Our Vendor Partners Need Sales Growth Beyond Controllers and Remotes, but We Can't Sacrifice Our Objectivity

Control system companies are beginning to turn up the heat on their dealers. Companies like Savant, ELAN, and Control4 are invested heavily across multiple product lines and they think you should be selling them. ALL of them.

Similar to programs like those from Control4, Savant’s new ambassador program puts an emphasis on leading with Savant and selling across all their product categories. Savant also throws in a 10-percent volume incentive rebate (VIR) based on sales growth. That could add up nicely for an aggressive dealer.

It seems that we’re all being put to the choice, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. The sword of Damocles in the background of all of these programs right now is more carrot than stick, but watch out for the stick. History has shown that’s next.

We began selling Control4 systems in 2008, back when their mainstay consisted of selling controllers, remotes, amplifiers, and light switches. Fast forward to today and Control4 now offers panelized lighting, speakers (with its acquisition of Triad last year), networking gear (Pakedge), remote managed services (Ihiji and BakPak), not to mention tons of other products in their online store, which counts toward our dealer purchase total for the year.

With each additional acquisition, Control4 has treated the change with an Orwellian flare. It’s as if we never sold networking, distributed audio or speakers prior to their new acquisitions. I’ve never felt overly pressured to buy any of the newly added lines, but it always feels strange talking to a vendor about their core product and the conversation veers into panelized lighting or speaker bars. We’re perfectly happy with our existing vendors in those categories, and we don’t want to become too reliant on any one manufacturer for too much. That’s not to say we don’t leverage buying power when appropriate. SnapAV is a great example of a company perfectly happy to sell one or two product categories to an integrator, knowing full well that their purchasing will shift at some point to its other lines.

We’ve always prided ourselves on offering best-in-class solutions to our clients. Does Control4 make one of the best home control systems on the market? Sure! Would we shift all our lighting control purchases away from Lutron to satisfy a dealer commitment? No way! Our objectivity is everything to us and when we lose that, we lose our ability to effectively counsel our clients.

Our industry is experiencing a shift similar to the auto industry. Manufacturers want dealers who are specializing in one control system and its associated product categories. Right now, all of us sell Toyotas, Hondas, and Fords. If a client wants a well-designed solution, we have a ton of tools at our disposal to make it happen. There’s no doubt in my mind that our clients deserve our objectivity. I completely understand that our control system manufacturers need sales growth beyond controllers and remotes, but we’re not interested in pledging blind loyalty if it means sacrificing objectivity.

We’ll see what the rest of 2018 holds for control system loyalty programs. For our own part, we’ve picked a single control system to carry forward with (Control4), but that may not be good enough as we move ahead with CTRL shareholders demanding more return on invested capital.

Are you ready to pick a single control system with all its associated product lines?

Stay frosty and see you in the field.