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The Distributor View

Execs from PowerHouse Alliance, Stampede, and ADI discuss the current product trends in the CI market and how they help dealers during a pandemic.

A PowerHouse Alliance warehouse.

What a year this is. Despite the constraints of a pandemic and the challenge of navigating frequently changing economic signals, the industry continues to pulsate with new offerings and increased opportunities for the residential AV market.

Smart home technology — particularly devices designed to make homeowners’ lives easier — from biophilia to AV, continue to be in high demand, says Dennis Holzer, executive director, PowerHouse Alliance. “But as consumers add DIY devices to their homes they’ve learned how complex and time-consuming setup and troubleshooting can be,” he says. “On top of the device challenges, consumers are increasingly concerned about the security and reliability of their systems.”

These factors, he adds, are contributing to the shift from the DIY model to do-it-for-me (DIFM), which will also help grow dealers’ customer bases. “5G is starting to impact IoT and security devices, benefitting integrators with advancements that will yield faster deployment times and enhanced security, where systems can become less reliant on the Wi-Fi network,” says Holzer. “The new standard has impact on the monitoring side as well, and can become a differentiation point for integrators offering security systems. Other developing technologies include 4K and 8K resolutions, giving CI dealers the opportunity to upgrade video equipment for their customers.”

Related: Coping with COVID-19 – PowerHouse Alliance

The pandemic has underscored the importance of having a home office that is every bit as complete, robust, and reliable as a corporate office, says Kevin Kelly, president/CEO, Stampede. “This means having a strong network that can support the large number of devices that every member of the family attaches to the network,” he says. “It means having an audio and video conferencing system in place, having the right kind of display or displays that can facilitate home-based conferencing, and having the right cabling and power protection solutions that are required to maintain the system.”

COVID-19 really drove home the need to raise the bar for home-based business technologies and solutions, he concludes. “And this need is creating a whole new opportunity for residential integrators to expand their category sales beyond what they have traditionally offered to their home customers.”

Consumer demand to upgrade additional technology in the home has been increased by the coronavirus, Holzer notes. “Since the pandemic started, people have been home more than ever — whether it be to work, learn, or take time off. With everyone in one household at home, adding strain to the network, smart home, audio, video, etc., flaws in the home technology, or lack thereof, have been exposed. Similarly, businesses have realized faults in their systems to enable employees to work from home.”

CI dealers and integrators should take note of the overall increase in wireless devices per household and the demand for new technology as opportunities to tap into a new customer base. “More than ever before, CI dealers can sell and install upgraded networking equipment, upgraded webcams and video conferencing solutions, and other home office technology solutions,” says Holzer.

The Way We Live

With the AV and smart home markets becoming some of the hottest product categories, and with consumer expectations changing, new technologies are redefining how we live and work, says Bob Appleby, vice president and general manager, ADI North America.

“As we transition to a more connected lifestyle, there becomes an even greater need to install products that work together seamlessly across the home,” he says. “ADI offers numerous AV, smart home and automation products like home control hubs, video doorbells, thermostats, lighting controls, smart locks, whole house audio, and more. These products that can offer new RMR opportunities and they should be included on every installation. CI installers are well positioned to win in this market, and ADI is here to help them.”

ADI is seeing an increased interest around indoor and outdoor speakers, wireless audio systems, and home entertainment systems, he notes. “People want to feel safe and comfortable in their homes so technologies like video doorbells and Wi-Fi security cameras are gaining more interest. Home networking solutions are ramping up as working remotely becomes a more widespread practice. ADI offers the products and services needed to transform any home into a smart home, and we’re getting ready to launch our latest ProAV and Smart Home catalog to help dealers do just that.”

While We Recover

ADI put together a dedicated team early on in the global pandemic to help monitor the situation, review local government orders and guidelines, and make any necessary changes to business, Appleby says. “We were considered essential in most markets, so we quickly made modifications in our branches and distribution centers to ensure that customers could continue to safely access the products they need. We also engaged with our supplier partners to proactively monitor inventory positions and mitigate any potential supply chain delays, working with them to offer promotions on products across all categories.”

Dealers understand the benefits that come with purchasing through a distributor, including credit options, inventory levels, delivery options, training, and support. “Dealers rely on ADI to have the products they need in stock every day, and can optimize their cash flow and reduce overhead costs by eliminating the need to deal with multiple suppliers,” he notes. “ADI enables our dealers and integrators to operate more efficiently and deliver reliable services. We are dedicated to alleviating our customers’ workload and installation hours, and we offer the support, services, and training to help do so.”

ADI also made sure that its service offering matched the “new way” people are working, whether from home or through contactless transactions with paperless billing, extended return policies, online returns, shipping options to reduce foot traffic, and more. “In addition, we encouraged customers to utilize our Digital Branch, ADI’s online and ecommerce platform, and provided how-to-videos to help them,” says Appleby. “We know our dealers rely on us for training, and we were committed to providing them with new opportunities and events during this time. We teamed up with our supplier partners to offer free daily webinars to help dealers stay up-to-date on the products. And we hosted a special online panel discussion with some of our supplier partners focused on helping dealers navigate the pandemic and reposition their businesses for the future. We also launched our new on-demand training platform, ADI Academy, that offers industry and product training that customers can attend on their schedule, anytime and anywhere.”

“Increased training and webinars are two very important resources we’ve been offering our dealers during the pandemic,” Kelly says, “but Stampede is unique in the fact that we developed a custom support program specifically designed to support dealers dealing with the pandemic. It’s called the Stampede XtraCare Program and it was rolled out nationwide just last month. XtraCare is designed to help strengthen the fabric of our industry — everything from the physical well-being of our people to the financial well-being of our integrators, all while giving thanks to front line healthcare professionals.”

Modeled after the CARES Act enacted by Congress, the XtraCare Program provides employees with much-needed extra protection and resellers with business relief and facilitation tools, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to enable them to complete projects in a safe and secure way. XrtaCare is available for employees, resellers and manufacturer partners and is intended to serve as a comprehensive lifeline that includes SafeXSound Care Packages, a PROAVXchange online marketplace that can turn product into cash, and FleXFinancing.

Related: Stampede Launches XtraCare Program

Value-added distributors serve as the single point of contact for CI dealers to access a range of products, categories, and programs that they simply wouldn’t have access to anywhere else, Kelly emphasizes. “At Stampede, we serve as counsel to our dealers. We listen to their needs and we make specific recommendations without a bias to any one solution. What’s more, we play a vital role as a business facilitator to our dealers, offering them credit lines and flexible financing programs that are customized to meet their needs, all available with one phone call.”

PowerHouse Alliance distributor members are deeply integrated in their communities and have done everything they can to support their staff, customer, and vendor needs in order to come out of the COVID-19 crisis stronger than ever. “Across the country we were quick to implement innovative protocols for added protection during the pandemic, including new product and warehouse cleaning procedures, modified will-call functions, the introduction of drive-through pick-up areas, and more,” says Holzer. “It is imperative that we give our customers peace of mind, while also ensuring they have uninterrupted access to the inventory they need to safely complete jobs without costly interruption.”

The benefits of working with a distributor, especially coming out of a crisis, go back to the overall benefits of distribution in the first place, he adds. “We are an extension of our customer’s business in many ways, so even in tough times, when they may have a skeleton staff, they can rely on us for many of their business needs, including JIT inventory on all of the product categories they specify, ongoing training and education, a system design resource, on-call technical support, and more.

“Many of our customers operate with a small but nimble staff,” Holzer concludes, “meaning they are often wearing multiple hats in order to sell and install products, while simultaneously running and marketing their businesses. Distribution is all about convenience, and CI dealers depend on us, their PowerHouse Alliance distributor, to be an extension of their businesses in order to be successful. We are the go-to experts on all things including inventory, customer service, system design, product fulfillment, and ongoing education.

“Most CI dealers do not hold an inventory of products,” he says. “To make sourcing products easy for our customers, each of our 50-plus locations offer a self-shopping area, flexible will-call hours, and same-day or next-day shipping to anywhere in the country. We’re a one-stop shop stocked with a product mix of over 250 tier-one brands, plus our high-value house brand, A2V, all available at great margins with strong warranties and an industry-leading rebate program.”

The PowerHouse Alliance distributor members also incentivize dealers and create relationships that foster success by offering monthly and weekly specials on products across the AV, security, consumer electronics, and networking categories. Holzer says. “As a group, it is our job to look at every market we cater to, each product category we offer, and decipher how to offer the right product mix and technology solutions in conjunction with superior customer service, education, logistics and efficiencies in order to be a valuable resource for our CI dealers.”