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Don’t be a Brand Hoarder

It’s human nature to feel that more is better and that the more brands and models we carry, the better we can serve our customers. I’m here to tell you that I think that is dead wrong

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The beauty of shopping at Amazon is that they have everything—every brand that you can imagine, with every model, size, and package count. You can get whatever you want. But if something doesn’t work, your only recourse is to return it; they don’t know enough about any product to help you with technical support. Best Buy isn’t much different; hey have multiple brands of computers, TVs, AVRs, and soundbars, but try to get help from someone in-store and you’re dead in the water.

It’s very tempting for custom integrators to do the same thing; it’s human nature to feel that more is better and that the more brands and models we carry, the better we can serve our customers. I’m here to tell you that I think that is dead wrong (the math may be a little different for those of you with retail locations, as you also need to support retail customers, not just custom installation projects).

We often get questions from customers about why we don’t carry Brand X. When a client asks why we don’t carry another brand (this most often happens with either speakers, lighting, or control systems) I have four solid reasons that I give them.

1.We want to be sure to know everything we sell inside and out. We can’t do that with multiple brands, under one roof. We stand behind not just the products we sell, but how well they work, how reliable they are and how well they integrate with other products that we sell.

2.We know the product better because we use it day in and day out and are therefore more efficient and proficient in installation, configuration/programming and training.

3.By focusing our purchases with a select few vendors, we are more important to those manufacturers that make troubleshooting and turnaround on any issues faster for you, the client. We get better service, so you get better service.

4.We don’t want our clients to be beta testers. We want to be sure that everything we install is something that we are intimately familiar with so we can anticipate any issues and address them during the design phase, instead of after installation

Additionally, you have more overhead and complexity when you carry multiple brands. Here are three things you can avoid by carrying fewer lines.

1.Additional programming knowledge for control systems

2.Additional inventory, which means increased working capital needs and obsolescence risk

3.Increased complexity in explaining to clients the difference between brands and why one is chosen over the other.

It is complex enough to explain everything we propose. Why complicate that by throwing different brands and specs into the mix?

I have not seen a solid rationale for carrying more than a couple of brands in any category (again, unless you have a retail presence). Maybe you have one brand for architectural speakers and one for in-room speakers, but there is no need for a third. Similarly, in control it may make sense to have a one-room solution or budget-friendly brand and a more robust brand for whole-home control. Although in all honesty with the solutions from the likes of URC, Control4, and Savant, an argument could be made that only one brand is needed to span a single room for under $1,000 to a 10-thousand (or more) square-foot home. Other than trying to be “all things to all people,” I have not seen a compelling reason to carry more than one control brand.

As a Crestron dealer, I do get a lot of clients who ask about Lutron lighting and shading as other integrators are often quoting Lutron. In these cases, I explain to clients that yes, there are going to be some differences in the technicalities of the brands and the installation, but functionally, if done properly (which depends on the integrator, not the product), the differences are negligible. There may be some instances where Crestron is better (every dimmer is also a keypad) or where Lutron is better (battery-operated shading options), but neither is perfect. In the end, however, it is better to go with a single-brand solution so that everything works seamlessly.

The more brands you carry, the less knowledgeable you and your team can be about each and every one them. Carry just a select few brands or even one brand in each product category, and you can be an expert in how the product line integrates with other products you carry and how to troubleshoot issues. You will also have the added benefit of better support and better pricing from the brands you do carry. Everyone is happy—your clients, your vendors, and your accountant.