The custom installation channel remains one of the world’s best-kept — and most unnecessary — secrets. Lack of public awareness vexes dealers on at least two fronts — attracting new customers and finding young, interested talent that can grow within the space. A new, consumer-focused residential technology event called The Home Tech Expo, planned for Orange County, Cailf., in Fall of 2024, hopes to shine a spotlight on the industry and educate consumers not only on what we do, but how they can be a part of it.
If that sounds like a tall order, it is. Fortunately, we have one of our best working on it. Mark Cichowski has been part of this channel since it was founded; first working with Sonance and others, then later starting his own successful rep firm. However, he is probably best known as the creator of the Technology & Business Summits, which he sold to CEDIA in 2018 and that continue on today, with some involvement from Cichowski, as the CEDIA Tech Summits.
If anyone knows how to bring people together around this industry, it’s him.
“As the Tech Summits evolved, especially in the last few years,” says Cichowski, “more and more manufacturers, dealers, and reps were asking, ‘How do we do more outreach to consumers?’ Marketing to consumers is a heavy lift because it is hard to know where to start.
“The idea behind The Home Tech Expo is to do a CI show through the eyes of the consumer, not the dealer, which means that we have to have very practical demonstrations. If an attendee can’t look at a booth and figure out what the company does in about five seconds, we need to rethink what they’re doing at that booth. We’re not selling black boxes — we’re selling experiences.”
The original plan was to hold the event in October of this year, but as requests and ideas came pouring in from the industry, Cichowski made the decision to push the Home Tech Expo out to make sure the first Home Tech Expo could reach its full potential.
Building the Expo
The Expo will have a similar traffic flow to the Summits, including an exhibit floor with configurable 10×10, 10×20, 10×30, 10×40, or 20×20 booths (“no one-brand cities,” says Cichowski), educational sessions, and a black-curtained area for deeper, more involved demonstrations. There will also be several outdoor exhibit areas.
One innovation designed especially for The Home Tech Expo is its take on Apple’s Genius Bar. “Ours is called the ‘Ask Me Anything Desk,’ and will be available to attendees as soon as they walk in. There, we will ask them what they are looking for and they can ask us questions. Most of that will be focused around getting the people to the right companies, but also, if people want to break into the channel, we can help them there as well.”
While all the main CI industry technology staples will be there, including whole home audio/video, automation, lighting, home theater, and smart homes, Cichowski is also looking to break into newer, buzzworthy home technology fields to bring in a larger audience — including smart appliances, high-end kitchen and bath, fitness products, electric vehicles, VR, and outdoor entertainment.
“I don’t think a show like this would have its teeth five or 10 years ago,” he says. “If they’re coming to The Home Tech Expo to look at smart doorbells, for example, that’s the gateway for more tech as the consumers get older and achieve a higher income or simply get a taste for more. This introduction, even to a younger or less-affluent crowd, will bring them into the channel more.”
While Cichowski expects the exhibit floor to be filled mainly by manufacturers, he believes local integrators will have a large presence. “Many of the exhibitors will be manufacturers that have partnered with one of their dealers, in addition to some individual dealers having booths. So, if the consumer is interested in XYZ technology, whether it’s a home theater or a smart appliance, we’ll tell them to go see this dealer on the floor to complete that loop and talk about the actual project. In addition, local manufacturer reps will play an important role in working with integrators to help them drive their clients to the event, work the booths, and support the manufacturers and integrators overall.”
The education program will cover topics such as How to Choose a Dealer?; What Exactly is a Smart Home?; Integrating Design with Home Technology; The Future of Smart Appliances; Enhancing Your Home with Indoor and Outdoor Lighting; Home Theater or Home Media Room — What is Right for You?; and more.
A Different Type of Show
With his history of producing events, Cichowski knows the pain points for exhibitors, and is looking to alleviate many of them for the manufacturers and dealers coming to Orange County.
“We are packaging as much as we can for the exhibitors,” he says. “Meaning that usually you buy the floor space and then you have to pay extra for this and that. What we’re doing is a little bit different; it’s something that I learned at the Tech Summits that people really appreciated. When you buy floor space with The Home Tech Expo, you get the space, carpet, pipe and drape, basic power, basic wireless internet, a table, a chair, and a waste basket. As simple as that sounds, those are all things that people often forget. We’re trying to make it smoother for the exhibitors to participate.”
While the benefits for CI industry dealers and manufacturers are obvious, how will The Home Tech Expo attract consumers? “It’s smack dab in the middle of Orange County — a very affluent area,” says Cichowski. “It’s 12 minutes from the Orange County Airport. It’s easy to get around; it has easy parking. All these things make it very attractive to get there.
“The marketing to drive people there is going to be in the local area, as well, including newspaper and cable TV advertising. There are also digital signage billboards and banners on the actual property. The Orange County Fair is there in July each year, which is great because that’s a couple of months before this event and we’ll have advertisements there that will be exposed to over 1 million people. We also have the Pacific Amphitheater on-property, which has a huge Summer Concert Series that we will advertise at because it is the same customer. We have a broad and deep advertising campaign planned.
“Another significant component of driving the right kind of traffic is our Partner Marketing program. The local companies involved — such as electric vehicles, kitchen and bath, outdoor living, and so on — will promote the event to their clients. We will help them with marketing tools for their client newsletters, physical locations, and otherwise. Their customers are our customers, and vice versa. We are also marketing to designers and builders.”
This sounds great for the Orange County, Calif., market, but what about the rest of the country? “I’ve spoken with many close people I know in the industry about The Home Tech Expo concept, and it’s been very well received. And now people from other territories’ rep firms are asking when we can hold one in their cities. It seems like the concept has caught on without even having the first show completed”