Selling to the super-rich is, in many ways, not much different than dealing with the average customer. Clients in this demographic expect to be heard and want systems that fulfill their needs and desires, as well as solid support when technology fails. What’s different are their service expectations; where the average mid-market customer may be happy with receiving a good deal of attention, luxury clients are accustomed to white glove treatment.
Eric Thies is president and founder of DSI Luxury Technology, a residential AV and smart home automation provider based in Lake Balboa, CA. He relays that when he founded the firm in 1994, DSI served what he calls “affluent mid-market” homeowners — those with residences around 5000 square feet. As his company began building its reputation, DSI started landing projects with the higher-end architects and builders in the region. Today, Thies says that an average project grosses anywhere from $500,000 on up.
Thies says that clients at this end of the scale expect high-touch service — like the kind they receive when dining at Michelin-starred restaurants. “They’re used to getting things very quickly, so we need to anticipate those demands, be able to react, and give them that service and attention,” he says.
High-touch service, however, doesn’t necessarily translate into lengthy discovery sessions during which the homeowner is grilling the salesperson over every project component. Thies notes that oftentimes, mid-market projects (around $40,000 to $50,000) are much more time-consuming in this respect, because homeowners in this demographic tend to watch their budgets more closely. “It’s a lot more intensive with somebody like that, versus someone who almost has an unlimited war chest of money,” he says. Unless a component costs more than $10,000 or even $20,000, luxury clients don’t want to be bothered for their approval. “They don’t have the time to deal with it.” Much of this is because these buyers are relatively sophisticated; this isn’t their first home, and their previous residences usually featured high-end residential AV and automation systems. Therefore, they are already familiar with this technology.
In fact, Thies says that his initial meeting with a client lasts, on average, from 60 to 90 minutes. During this time, he must discuss 11 or 12 different systems, including the network, control, AV, lighting control, shading, access, and cameras. “You only have a little bit of time for each system,” he says. For each, clients want him to summarize their options — good/better/best — along with the associated costs. “Then we go down the line.”
Thies relays that one of the biggest challenges he and his team faces in servicing luxury clients is making each and every customer feel like they’re the top priority. “Making every client think they are the most important client is challenging the more clients you have,” he admits. Current supply chain disruptions are also complicating projects. “Right now, we have the specific challenge of people who are used to getting everything they want, when they want it, and they can’t get that now. Everybody wants everything yesterday and you just can’t get it, no matter how much you’re willing to pay for it.”
Bravas LLC is a residential and commercial technology integrator headquartered in Overland Park, KS, with locations across the U.S. Nigel Dessau, CEO, explains that the company’s designers and installers are trained to prioritize listening above all else when dealing with clients. “CIs, like most professionals, have considerably more experience of what works than our customers, and if we are not careful, we can let that get in the way of what the customers want, even if they don’t know how to ask for it,” he says. “Listening means more than asking what they want; it means understanding how they want to live in their home and doing all we can to help them achieve that.”
ETC is a residential AV and custom installation firm based in West Palm Beach, FL. Paul Biava, president and CEO, explains that the company has been in business for almost 35 years; he purchased it four years ago. He says that ETC has always dealt in the high-end luxury market — 10,000 to 15,000 square foot homes, with projects ranging from $250,000 to $300,000. He adds that the company also services what he calls “super high luxury” customers, where projects can exceed $1 million.
ETC offers support 24/7 (both remote and on-site, depending on the call). To address its “super high end” clients, it recently launched an exclusive concierge service that includes a two-hour response time and 100 hours of service calls. Because Florida attracts seasonal residents, this service also comprises preventative maintenance and pre-seasonal checkups to ensure that all systems are operational before the homeowners arrive.
Under its concierge service, ETC clients are assigned their own “personal” technicians, who have deep knowledge of their systems. Biava says that clients pay between $30,000 to $40,000 a year for the concierge service, and that right now it’s limited to eight clients. “We’re in the process of hiring another service tech so that we can expand that, because we have a waiting list right now,” he says.
For Biava, the most important factor in doing business with high-end luxury clients is having the infrastructure in place to provide the service they expect. “You need to have your service game on point,” he says. “You need to make sure that you’re communicating with your client, that you’re establishing that relationship, and that your service team is large enough to be able to take care of them. Because that’s what clients at that level want.”
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.
Meet Cineluxe: Showing Luxury Clients What is Possible
By John Sciacca
For the past 24 years I’ve been co-owner of a custom integration firm in South Carolina, and for the past 12 years I’ve been a regular contributor here at Residential Systems. While I’ll be continuing those roles, I’m starting a new venture I’d like to introduce you to: Cineluxe.com.
After examining the current state of media coverage, it became clear the premium segment receives very little coverage, even though this is where the most exciting and innovative developments in home entertainment are happening, and it’s where our industry demonstrates the best of what we can do!
Cineluxe will be the only website devoted to focusing on luxury home entertainment, including premium dedicated theaters and media rooms, as well as other areas of the home where entertainment is expanding. We know in modern, luxury smart homes, things like automation, control, lighting, shading, and music and video distribution are equally important in the entertainment discussion, and we’ll also highlight these.
Cineluxe’s coverage will have an eye toward the lifestyle and experience benefits, rather than focusing on gear and tech, with a design that feels like browsing an elegant coffee-table book. Part of our coverage will include case studies with pictures and videos highlighting designers, integrators, and luxury installations to inspire and showcase what is possible, with idea book layouts that will inspire and excite about the possibilities available, and be approachable to a broad range of readers.
Luxury clients want systems that just work, and part of that is partnering with the right designers, integrators, and calibrators who specialize in these installations — you. Cineluxe wants to become your trusted resource for sending clients to; we’ll entertain, educate, and excite them about what is possible and then return them to you better informed about the processes involved, the brands they should be aware of, and the budgets they should expect, ultimately helping you close more premium projects.
Cineluxe will also highlight the best content — films, series, music, games — that serve as the best demo material for clients to show off their new systems and impress friends and family.
I hope you’ll give Cineluxe a look and subscribe to our newsletter!
DSI Luxury Technology holds an HTA Estate certification from the Home Technology Association. Eric Thies, the firm’s president and founder, explains that he pursued this as a way of setting his company apart from the competition. “There is a wide disparity of quality of firm in our industry because there’s really very little regulation,” he says. The industry’s low barrier to entry, he believes, has also created these quality gaps. “HTA certification, for us, is a great way to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘we’ve met this standard.’”
For Michael Restrepo, owner of Restrepo Innovations (which holds an HTA Luxury certification), this standard is one that addresses client concerns. “It’s actually what the customer cares about,” he says.
ETC, a residential AV and custom installation firm based in West Palm Beach, FL., has been HTA-certified at the Estate level for three years. Like Thies, Paul Biava, ETC’s president and CEO, pursued the certification to stand apart from the competition, as well as to build trust among high-end luxury architects and builders.
“HTA is like the Michelin Guide or the AAA Diamond rating,” Biava says. “The people who get those are the ones who deliver that best-in-class, and it gives you that comfort knowing you’re walking into a great restaurant, or a great hotel, or a great experience with your low-voltage provider.” —C.H.
Don’t Self-Limit on the Sale
Eric Thies, president and founder of DSI Luxury Technology, observes that sometimes integrators limit their sales by focusing too much on price. He says he’s witnessed this on projects where the client spoke with another company prior to meeting with him, and the equipment list that first firm proposed doesn’t include many of the luxury products it could have.
“It doesn’t seem like a lot of integrators really are selling enough high-performance products to people that can afford and appreciate them,” Thies says. “This level of client is used to nice quality, high-performing equipment. They might not know the details of it, but they do recognize quality in things. I think there is a lot of missed opportunity with integrators thinking everything is all about price. It’s not. It’s about reliability, it’s about ease of use. Price is important — no one wants to feel like they’re getting ripped off — but, at the same time, this is a group that’s very willing to pay for higher performing products and appreciates quality.”
Or, as Michael Restrepo, owner of Restrepo Innovations, puts it: “We’re not there to sell them extra stuff that they don’t need; we sell the best stuff. Even when they come and say, ‘We want a simple system,’ we give them a simple Ferrari.” —C.H.