Mark (of Home Theater Advisors fame) recently began exploring new whole-home automation systems. So far, however, he has been concerned that he cannot get hands-on with certain products without a large upfront commitment in time, money, and resources. He is frustrated that most home automation companies require a leap of faith that you are going to love the product and that it will be a great fit for your business.
I’ve given him a great view into Crestron and all that it has to offer. In fact, he installed a Crestron system into his home last summer. He is also exploring Control4 and possibly Savant. But other than Crestron, he hasn’t had an opportunity to get work with the gear and see if it is something that is right for his business and his clientele.
Going to a Control4 training means taking himself and his tech out of the business for a week, spending money on flights, hotel, and food for the two of them, and committing to an opening order. All in, it will likely cost $15,000-20,000 in P&L expenses and opportunity cost, unlike other products such as RTI and URC, which you can buy at distribution, take an online training session or two, and give it a shot in your home or showroom, at a cost of only a few hundred dollars.
As we bounced the idea around a little bit, we both came to realize that taking a leap of faith is exactly what we ask our clients to do on a daily basis. We visit a client site, put together a proposal, invite them to our showroom, and ask them to commit to a $10,000-250,000 project. Granted, the larger projects usually take a few visits to showrooms and playing with products, but clients don’t get to test drive a complete system in their own home and often not in real-life situations. And a lot of dealers don’t have showrooms and aren’t fortunate enough to be near an experience center or manufacturer facility, leaving their clients with only descriptions and assurances and no real-life experiences, until after they’ve paid for everything.
So how can we rectify these knowledge gaps? At least on the client end, they can go to a showroom (dealer or manufacturer), to a dealer’s home, or another client’s home and see the product in action. But for dealers looking at a new product line (control systems, particularly, as they require the most time and resource investment), what are our options? If you don’t happen to live near a manufacturer experience center, then perhaps you can get some time in front of a computer with the programming software. Of course you’d probably need to use your network and talk to other dealers to gain temporary access to the product line.
Unfortunately, from what I can tell, few home automation manufacturers will let you download the programming software directly. I assume they do this to weed out dealers who “aren’t serious,” but how can they become serious without testing the product first? Is a leap of faith what manufacturers want, or wouldn’t they prefer their dealers make well-informed, thoughtful decisions?
For now, Mark and I are working the network to talk to current dealers and maybe find someone locally to allow him to get hands-on experience with programming software that requires a bigger commitment. His objective is to gain more comfort with the programming environments of the various vendors and to find a solution that is easier to deploy for small-apartment and one-room solutions in his market.
How have you made the decision on a new home automation platform? Did you dive right in or find another way to experience the technology before committing to it?