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Partnerships for Profit

“Teaching continuing education is the lynch pin of my business.

Collaborative Industry Programs Target Designers, Architects, and Builders

Michael Kurtzer, Crestron regional development manager, market development, chats with a designer at Crestron’s Interior Design Program launch party in July, held at Crestron’s Design Showroom in Manhattan.“Teaching continuing education is the lynch pin of my business. It is the single most important thing I do to generate lead referrals,” said Tom Stone, founding principal of Pennsylvania-based Stone- Glidden.

Stone is one of 283 custom installers that participate in CEDIA’s Registered Outreach Instructors (ROI) program, which trains dealers to teach courses geared toward architects, designers, and builders. CEDIA’s program consists of 19 courses approved for continuing education by eight associations, and some are approved for health, safety, welfare, and sustainable design designations too, according to Peggy Ward, CEDIA industry relations manager.

Referrals from designers, architects, and builders account for 80 percent of all the referrals Stone-Glidden receives. Stone credits the program in part for why, despite the economic downturn, the last three years have been the most profitable for his 27-year-old firm. “The [dealers] that don’t do this are the ones struggling in the economy,” Stone said. “Marketing to end-users is expensive, and you’ve only acquired one client, and you may not be able to update their system for years. You spend the same amount of time marketing to design pros–they’re bringing you a lifetime of referrals.”

But CEDIA’s program is just one example of cross-industry partnerships targeting some of the other professionals involved in creating high-end homes for discerning consumers.

In March, Runco launched a course approved by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for its Continuing Education System, which is mandatory for AIA members to remain in good standing with the association. The coursework provides information and training to architects, interior designers, and other professionals looking to integrate digital solutions into projects.

The online course, Understanding and Optimizing Home Theater Design, is available anytime on demand and is free. The course “has been in the works for quite some time as we recognize that our dealers and their homeowner clients collaborate and consult regularly with architects and designers,” said Jennifer Davis, vice president of marketing, Planar Systems and Runco. “It was important for Runco to provide education tools that help all of the parties involved in the design and implementation of a home theater or entertainment media to understand best-in-class principles.”

Tom Stone, of Stone-Glidden, is one of 283 custom installers that participate in CEDIA’s Registered Outreach Instructors (ROI) program, which trains dealers to teach courses geared toward architects, designers, and builders.Part of the great potential in industry partnership programs like Runco’s is the various benefits possible. Davis noted that there has been a range of collaboration between Runco’s resellers, architects, and designers. “Some of our partners get all of their business through referrals from homebuilders (and their satisfied clients, of course),” Davis said. “Some of our resellers regularly host AIA-accredited courses in their showrooms and actively build relationships with their local design communities. In our experience and observation, it is critical that the collaboration begin early in a project to ensure that everyone’s strengths and experience can be fully leveraged.”

Dealers and manufacturers are not the only groups tapping into this sales strategy. From the distributor’s angle, Stampede announced earlier this year that it was participating in AIA’s Cornerstone Partner program, a corporate membership program that allows manufacturers, trade associations, and other building service providers to offer continuing education resources to AIA members. There are a host of marketing benefits that the partners receive in return.

Stampede has submitted training content from its Big Book of AV sessions, as well as dedicating an hour at the beginning of every Big Book of AV tour stop to the architectural community in an “architects power hour.”

Also new this year, Crestron launched an independent Interior Design Partner Program (IDP), connecting designers with Crestron dealers experienced in designheavy projects. This program differs from some of the others because the focus is uniquely squared on the designers. “It gives the interior designers around the country a direct resource at Crestron who is dedicated to them as opposed to competing with dealer attention with our regional sales managers,” said Richard Kurtzer, regional development manager, market development, which is a new position at Crestron devoted to fostering relationships with interior designers, architects, and homebuilders. Kurtzer is also responsible for leading the IDP in the Northeast region.

“We’re basically here to work for [interior designers] and help them become part of our family and part of the process,” Kurtzer said.

Once a designer is “Crestron certified,” they are taken on a showroom tour to “help show them what’s possible with our solution, and then we will make a marriage between them and one of the integrators in the area,” Kurtzer said. “We make it a one-on-one transaction, instead of the old way, which was ‘here are three dealers that are in your geographic area; have fun calling on them yourself.’”

An initial meeting is arranged between the designer, client, and integrator, and if schedules permit, Kurtzer too. Michelle Baker is the tradeshow manager of Crestron’s new design showroom in the Pacific Design Center, in West Hollywood, CA. She will be calling on designers, builders and architects in the western region.

“The real success factor that we’ve had so far is that the customer is already warmed up to what’s possible before they even talk to the integrator, and the integrator really helps guide them to that final product.”

Another big difference between Crestron’s program and others is a referral fee of 5 to 10 percent for designers.

Brian McAuliff, president of Bri-Tech, an ESC based on Long Island in New York, jumped on the program right away. “We’ve always worked with interior designers and thought ‘why aren’t they more technology aware or interested?’” McAuliff said. “Crestron developed this program, and as soon as we heard about it, it made so much sense.”

Referrals from designers, architects, and builders account for 80 percent of all the referrals Stone-Glidden receives.Since it’s just the beginning of the IDP program, there’s no telling how it might evolve, but McAuliff believes it’s off to a good start. “Whether or not this comes to be a great success, the important part about it is it’s a move in the right direction,” McAuliff noted. “It might need to be modified or tweaked, but it gets the interior designers–or architects too–it’s putting them in the process that they’re thinking about the entire property.”

Although in its infancy, one project that has already come to fruition under Crestron’s IDP was a fairly minor home renovation, but a great example of the potential in this type of partnership. “The customer had a small inkling to what was possible with lighting control, and then they went with nothing too hugely extensive, but instead of just a plain lighting control system, they also did a couple rooms worth of audio and some integration with their climate control,” Kurtzer said. “They didn’t know that was possible before, and they didn’t know it could be done with a single system.”

As the longest running of this type of industry partnership program, CEDIA’s ROI has the advantage of demonstrating its progress. “The program has grown from 90 ROIs to 283, and the number of attendees in classes that ROIs are teaching has increased 25 percent to more than 2,500 participants in 2011,” Ward said. “Additionally, CEDIA has initiated a strategic marketing campaign that targets the education decision-maker within industry partner chapter, promoting CEDIA’s education and its local, grassroots network of instructors.”

CEDIA has surveyed ROIs with results indicating active participants in the program average three additional projects every year. “Feedback from the industry partner community has also been very positive,” Ward said. “One of our members taught a class through an event in which we were delivering education and received a large project after being referred by one of the audience members. Additionally, one of CEDIA’s board members participated in a series of panel discussions at another industry partner tradeshow and received at least two inquiries for his company’s services from audience members.”

Lindsey Adler is Associate Editor of Residential Systems and Systems Contractor News.