In the weeks and months ahead Automated Home will be bringing you a new exclusive blog from the “Masked Installer”. These are the musings of a respected Custom Installer and will give us his take on the Home Automation scene, his anonymity providing him with the freedom to tell it like it is! In his first entry, the Masked Installer outlines the current state of play in the smart home market, the reasons for the price differential between DIY and professional products, and the challenges ahead for his industry.
We’ve just finished exhibiting at a Self Building show – a show aimed at people building or renovating a home. It’s a good show, it’s got lots of people with real projects as far as the exhibitors are concerned and the visitors have got a good concentration of specialists to grill, review or hire. So it works well for both exhibitors and visitors and the show continues to grow over time. We were certainly busy over the three days of the show.
There must have been 8 or 9 Custom Install (CI) companies there. Three years ago there were probably three…and we felt like the new kids on the block. Now we’re pretty established. We’ve got a good client base, we get a lot of work on recommendation and we’ve pretty well migrated to higher end solutions largely using AMX which we tie in to lighting and interior design solutions. I’d hate to be entering the market today.
Custom Install can no longer be just about doing some clever stuff with your house AV setup. There are too many sexy consumer toys around that offer a promise of so much for so little. Some of these are to clunky – stand up the Harmony Remote range as an example – but some are genuinely persuasive. Apple TV is a beautiful piece of work for £200; it’s not as good as the purpose built servers we sell, still too much messing around but it offers a glimpse of what can be achieved for very little outlay.
Worse still for the Custom Install market there are consumer products that are just really good. Sonos has the best interface of any multiroom audio solution. Of course it has limitations but it’s a superlative product. Custom Installers make very little money selling Sonos but it’s astonishing how many do. If you’ve got the choice between selling a low end analogue audio product which you know you’ll be out to time and time again because essentially the customer hates it or Sonos it’s easy to choose. And a multiroom system needs speakers and AV Receivers etc.
Custom Installers need products that work. Our customers don’t like tinkering, they don’t expect things to break and they get rather irate when they do. They typically don’t consider really getting to understand the product a good thing. Which is why there’s maybe less experimentation in the CI marketplace and a reliance on products that seem to be hugely out of kilter on price. We use these products – AMX, Kaleidescape, Lutron etc because they reliably deliver what our customers want and they’ve got the technical infrastructure in place to support us when we really need it. Got an issue with some code behaving oddly? Call AMX or its UK distributor and work through the code online there and then. Concerned about your 5 TB video library? Get notified of potential disk failures and get a new disk before the customer knows there is a problem. Great service and it comes at a price for both us and our customers.
The hobbyist market and the CI market are different. I consider myself to sit in both. The big market dynamic over the next two to three years is what Custom Install is going to have to do to survive in the face of ever improving Consumer Electronics products and a marketplace that is both savvy enough to know what can be done and brave enough to try.