Lutron’s Experience Center in Washington DC.
by John Sciacca
The days of steady, consistent jobs lining up one after the other and big, profitable jobs just falling into your lap are, sadly, mostly over. Most installation firms are now aggressively looking for new avenues available to increase their business and profitability. And the same goes for equipment manufacturers; as the job pipelines of installation firms that specify, order, and install their products has slowed down, so has their revenue streams.
New dealers need new opportunities to increase, expand, and maximize their business. And that is exactly the message Lutron is looking to convey to their dealer and installer base during the Residential Opportunities Tour 2011. Lutron is traveling the country with 23 planned events to excite their dealer base, and it expects to see more than 1,200 integrators on the tour.
I recently attended one of the three-day events held at Lutron’s Experience Center in Washington DC. My compressed takeaway from 24 hours of training could be summed up in four key messages: 1) There are a lot of selling opportunities available in the lighting control category; 2) Lutron’s new HomeWorks QS system is poised to be one of the most powerful residential lighting control systems ever; 3) Shading control is that “Wow!” that customers and decorators can grasp and get excited about; 4) Training is crucial to maximizing success in specifying, selling, and installing these systems.
The first day focused on new product introduction and marketing and sales opportunities. Citing a survey of the most-frequent products CE installers plan on installing in 2011 – items like flat panel displays, remote controls, architectural speakers, Blu-ray players, housewide audio, etc. – lighting controls came in at 14 out 15. Lutron obviously wants to improve this and give integrators more opportunities to embrace and be successful with its solutions.
While recognizing the challenging market conditions facing its dealers, Lutron encouraged going after the millions of existing homes on the market that are looking for upgrade, remodel, and improvement options. One message was that businesses that don’t change, evolve, and keep up with the times by creating new business models and embracing new products risk becoming obsolete. For its part, Lutron is moving beyond being “just a lighting control company.”
Lutron is looking to help homeowners “save energy with unparalleled total home control” by developing innovative solutions for lights, shades, temperature, and energy control. The message is that all dimmers save energy; the more you dim, the more you save. Occupancy sensors can save up to 20 percent on lighting energy costs. Adjusting shades can save 10-30 percent on HVAC costs. And eliminating standby power can save up to 10 percent on electricity costs. Green is the current buzz message and nearly every Lutron product speaks to that message.
Understanding HomeWorks QS
The biggest news was the announcement of the latest generation HomeWorks QS lighting control platform, which began shipping on February 15. Targeted toward the high-end residential market, the HomeWorks QS emphasis is on the total control of lights, shades, temperature, and energy. Built on a completely new platform based on its Quantum architecture, HomeWorks QS features fewer link types, a completely redesigned programming software architecture, and the ability to handle up to 16 processors per system and control up to 10,000 addressable zones.
Richard Black, Lutron product development manager, commented, “HomeWorks QS was designed to address common installer and end-user needs, wants, and complaints, such as a wrong wire pulled to a location, long programming upload times, lights being left on in areas, cleaning up wall clutter between lighting, HVAC, security, and AV subsystems.”
Part of the solution to “cleaning up wall clutter” is Lutron’s first touchscreen control solution, the Dynamic Keypad. This is a single point of control in lieu of multiple keypads. Resembling an iPhone/Droid on-wall controller, this is a giant leap forward in both elegance, functionality, and “wow!” factor for Lutron control solutions, and the 4.2-inch capacitive touch interface represents Lutron’s next-generation controller.
Get in the Shade Business!
Lutron feels that shading control represents one of the biggest opportunities for sales growth for 2011 and beyond, and a quote that resonated with me was: “Don’t leave here without wanting to get into the shade business!” Beyond adding revenue to a job, shading offers a great retrofit opportunity. Lutron pointed out that window treatments are already in a homeowner’s budget, and shading control offers yet another way for integrators to differentiate themselves from the competition. Lutron feels that a company could make an entire business out of nothing but lighting and shade control.
The sell points were that automated shading protects furniture, flooring, carpeting, artwork, etc. from UV damage, enhances privacy and security while maintaining view, reducing glare and adding elegance to a space. The new Sivoia QS shades talk seamlessly with both HomeWorks QS and Radio RA2 systems, meaning that it is far easier for installers to integrate.
Beyond just offering ultra-silent shading solutions in a huge array of fabrics, Lutron demonstrated its new Venetian blind system with intelligent hembar and tilt alignment, allowing a full bank of windows to remain synchronized for an incredibly cool architectural and designer look. Even the most design-ignorant in the class — and I’ll count myself amongst them — couldn’t help but be wowed by the system in action. Additionally, Lutron’s Kirbé Vertical Shades, Roman shades, and skylight/angled window solutions offer additional opportunities for dealers to impress clients and designers.
Also demonstrated was the new Home Control+ app for iPhone/iPad, compatible with both HomeWorks QS and RadioRA 2. The app, $19.99 at iTunes, auto-populates from the Lutron processor/repeater and offers homeowners an elegant control solution from their favorite i-device, enabling control of lights, shades, temperature, and appliances across multiple homes.
Also on display was the new Ivalo Collection, modernist light fixtures, pendant, and sconces. These modern art lighting pieces add depth and art detail to walls and ceilings, feature no exposed cords and are available in premium automotive finishes including custom colors.
Day one concluded with some instructions on navigating Lutron’s online resources, helping dealers locate links to essential items such as education, system design, FAQs, digital images, tech support and drawings, webinars and lab exercises, wiring diagrams, factory training sessions, etc.
Moving Into Technical Training
The second and third days of the tour focused on technical training, specifically learning to program a HomeWorks QS system. The new software features a simplified five step—Design, Program, Activate, Transfer, Diagnostics—programming GUI. I appreciated the hands-on labs with a working HomeWorks QS system at each workstation, where installers had the opportunity to actually dive in and get their hands dirty with real, working product.
Even in the relatively early stage of its life—with several features still on the “we plan on adding that” list—it is clear that Lutron is excited by what this new software represents. Lutron's Black said, “This next-generation software utility is a game-changer. It has been redesigned from the ground up to make the design, programming, commissioning, and troubleshooting faster and easier and is the result of well over a decade of experience and hundreds of hours of dealer feedback and testing.
The utility is graphics-rich, featuring full-color photographic images, making programming the devices more intuitive and reports more professional looking. Powerful features abound, such as programming a keypad button to turn every light in the house on or off with the click of a single check box. Integration has been overhauled allowing more flexibility for third-party devices such as the iPad. And shading and energy-saving products and features are supported throughout the tool, reflecting Lutron’s focus on these growing categories.”
Dealer Feedback from the Event
I asked a couple of veteran Lutron programmers in attendance for their impressions of the new system and its programming architecture. John Lupear, general manager at Current Technology based in Nashville, TN, has been programming HomeWorks for more than three years. He felt that the new software will be much easier for new programmers to learn their way around.
“I found Illuminations [the previous HomeWorks system] a little difficult to remember exactly where everything ‘lived’ in the program,” Lupear said. “A good example of how much easier things are to find and implement is the conditional logic, which is greatly simplified.”
Rick Scott, owner of System Integrators LLC in Bridgeport, VT, has been a HomeWorks and Sivoia dealer for eight years. He commented, “The QS platform appears to be a significant leap forward in form and usability. While some of my favorite features of Illumination are not present yet, the software is clearly much more powerful. Right out of the gate I'm seeing features that I appreciate.”
“I really like the consolidation of the links and how the QS devices connect to the processor," Lupear added. "This will save labor and wire in the pre-wire stage of the project and eliminate possible mistakes.”
Scott added that he is excited to be able to offer a wider variety of nuanced energy savings options, and for the comprehensive selection of RF devices, further expanding retrofit opportunities. “I also appreciate Lutron for consistently meeting their announced product release dates, a practice that isn't universal in our industry,” he said.
The Residential Opportunities Tour is currently scheduled to run through May 11, with the final event held in Atlanta, GA. To reserve a seat at a session and find out how to increase your sales opportunities, contact your Lutron sales rep or e-mail HWQSLaunchTour@Lutron.com.