Editor’s Note: Volutone Distributing, a Western U.S. member of The PowerHouse Alliance has the luxury of a nearly year-round selling season for outdoor AV products. The company has taken the outdoor AV category to the next level, offering customers supplementary lines, encompassing outdoor video, audio, surveillance, lighting, wireless solutions, and irrigation control. PowerHouse Alliance executive director Dennis Holzer chatted with Volutone’s purchasing manager, Aaron Cleary, about advice and considerations for designing outdoor spaces, hot product categories, and where he sees outdoor AV heading this year.
Outdoor installs like this one from a Volutone dealer are practically a year-round opportunity on the west coast.
Holzer: How has the outdoor AV category grown, and what were your top-selling outdoor product categories for 2016?
Cleary: Outdoor AV is more accessible now. Most clients want to have the same level of control outside as they do inside. With customers on a budget, we offer simple, cost-effective options that are wireless and app-based in control. We find that while it isn’t a big sale, these are the customers who realize they want more over time, where that entry-level system becomes a stepping stone for growth for our dealers.
As for top sellers, we did a lot of business with Seura and Peerless-AV outdoor TVs in 2016, and not just small solutions. We offer panels ranging from 42 inches up to 84 inches, with options for 4K resolution, and can now cater to just about any budget.
Video, and even projection is also growing, but audio still remains the biggest outdoor category for us. Not everyone can afford to add outdoor video, but most prioritize having speakers installed throughout their backyard. Solutions like SonArray by Sonance and Polk Audio’s Atrium series are flexible systems with multiple speakers, a subwoofer and optional DSP amplifiers, and are scalable for more even coverage. This allows installers to build out a system to suit the size of the property, which beats having one or two speakers used at full volume to reach the corners of the space, while disturbing the neighbors.
What do you see as the biggest trend or trends in residential outdoor AV for 2017?
The desire to have control and connectivity of everything in one place–indoors and outdoors–is definitely going to continue. The success of voice control from brands like Google and Amazon are also major contributors to this growing trend. We even have an irrigation product called Rachio that works with the Nest suite of products and offers app-based control. With more products like this adding demand to the wireless network, we also predict an increase in outdoor wireless solutions to support them.
Aaron Cleary, purchasing manager, Volutone
We are starting to see more lighting control options for outdoors with the ability to adjust brightness, color, set certain moods etc., and we see this category expanding in 2017. Being able to tie that level of control into the rest of the system will be the key to success.
As the price of panels continues to drop, we see the demand for larger outdoor TVs rising, with 65 inches and above becoming the new norm. For audio, Peerless-AV has an exciting new outdoor soundbar called the Xtreme. This new soundbar category is further proof that customers desire the same kind of audio solutions outdoors that they have indoors.
Lastly, outdoor surveillance is another growing category. Traditionally surveillance systems were complex and expensive to install, but with solutions ranging from basic options like the Nest Cam Outdoor and Ring Stick Up Cam with a solar power option, to premium solutions like Digital Watchdog, clients are looking for easy ways to increase security and have the ability to monitor activity in real-time–like their children swimming in the pool, for example.
What should installers take into consideration when designing and quoting an outdoor AV system for a customer?
There are four major considerations: budget, size of space, environment, and aesthetics.
Finding out the approximate budget is the first step in designing a system. Even if that budget may change or grow as you explore ideas, it gives you much-needed insight into what you can and cannot recommend and allows you to start off on the right foot with the customer.
Environment plays a major role in what you can and cannot, or should not recommend. For example, if the entire space is in direct sunlight and the customer wants a video solution, you know you will need a premium panel with a higher NIT rating versus a covered patio, which allows for more options.
Pay attention to the look and feel of their outdoor space and show your customer different solutions to gauge their preference in aesthetics. Most clients are looking for solutions that are understated and blend into the environment. Knowing how much the industrial design matters to your client can help you make the best product suggestions.