Over the last year, both consumer demand and adoption of smart home technology have been on the rise. According to Parks Associates’ latest research, the number of U.S. consumers that now own at least one smart home device has doubled (17 percent in Q4 2015 to 34 percent in Q4 2020) over the last five years. The number of “Power Users,” which the market research firm defines as those that own between five and nine such devices, has also grown significantly, doubling in just the last two years.
As supply chain issues hit harder, the relationship between integrators and designers is even more important. Some experts estimate supply chain pressure will continue through 2022, while others already see it easing. As the industry responds to increased demand amid supply issues, integrators have an opportunity to show their expertise and further demonstrate their value to industry partners.
There is no better time to start playing to these relationships: home renovation spending has grown 15 percent in the last year to a median $15,000, according to the tenth annual Houzz & Home survey of more than 70,000 U.S. respondents. Jason Sayen — who teaches the CEDIA Outreach Instructor course and is also director of sales and business development at LK & Associates — offers better understanding of the relationship between integrators and the design community and why this relationship is more important than ever.
How have you seen the relationship between integrators and designers evolve over the last two to three years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
As technology has gotten less expensive and more DIY solutions have evolved, it’s created more awareness for technology products and for the home technology industry. It’s also created more confusion as to what the correct solutions are for end users.
In the past, architects and interior designers typically did not like working with integrators because they felt their products and solutions would interfere with the overall project design. With the increased awareness of and demand for technology by end users, designers have to collaborate with integrators and learn more about the various solutions they have to offer, or risk being left behind. More importantly, designers are learning that integrators can hide technology or develop ways to integrate it seamlessly into the project without interfering with the overall design.
As technology continues to evolve and change at a rapid pace, I feel that designers are going to have to develop tighter relationships with integrators in order to keep up with both client demand and the products that are available.
What would you say to integrators who are hesitant to work with industry partners like designers and builders?
I would say that they are making a big mistake by neglecting these partnerships. Word of mouth advertising with your existing client base is still a great way to get new customers, but it is not something you can rely on to scale and grow your business. Designers and builders are involved very early in the client’s project. By partnering with them, you can be their resource as a technology consultant and be referred to the project if the client requests technology.
I think it’s important for integrators to act as a resource for designers and builders when it comes to technology for their clients. By forging these partnerships and joining the project early on, they can help make sure the client’s expectations are met with the right technology solutions. Too often, integrators are brought into the project near the end, and it’s too late or too expensive to make the correct changes to fulfill the client’s expectations.
What challenges has the last year brought to the relationship between designers and integrators?
Lack of face-to-face meetings has been the biggest challenge. Face time is invaluable, whether it’s in the form of a job-site visit, office visit, product demonstration or CEU (continued education unit) course. We sell solutions and experiences, which are much easier to demonstrate in a face-to-face environment.
Some integrators have gotten creative this year by offering virtual CEU courses, allowing them to forge new relationships with designers while marketing their company as the source of education for technology and integration for the design-build community.
Supply chain challenges are affecting the technology industry. How can integrators explain this to clients and partners and continue to be the valued resource?
Our clients have high expectations. Unfortunately, they also often think big decisions can be held off until the end of the project. I think the best way to address supply chain challenges is to get in front of them as soon as possible. Likely, the client’s own business has been affected by these issues in some way. I would start with asking them that question, “Has your business been affected by supply chain issues?”
If the answer is yes, then it should be an easy transition into a discussion about why choosing the products early on and getting them ordered is important. It also may bring up a discussion about the different options that are out there and why they should look at other brands that are more readily available.
What new categories do you think have the most appeal for designers?
The technology in the lighting fixture category is really exciting. That’s been a new area for integrators. Designers have recognized the value of quality lighting design and fixtures for their projects in the past, but now we have technology at the bulb and fixture level that can complement the overall design with either natural lighting or customizable colors. We have the ability to saturate walls with a wash of a color, which can totally transform the space from a design perspective. I’m really excited to see where things go in this space.
“Problem solvers” are another key category for designers. As integrators, we are accustomed to selling high-performance solutions or the latest technology features. Sometimes, though, clients are interested in using technology to solve a problem versus having the latest and greatest gadget or cutting-edge technology.
Sometimes, technology itself is both the problem and the solution. For example, years ago, trying to hide or camouflage a product on a project was a science experiment for the integrator. Today, we have fully engineered solutions that are turnkey for the integrator to install: everything from a motorized TV lift that makes the TV disappear into a ceiling without disrupting the floor to ceiling ocean views to speakers and subwoofers that are the exact same size as the light fixtures creating a uniform look. We truly have solutions to problems that don’t sacrifice design or performance.
The more that designers and integrators can work together and help educate each other, the more we can meet and exceed clients’ expectations. That leads to a great experience, which helps us grow our industry. For anyone interested in learning how they can connect with designers, architects, and builders in their local community, check out the CEDIA Outreach Instructor course. This program will equip you with the skills and tools you need to present courses with CEUs to these groups.