There are times when I imagine the CEDIA EXPO of the future as a trade show exhibit floor dominated by five or six mega-manufacturers, each with multiple brands under a single umbrella, alongside a handful of city-block-sized control companies serving the remaining 50 or so regional integration company CEOs and their purchasing managers.
Last month’s news that Control4 had gone public on the NASDAQ stock exchange and that six integration firms had merged together into a 300-person western U.S.-based high-end residential systems service provider did nothing to dispel this notion.
Generally speaking, CEDIA EXPO has always been a show that caters to small entrepreneurial start-ups. Most times these manufacturers remain modestly sized and somewhat unassuming. More recently, some of these small manufacturers have been gobbled up by large ownership groups and our control brands are getting bigger and bigger.
A merger of integrators at the scale of the one we learned about at press time, however, is fairly new to the channel. The new company, VIA International, combines six home technology firms: Cyber Sound, DSI Entertainment, Engineered Environments, Paragon Technology, S3 Aurant, and Studio AV. Even though all of these firms are based in the western U.S., its partners hope to become a full-service home technology solution and service provider with national reach, serving hundreds of ultra-high net worth clients.
What makes VIA International interesting is that it will focus on these wealthy clients, rather than some sort of mass-market play like earlier merger attempts. VIA International says it will provide its clientele with an unparalleled “digital concierge” experience–“a premium, white-glove service offering the highest levels of attentiveness and expertise paired with sophisticated, exciting, and intuitive state-of-the-art technology.” The concierge offering also includes a recurring revenue component, in the form of client aftercare support and system monitoring.
If anyone can pull it off, maybe it’s Randy Stearns, CEO and founding partner of VIA International, who is one of the few MBAs at the helm of a custom integration business. Stearns, also a former chairman of CEDIA, has never been a products-focused person. His mindset always has been on the business first and fancy gear second. This is how he described how VIA International will transform the residential systems industry:
“Together, we are elevating a fragmented, project-based business model into a consolidated and streamlined service provider that emphasizes providing a concierge-level experience over multiple years in multiple homes, not simply a one-time, product-centric solution,” he explained.
This newly formed organization is certainly noteworthy in what is still mostly a cottage industry of small independent companies. Whether it becomes the model to emulate or just a figment of someone’s imagination for the future remains to be seen.