Not only are we home technology experts, but we often act as “home technology general contractors,” as well. While our core expertise may be audio, video, and home automation, the expectation is that we can help with anything electronic. When situations come up, there are really three paths to take: in-source the expertise and do it in-house; refer a third party and step away from the category (although the client will still likely hold you somewhat responsible for the referral); or outsource the expertise using a subcontractor.
We tend to go with the third option as much as possible, which enables us to have significant influence over the product selection to ensure it works within our design, retain some profit opportunity, and maintain the “one-stop-shop” service model while not getting spread too thin on categories where we do not have deep expertise.
There are, however, a few categories of product and services for which we tend to use subcontractors, particularly design-oriented categories like window treatments and very technical areas like PC maintenance and repair.
For window treatments, our decisions are driven much more by aesthetics than by functionality; all we really care about is that the motor can be integrated with our control system of choice. I don’t want to get involved in choosing fabrics for window treatments in the same way I don’t want to get involved in choosing paint colors or fabrics for a sofa. Additionally, many design-focused clients do not want off-the-shelf roller or honeycomb shades, but instead prefer a custom material on a Roman shade or another format. This is a perfect opportunity to use a subcontractor that specializes in window treatments and can provide the design advice and technical expertise to fabricate the treatment in any way the client desires.
With computers, we don’t want to get involved with opening up the machines and upgrading the memory, or with trying to get a year-old PC to sing like a new model. Without deep computer expertise, it can open up a can of worms and be more difficult than the entire home automation project.
We bring in experts and we closely manage their work process and timelines. There are several lessons we have learned and processes we have instituted to ensure our subcontractors perform to our level of expectation and accurately represent our company. The first rule is, “no poaching of business.” This has to be made extremely clear. No subcontractor is to offer any product category in our stable of offerings to any of our mutual clients.
For example, if a shading subcontractor also offers home automation (which is pretty common), then they are not allowed to offer anything other than the window treatments—no control systems, no lighting control, and no remote controls. They have to know that we are the primary home technology company on the project and that we own the relationship. The deal goes both ways: if they are the lead on a home automation project but need someone to come in and do the audio and video, they will subcontract that to us, and we will not upsell into their domain. It is a win-win.
There is a lot more than internal competition to be aware of and to protect against in these relationships. Just a like a typical GC is responsible for the quality of work of all of their subs (electrician, HVAC, plumber, etc.), we are responsible for the work of our subs and their performance reflects directly upon our company. We need to have clear operating guidelines as to expectations for client interactions, cleanliness of the job site, service call response time, professionalism of staff, and myriad other criteria. We insist a member of our team, be it myself, a project manager, or even a lead installer or technician, is on site whenever a subcontractor is doing work at a client’s home. We want to make sure our standard of client care is adhered to.
If you are going to take on the responsibility of subcontracting work, then you need to be 100-percent responsible for that work. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. It requires a lot of attention, detail, and planning to make sure your clients experience the level of service and professionalism that you expect.