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Residential Integrator School Teaches Tricks of the Trade

Because the custom electronics industry places such strong emphasis on education, it was only a question of when training programs would be established outside of the manufacturer and distributor orbits.

Because the custom electronics industry places such strong emphasis on education, it was only a question of when training programs would be established outside of the manufacturer and distributor outside. The past year has proven to be the watershed in this regard, with opportunities for intensive, focused industry training now available for anyone who shows interest.

CEDIA, via CEDIA Boot Camp, became the first organization of its kind to offer structured educational courses designed within a custom integration framework. CEDIA Boot Camp is a three-day crash course focused on skills-building and hands-on installer training, and is in its fifth year of circulation.

Home Controls, the San Diego-based dealer network for the sales and installation of home automation and networking, is the latest organization to provide insider training for custom installers, via its Residential Integrator School (RIS) and Advanced Integrator School.

RIS was originally conceived by Home Controls’ national dealer network national sales manager, Brian Callan, and Home Controls’ president, Ken Kerr, in August 2001.

According to Kerr, RIS was born out of the significant demand for unaffiliated, unbiased residential integrator training, a.k.a. training without the “fluff.” Because the network’s fabric is comprised of national dealers, the need for specialized training from coast to coast also was evident. “Since [Brian] Callan is involved in locating and identifying the best integrators in the country for Home Controls, he realized that there are a large number of installing dealers who have technical expertise, but are not specifically trained in all aspects of the residential automation, networking and entertainment industry,” Kerr said.

These dealers, Kerr asserts, therefore don’t qualify for Home Controls but still desire specialized training about designing, installing and programming automation and networking systems within a residence. Plus, these companies preferred classes free from the “marketing and sales pitches” typically associated with other manufacturer
-specific training programs.

In doing research for RIS, Kerr and his associates discovered that, “The biggest complaint from installing dealers was that available training programs seemed to be one big Infomercial. Each instructor was heavily plugging their products and selling features of the products. RIS is about pure training without the selling.

Installation training is hands-on, how-do-you-install-it training without the fluff. RIS students leave the class with real, practical information they will use day-in and day-out.”

Home Controls also ascertained that even companies experienced with commercial automation do not know how to best design and sell residential automation systems. This was yet another concern of the soon-to-be realized school–how to address the residential market’s idiosyncrasies.

The first day of the RIS program is conducted by Roland Graham and Bobby Kalua, from the Chewelah, Washington, architectronic design firm, AVD Media Inc. Graham is the president and co-founder of AVD, with more than 10 years of experience managing, designing and integrating electronic systems. Kalua is chief systems designer and co-founder of AVD Media Inc., an architectronic design firm based in Chewelah, Washington.

The second and third days of RIS include HAI product installation training led by Ken Piazzi, OnQ Technologies integration training from Eric Sartori and Leviton DHC product training presented by Tom Leonard. The veteran HCI technical support team, of Ador Colmenar and Scott Saphiloff, trains installation techniques of other automation products, with additional industry and marketing education thrown in by Kerr of Home Controls.

RIS instructors are chosen for their expertise in their field and/or product line, as well as their professional presentation style. In the future, RIS hopes to include more instructors from additional manufacturers.

RIS class size is restricted to 20 students, encouraging and facilitating better student participation, with each installation subject being in a “hands-on” format. The daily curriculum was jointly designed Kerr and Graham. Kerr has been on the HANA (Home Automation & Networking Association) Board of Directors since 1995.

Though RIS’ three-day program covers specific hands-on installation training by three major manufacturers, the curriculum also includes methodology of selling and designing integrated systems.

Classes offer a wealth of general installation tips during the “rough-in phase” and “trim-out phase,” as well as how to program integrated systems and tips to reduce callbacks by clients. RIS is confident that the structure of the program allows for more knowledge sharing than students can acquire in months of field learning. Home Controls hopes that RIS will not only meet the growing demand for training, but in turn that its influence will be advantageous for all industry members.

“First, it [RIS] will help homeowners and builders–our customers–because they benefit from having access to trained installers,” Kerr said. “It also will help the installing dealers, because they always need training for themselves and their installers, plus RIS will help increase the number of qualified, trained installers in the country. And, it will also benefit manufacturers because they really need trained technicians to install their products correctly. Everybody wins.”

Home Controls’ Advanced RIS is also a three-day school, but as implied by its name, it offers more technically advanced curricula. The first day of Advanced RIS focuses on how to sell to builders, developers and architects, how to answer their “hot buttons” and finding out what they want to hear. Advanced RIS also teaches students about the pitfalls to watch out for, how to protect yourself from losses and how to design systems that make sense to them, alongside A/V training and hands-on manufacturer training.

The future, as Home Controls’ envisages it, will offer greater frequency of RIS sessions, with several different classes to from which to choose.

“We will always listen to integrator feedback in order to evolve the curriculum to satisfy demand,” Kerr said. “The classes will continually help integrators keep a sharp edge for themselves, as well as train the existing and new installers they employ. RIS is located in San Diego, California, with the next RIS session being held January 23, 24 and 25, 2002. Classes run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, at the Holiday Inn Select, in San Diego, California. Cost is $500 for the first student, $400 for each additional student from the same company. Fees paid up to $1,000 are deductible from the Home Controls one-time set-up fee.

Some meals are included during the session, a deposit is required and early reservations are suggested, as class size is small. Interested installers should contact Home Controls at 800.266.8765 ext. 139.

Margot Douaihy is managing editor of Residential Systems magazine.