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Why We Love Our Automation Partners

Two integrators give the why’s for their control systems of choice.

I spend a lot of time talking to other home technology professionals about everything from best practices, to client relations to favorite products. One topic that keeps coming up is why we love the automation partners that we have chosen. I recently had a great talk with Mark Feinberg of Home Theater Advisors, a dedicated Control4 dealer, with whom I spent a lot of time talking about our partners and why we love working with them. This week, we decided to partner on the blog and provide our perspectives on the companies we each know best. Next week we will cover this from the homeowner perspective.

Me first:

I bleed Blue — Crestron Blue. I have been a devoted Crestron dealer for the past six years and have had quite a bit of success. Here are the things I love about Crestron and what I think they do phenomenally well:

First of all, support is top notch. There are typically short hold times on the True Blue support line, and the first-level techs are very capable and some of the best Crestron has to offer. For example, we recently had hired a third-party programmer to integrate a Seidel intercom system, as I was not familiar with the integration and did not want to undertake it alone. While the programmer had vouched that he could do the work, he couldn’t, and I was stuck. He just could not get it to work. So, I called True Blue. It turned out the integration had to be done through Rava (Crestron’s internal SIP server). Tech support spent as much time as needed on the phone and remoting in to the system. The tech went through the code line by line to explain to me what was being done and got everything up and running for me. Basically, tech support programmed the entire Seidel system for me. They took a total disaster and saved it.

Crestron In Action: Made with the Shades

I also love that Crestron is privately owned — no public shareholders, no private equity firms — only owners who completely understand the custom channel. I know dealers and customers are being put first. Crestron has the freedom to invest in R&D without worrying about how the spending will impact the quarter or the year and that often leads to robust new product introductions, like NVX (video over IP), new remotes, OS2, Horizon keypads, and the new CP3-r processor—all in the last year. Additionally, product announcements are made ahead of time so we can plan projects and inventory appropriately. For example, Crestron Home OS3 has been announced and will be available at ISE. This revolutionary new operating system allows full configuration of an entire smart home system using only an iPad. Integrators can configure everything from lighting to comfort to AV without a single line of code. Plus, the user interface, which has been shown at various roadshows and dealer meetings, is truly stunning.

When a dealer comes on board with Crestron, one of things heavily touted is the reliability of Crestron hardware. I can vouch for that. We have very few RMAs. The hardware is beautiful (check out the new remotes!), robust, and rock-solid.

Crestron has a great rebate program for hitting volume milestones and there are solid margins to be earned on the product line. On some lines, the margins are quite strong, and I will offer deeper discounts to clients to solidify the deal. Crestron is investing in their business and in my business by providing a strong rebate program and reliable margins. In addition to the regular rebates, over the past year or so, we have taken advantage of the PEAK program — an additional program that is currently in effect which gives an additional rebates beyond regular volume-based incentives on different product categories. I used these rebates this year to incentivize my team by giving them a portion of the rebate for great performance.

I am also very happy with the marketing support I receive. Everything from free printed collateral and brochures to use in my direct meetings with home owners, architects, and designers to support for our social media efforts with pre-populated messages and support. Not only do I get professionally produced materials, but I do not have to invest time or funds in developing everything.

Hands-On: The Evolution of Pyng

Finally, I do not think we would be as successful as we are without the Crestron Experience Centers. These Crestron-owned and operated showrooms are invaluable. They provide a place for me to show clients everything that is possible with a Crestron Controlled home, without having to regularly spend on hardware upgrades. The Experience Centers are located near large population centers and the one here in mid-town Manhattan is perfect, as our wealthy, city-based clients do not want to come to New Jersey to see a showroom. If they can hop in a car service and be at the showroom in 15 minutes, they will find the time. But they will not find the time to come to New Jersey and fight hours of traffic.

I spent a long time speaking with Mark to get his perspective on Control4, and here are his favorite things about working with them:

Probably most notably, and most popular, is the fact that there is no coding with Control4. Setting up the basics of a system is as easy as adding drivers from a database and making “bindings” by dragging and dropping the AV and control connections. And detailed, custom programming can be easily added — again, without coding — but with just adding commands to an event (like a time of day, a button being pushed, a motion sensor being activated, etc.), along with conditionals and nested commands, allowing the dealer to provide a very customized solution with no need for a third-party programmer.

Control4 in Action: Creating a Holiday Glow with Control4

In addition to the easy system configuration, Control4’s programming software, Composer Pro, allows a client’s dealer of record (controlled by the client through the Control4 customer portal) to access their system remotely to make changes and troubleshoot. This is especially important for smaller systems where the dealer may not own the network, and therefore does not have VPN access. There is also a streamlined app-based configuration tool, Composer Express, that allows dealers and techs to check in and make changes to equipment and bindings (just not custom programming) on the fly, even when not in front of a computer. Mark will often use Composer Express to begin the software update for a client system while he is on his way, so he doesn’t have to wait for the update to run on-site and waste time. Homeowners can also make tiny tweaks on their own that could otherwise bog down a dealer — like changing playlists, light schedules, and voice commands — using When >> Then Automation on 4Sight (the homeowner subscription service). The added benefit of When >> Then is that clients feel more comfortable knowing they can make changes on their own. The reduced reliance on a dealer for smaller changes is a strong selling point and helps close more sales.

As a smaller dealer with a great reputation in his market, Mark handles a lot of takeover projects where the original dealer either is no longer in business or is just not supporting the client well. With Control4, as long as he is on-site, he can fully access the programming since it is stored locally on the controller and is not encrypted or compiled. If the initial meeting goes well, the client just logs into their portal and changes their dealer of record to Home Theater Advisors, so that Mark and his team now support the client remotely with all of the tools mentioned above.

Control4 is a public company, which Mark loves because he has a background in corporate strategy and finance: Being able to see the financial health of the company and know they are profitable and successful is important. He can also dig deep into the quarterly and annual filings (the 10Q and 10K) to find out where Control4 is investing and what they see for the future, as told to the investment community.

Control4 has an umbrella of partner brands that support its smart homes, such as Pakedge networking equipment and custom Triad speakers and audio equipment. Although Mark’s team may not use all of them, many dealers do, which simplifies purchasing from one place: the Control4 control system and video distribution, Triad audio distribution and speakers, Pakedge network and PDUs, and other equipment such as AVRs (Denon and Sony), Projectors (Sony), Wire (AudioQuest, Structuring Cabling), and many other categories. For dealers who consolidates their spends, the financial incentives can be quite rewarding.

In terms of marketing, Control4 is very active on social media, building the brand, and also makes a plethora of materials available for printing or use in their marketing initiatives — everything from lifestyle photos, lighting, and entertainment brochures, to full home automation catalogs. While dealers do pay for the materials, they are professional, beautiful, and require no effort other than adding them to your cart. Control4 also has a Certified Showroom program, where dealers upgrade with signage, demo product, and marketing support for a showroom that can welcome new customers and showcase systems and capabilities to potential clients.

The support and community that surrounds Control4 has been invaluable. While hold times can sometimes be long, especially on Fridays, Mark raves about the competence and helpfulness of the Control4 tech support team. They remote into systems and help diagnose issues, digging deep into logs and often show Mark and his team new tricks. He has also learned a lot from the dealer forums on which dealers from around the world post issues and questions and everyone, including tech support personnel, chip in to help out, and there are several Facebook groups for dealers only that supplement the forums. While the Facebook groups are not officially supported by Control4, several Control4 employees regularly chime in to help out with thorny questions dealers and programmers have. Control4 also has a unique training program with the PCNA (Pakedge Certified Network Administrator) hybrid online/hands-on course that teaches networking basics with equipment for success in the field.

What I know is that both Crestron and Control4 are great companies and there is plenty of room in the market for both brands. While I do know that some dealers of each will disparage the other, I have found it much better that Mark and I refer clients to each other. If a client wants a truly custom GUI or insists on a graphically handheld remote, and Mark knows he can’t satisfy their needs with Control4, he refers them to us. Similarly, if a client balks at paying high programming costs or wants a simple one-room solution or just wants Control4, “because that’s what their techy brother-in-law has,” I have Mark on speed dial.

Review: Control4 DS2 Mini Door Station with Intercom Anywhere

Tune in next week where we will present the client-facing benefits to both ecosystems. In the meantime, let us know in the comments below what you like about your control system of choice!