A strong integrator-builder relationship has been an industry-wide goal for years for the obvious benefits — more work and getting into the project at the earliest stages. Lately, integrators have received a strong ally in this goal in the form of basic smart home systems that builders can add from the outset to increase the value of the home and support the new homeowners.
Brian Motheral, general manager at Republic Elite Integration in Northern California, has been working with Brilliant to offer builders a basic smart home system that provides plenty of room for growth. And while having access to the tech and know-how that builders need helps, he explains that it takes much more than that to establish the connection.
“With the builder market, my experience has been very regional and very much relationship-based,” says Motheral. “I mean, all sales are relationship-based, but in the builder market world, it really is.” And he would know — Republic Elite Integration does 450 homes each month, with most of them being new houses.
“The biggest thing for us was going to the builders and convincing them that — whether they like it or not — home automation is coming,” he continues. “Every house will be automated. As millennials get older and older, they’re going to walk up to the door and say, ‘Wait…I have to use a key to open my door.’”
Related: The Smart Home Buyer Journey
Fortunately, most builders have come around to accepting this fact. “I’d say about 80 percent of builders are now doing something standard with regard to smart homes,” adds Motheral. “It typically goes down two paths with the builder market — half are doing a security-based home automation platform and the other half are doing something like a Brilliant smart light switch. If you do a security-based home automation system, it can do some lights and your locks, but if you want to stream music, it can’t do it. With Brilliant, it’s a light switch, but it’ll play with many third-party products. That changes the conversation.”
How do builders decide which path to choose? If only there was someone they could ask… “I think builders are truly looking for a partner nowadays — they don’t want to be the home technology experts,” says Motheral. “They’re looking for somebody who they can consult with. I get calls all day long — ‘I was watching this commercial and there’s this new thermostat that talks to your toilet. What do you think about it?’ Being able to build that trust and have them know that you’re advising them correctly is key.
“As the GM here, one of my biggest jobs is staying in touch with the builders, taking them to lunch, sitting then down and saying, ‘Hey, we got this new technology,’ or ‘This is what’s coming out.’ I met with a lot of different builders over lunch and took the Brilliant light switch and display with me and plugged it in right at the table. So we’re eating lunch and checking out this smart light switch.”
As valuable as the relationship with the builders is, it is equally important to have access to the homeowners, advises Motheral. “One of our requirements with the builders we work with is that we meet with the home buyers,” he says. “We have a full-time sales team, and we assigned each salesperson to a certain account, so that’ll be his builder, and he’ll be meeting with those buyers.”
Of course, there are times where there is no buyer and the builder is going to sell the homes after that fact. That still works out well for Republic Elite. “I may have no idea who bought that home, but I do know that they have a Brilliant system or a security system in that house, and so we have to go back in if they want it to work,” says Motheral. “At that point, we send in a service tech with a company van and he’s in there saying, ‘This is what your system will do,’ and ‘I noticed that your house is pre-wired, would you like some speakers or security cameras.’ It’s really trying to create that customer for life.”
So what does a builder look for in a technology partner? Pretty much what you would expect, according to Motheral: provide high-quality work, do it on time, and always make the builder look good to the homeowner. “It all starts there and with getting them to trust you and believe in you to produce when they say you need to produce,” he says. “And those relationships will lead to new ones. Construction people jump around quite often. You may be dealing with a purchasing agent over at one builder, but then they leave to join a different national builder. I’ve gotten a lot of work by just maintaining relationships with people whether they’re still in the industry or not, because they will jump from builder to builder to builder.”
Builders are also fond of Rebublic Elite’s White Glove service. As the last ones to have contact with the customer, it is important to all the trades involved in the home building that the integrator leaves a positive impression. “That’s where the builders really see the benefit,” says Motheral. “I don’t even think that they necessarily care about the technology. I think they care more about the White Glove turnover technology to the homeowner, and how it reflects back on them.”
Motheral will be the first to tell you that the housing market has its ups and downs, but this dedication to builders has paid off well for the company. “Last year we did really good — our sales were up around 20 percent, which was surprising because, when it all started, we were worried that housing was going to drop off, but it hasn’t. But when it does, we still have all those new homeowners to call on.”