We recently wrote about keeping your options open and ensuring sufficient supply. One of our tactics is to work with multiple vendors to ensure that we have different solutions in case a given product or product line is not in stock, or, even worse, a vendor goes out of business. We have gotten several follow-up questions about this strategy, since we have both made it pretty clear in the past that we strategically only partner with one control company (Control4 for Mark and Crestron for Todd). The question being asked is: “Why don’t you also carry two control brands, since you advocate carrying multiple lines of everything else, and what do you do about product shortages with your control partners?” We wanted to take this opportunity to address this, as it is a very valid question.
For both of us, the key reasons we each remain loyal to single company are:
- Expertise. Particularly with automation and control, you and your team need to be experts in the product. To do that, you need to live with it day to day. It is difficult and disruptive to live with multiple, non-integratable home automation products in a single home. For many other products, like AVRs, speakers, streaming music, etc., it is straightforward to have different products in different rooms or have different sources matrixed around the home. If you don’t “eat the groceries,” it is much harder to learn the ins and outs of the programming, and you are less like to keep up on new features and integrations.
- Influence and Access. The more dedicated you are to a product line, the more access you can have to engineers, senior sales executives, and the marketing team. This access and influence allow us to beta test new software and hardware releases so we can better service our clients when it is released (especially since we insist on living with product for 3 to 6 months before installing at a client site). We also have access to the marketing team if we need assets for our own marketing, and we have relationships with engineers that often help us get critical technical assistance. While this is true for any company you work with, again, it is critical for your control system as it is typically the biggest piece of the project and the most intricate.
- Stability. We are not overly concerned about either Control4 or Crestron going out of business any time soon. They are both large, entrenched businesses. Crestron has a huge commercial business that gives them the size and heft to weather storms. Control4, as part of SnapAV, is now part of the one of the largest players in the residential space, and has a huge installed base. Considering what happened with Logitech Harmony last month, it is critical to have a partner committed to the channel and with the size to stay here.
- Both companies have extensive product lines that allow us to start small with a client and grow the system over time, without having to forklift out the “small system” to grow beyond a certain stage. We just need to add more hardware and maybe repurpose the core processor to a secondary room so we can have a more powerful processor run the project.
Some people may argue that carrying multiple control brands allows the dealer to offer the right system to the right client. While that may be true in certain situations, we have found it is more about the dealer than the system chosen that determines client satisfaction. In the instance that we run into a takeover project that has a legacy system the client does not want to change out, we have a contact list full of partners to whom we can refer the business — and they do the same for us.
So while having backups and multiple product lines is critical, there is always an exception to every rule and we firmly believe that control systems are that exception.