
The products interface has been designed so that Lutron decorator-style dimmers, switches and keypads will communicate directly to the ALD-H48 using two-conductor low-voltage wire. The ALD-H48 then connects via ethernet with any NetLinx integrated controller to manage a network of over 1,500 devices.
After the dust settled in Indianapolis, Residential Systems managing editor Margot Douaihy talked to AMX executive vice president Rashid Skaf and Lutron vice president John Forney about their corporate partnership, new product and projections on lighting controls future.
Margot Douaihy: Can you explain your prior relationship in the AMX Inconcert Program and how it led to this new product announcement?
John Forney: Weve been providing AMX with system dimmers and switches for over two years. What we have done now is updated and broadened that line. The ALD-H48 is a reaction to our experience together, and a lot of it is based on feedback from the AMX dealers that were involved.
Rashid Skaf: Inconcert is our general partner program. We have almost 200 manufacturers at three different levels (Platinum, Gold and Silver). What puts one company at one category versus another involves two criteria. One is that we have a close enough relationship with them so that they release product to us before the rest of the world. Then we can write the appropriate driver to be part of the product as it is shipped for the first time. So they give us a 90-day head start on how that product is going to work. That is the Platinum Level. Also, the Platinum level involves how much business our dealers do with their products. Lutron was one of our very first partners when we launched this program almost three years ago. AMX had a lighting control solution in the past, but we think it is best to focus on our core competence and then partner with peoplethe best in breed, like Lutronto provide a total solution to our dealer base. By doing this we can make it easier for people to do business with us and make it easier for dealers to have a complete solution.
John, what does Lutron gain from this relationship with AMX?
Forney: What we look for in any relationship with another company is similar principles to Lutron, most important being outstanding customer service and the highest levels of quality. And we believe that AMX really embraces those principles. Because of that we believe that the relationship will expand the market for lighting controls overall and therefore increase awareness of the Lutron brand.
Rashid, how does this partnership specifically benefit AMX?
Skaf: It benefits us from multiple perspectives. We have proven that it is possible for two major players in this industry to cooperate versus compete. The result is twofold. One is creating a business relationship where we can both increase profit. The other is a social experiment asking if we can combine forces with best-in-breed manufacturers to create a complete solution. I think this is very good for the industry, and something we can expand on. Now our partnership with Lutron is different than at any prior stage. What we have done is not only tied in their productswe have now almost 1,000 individual products that we can sell through the AMX channelbut now from a dealer perspective, they cant tell the difference between talking to AMX or Lutron in this scenario. We are their single contact. They call us, place the order, then we process the order through our tied databases. Lutron then ships the order.
We exist in a competitive industry, with frenetic product development. Rashid, one of your competitors has been developing solutions in the lighting control space for about a year, does the new ALD-H48 answer the competitors challenge?
Skaf: This is definitely an answer to their challenge, but we have taken a completely different approach than our competitor. We think that trying to be all things to all people makes you the expert of none, therefore we know that we do control solutions very well, and that lighting is a specialty field. Lutron is well-respected and very large, so if you put all of those resources behind one very targeted solution, you are going to be able to gain the advantages and become the expert in that area. Also, in conjunction with the release of our co-branded product with Lutron at CEDIA, we have introduced Duetthe first-ever dual interpreter control system. This positions us very well.
Duet lets dealers write programs or modules in Netlinx, Java or both. This opens the pool of resources. If you look at the worldwide talent pool for Netlinx programmers, it is probably about 10,000. If you look at the number of Java programmers, the number is around 4.2 million. So being able to expand options and support open standards is incredible.
Does this solution offer a cost advantage to custom integrators whom are both AMX and Lutron dealers? Or is this program designed expressly for people who do not have a prior relationship with one or the other?
Forney: The program will benefit every type of dealer, and especially dealers who are just getting involved in selling lighting controls or are looking for an alternative to what they are selling today. Our tied-in products [with AMX] are a fairly concise and precise part of the Lutron line including hardwired system dimmers, switches, and keypads that come back to the ALD-H48 and processor. It also includes accessories and non-system dimmers and switches in a variety of colors. And again this is a small portion of the products available to Lutron direct dealers but it allows AMX dealers to provide a complete system in a good-sized home. The programming is all done in NetLinx, then the H48 is the interface that converts the NetLinx language into the Lutron protocol. In addition, the learning curve is significantly faster for installers who are brand new to light control.
Skaf: Roughly 70 percent of our dealers are not Lutron dealers. They may not even be lighting control dealers. Our relationship is advantageous for these dealers because they dont have to learn another programming language to integrate lighting control. All of the programming is done in AMX programming so they can program everything as if it were native to AMX. The second thing is that dealers dont have to send people to two different training programs. Having a single manufacturer to work with means that if dealers need to place orders, extend credit limits or terms, or call tech support, they have to speak with only one point
John, do you think this product will help cultivate brand awareness in the lighting control industry?
Forney: Lutron, as a market leader, is responsible for educating consumers about lighting control. Every lighting control company on the planet will benefit from that and that is OK. We invest in our brand by doing substantial advertising in lifestyle and consumer magazines, and of course we continue to sponsor the Ultimate Home Theater at Disneys EPCOT Center. We also bring architects, designers and end-users to our Experience Center in Florida. And I certainly think that a relationship like this, particularly with a company that is so committed to the principles of customer service and quality, can only further improve awareness of lighting controls and also the Lutron brand.
Finally, have you considered branding this product with a snazzy hybrid of AMX and LUTRON, like The LUX or The AMTRON?
Skaf: Where were you when we needed you! When its time to upgrade and think of new names well give you a call.
Forney: Well stick with the ALD-H48 by AMX Inconcert with Lutron. We like the sound of that.