It's fair to describe the smart-home category as "booming" in the current consumer electronics marketplace. Back in December, industry researcher Parks Associates reported that ownership of smart-home products increased 50 percent in 2015, and the research firm estimated that 43 percent of U.S. broadband households would purchase a smart-home device in 2016. Likewise, Business Insider predicts that smart-home device shipments will grow at an annual rate of 67 percent over the next five years and hit 1.8 billion devices shipped in 2019.
What exactly is a smart-home device, you may ask? That label can cover a broad range of network-controllable home automation products like thermostats, lighting products, power management, security devices, whole-house music systems, and even appliances. Not only can these products often communicate with each other over your home network, but they allow you to control and monitor your home's various systems remotely through mobile devices and Web browsers.
Consumers are clearly showing an interest in this category, but to whom should they turn to buy the products? Traditional thinking defines two categories: custom installation and do-it-yourself. The hands-off, non-technical client may enlist the services of a custom installer to develop a complete whole-house, smart-home system, perhaps built on the backbone of a Creston or Control4 control platform. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you've got DIY enthusiasts who prefer to buy the products directly, either online or through a local retailer, and set up the system themselves. There's no shortage of DIY options; I recently covered some in my article Building a Smart Home Is Cheaper and Easier Than You Think.
But what about the huge market of potential customers in between? Many people don't have the funds or the desire to go through a professional installer to assemble a complete system all at once, but they also feel intimated by the DIY approach, either because it's too technical or there are just too many choices to even know where to begin. To whom should these people turn?
The founders of HAUS--David Daniels, John Carlen, and Mike Thul--believe that these "broad market" smart-home customers are being under-served in the industry, and they created HAUS specifically to address those needs. HAUS stands for Home Automation University; it's a member-based business education company aimed specifically at smart-home technology dealers. HAUS can provide extensive market analysis on the smart-home shopper, as well as business training, technical/installation training, and ongoing support/education tools for its members--all with an emphasis on delivering an exceptional customer experience that will keep people coming back to your company (instead of returning to the online or big-box store) as their smart-home needs grow.
In January, HAUS opened the doors of its 25,000-square-foot training facility near Denver, Colorado. The facility is designed to host large- and small-scale training events where members can participate in "labs" on topics like home networking, security, marketing, sales, business operation, and business management. Members of the press were recently invited to tour the facility, which has a pleasantly wide-open and comfortable feel to it (check out the photo slideshow below). The building is filled with interactive training areas where members can work hands-on with products and even a production facility where they create their own marketing videos. HAUS's first official week-long training session takes place the week of April 18.
But wait, doesn't our industry already have a member-based training and research company in the form of the Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association (CEDIA)? The HAUS team is quick to point out that it isn't targeting the same type of dealer as CEDIA. In general, CEDIA dealers sell the complete package--a fully realized and executed system of automation, entertainment products, décor, et al, usually at the higher end of the market. HAUS prefers to avoid the "custom" label and focuses instead on dealers who want to sell to broad-market customers who are more likely to build up a smart-home system bit by bit over time--starting perhaps with a whole-house music system, then later adding a smart thermostat, then maybe a lighting kit further down the road.
Who is this dealer? HAUS CEO David Daniels says that, thus far, the company has seen a lot of interest from the security industry. These dealers already have inroads to their customers' homes, so adding a suite of smart-home products to the package is a no-brainer. Another recent Parks Associates report found that 70 percent of U.S. security dealers currently install or plan to install some type of interactive smart-home device or system within their residential offerings in the next 12 months; HAUS would like to provide the training and research for these dealers to make sure they understand the wants and needs of this new customer base. Daniels also mentioned the mechanical/electrical/plumbing industry, as well as smaller AV electronics companies looking to sell more modest, build-as-you-go systems.
One thing that distinguishes HAUS is its decision to form partnerships with select product vendors. Members agree to sell these products, which cuts down on confusion and allows HAUS to focus its training on a very specific "curated sandbox" of products and services, as Daniels describes it. He told me that HAUS's criteria for product selection involves three elements: high reliability, beautiful design, and easy operation.
The first two product vendors to be announced are Sonos and Savant, which are wise choices in my book. While a ton of multi-room music platforms are now available on the market, Sonos is still the reigning champ, both in performance and brand awareness. Like Crestron and Control4, Savant has long been a name associated with the dedicated custom market, with products only sold through specialty channels. However, the company recently launched its first broad-market smart-home remote platform, indicating a major shift in philosophy that ties in well with the market that HAUS wants to address. Daniels told me that several other major vendor announcements are coming soon.
Focusing on a limited vendor list also allows HAUS to run its own help desk (located within the training facility), where members can call in to get technical support on the full product lineup--instead of having to contact each manufacturer individually.
HAUS currently offers three member levels. The basic Associate level is an online-only membership to access HAUS's research and analysis, as well as certain training tips and tools focused on the Savant and Sonos entertainment solutions. The Full and Visionary memberships include access to the training events at the new facility for all the smart-home products and services, as well as a wider range of resources and support. You can get more details through the company's website.
While the explosion in popularity of smart-home products presents exciting opportunities in our industry, it also presents a lot of challenges for dealers trying to make sense of it all. HAUS appears to have a solid game plan in place to help dealers navigate this growing market, and it will be interesting to watch how the organization grows and evolves.
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