Before I became a part of the custom integration industry, I was what you could call a “Tech Chaser.” I always wanted the newest and coolest gadget. At the time, it was a Motorola Razr phone and a Harmony Remote for my Marantz AVR that got my juices flowing. I thought I had it all, and that the tech couldn’t be any better. Installation of this gear was completely DIY, other than a little advice from the sales guy at Circuit City.
Our clients today have a plethora of information at their fingertips, and many Tech Chasers know just enough to be dangerous. They read tech blogs and want all the cool things they’ve been hearing about — like SmartThings, Lutron Caseta, Harmony remotes, smart TVs, and Sonos. The dangerous part is that they don’t know how difficult or impossible these things are to integrate.
This is where, of course, we recommend tried-and-true automation systems that will provide all of the features they want, reliably, consistently, and professionally. The big problem tends to arise, however, when this customer sees the cost associated with an automation system. They think they can get a $400 hub and a few $100-$300 components and things will work swimmingly, so why is our system $20,000 or more?
We had a call from a homeowner just last month that wanted our advice for how to integrate his system and to provide some assistance. He wanted Lutron Caseta for lighting and shades, an Ecobee thermostat, August smart locks, a Harmony remote, eero wifi, and a three-zone AVR for whole home audio and video. I looked at that and knew it wouldn’t integrate together. He had even put together a 62-page PowerPoint presentation with every room laid out, all of the products listed, how he wanted to control everything (Homekit, Harmony, iOS app, Pico remote, etc). It was very informative, and he had done a lot of research, but he was trying to cobble it together with consumer-grade product, and when I gave him a sense of the cost to do it with an automation system (along with all of the benefits), he was adamant about sticking with his plan.
We provided our opinion of how complicated usage would be, how things may not interoperate well, and how his experience could be so much better with a fully integrated system. Eventually, in the best interests of everyone, we had to walk away from the job. And sometimes that is the right answer for you, your business, and the homeowner. You should never tackle a job you don’t feel comfortable executing perfectly, and if the client wants to use a lot of equipment that you don’t know well and haven’t integrated previously.
On the flip side, Tech Chasers can be great clients too. Sometimes they want the best of everything and are really excited and involved in the product specification process. They will come to your showroom or manufacturer showroom to check everything out, will ask a ton of questions, and will completely “get it” when show them how to use everything. Usually they will suggest product that they have seen marketed or at a friend’s house — often times the product suggestion is something you can implement and when it isn’t, in my experience, I have found that they can be understanding of the trade off between cool factor and reliability.
The only caveat with this particular brand of Tech Chaser is that they may want to have more control over tweaking the system than is typically possible. Fortunately I have the option of installing a system like Crestron PYNG, which gives them a lot of control over scenes and scheduling. Savant also provides a high level of user customization. Giving them a little bit of what they crave in terms of the ability to tweak things and a very exciting and easy experience with an automation system can be a great combination.
The key is to recognize which Tech Chaser you have on your hands early on in the process. While all of the DIY and consumer-grade product out there is interesting and gets clients excited, if they are adamant about integrating that gear into their home, we steer clear. Unless you have a business model that incorporates the consumer-grade product, I recommend you do the same. But meeting the second type of Tech Chaser who hires us for our expertise and the ability to work them on an amazing lifestyle experience is a project you want to make sure to land.