The terms “smart home” and “the connected home” were emphasized throughout the ALA Conference — and with good reason. According to industry experts, the success of lighting distributors could very well rely upon how well they assimilate this emerging technology into their product mix.
In a panel discussion that included home automation expert Gerald Lynch, founder of System 7 Solutions; Michael Smith, VP/Sales at Lutron; Terry McGowan, FIES, LC, Director/Engineering & Technology for the ALA; and lighting designer Peter Romaniello, IALD, of Conceptual Lighting, audience members were urged to “think differently and prepare for the connected home revolution.”
According to Smith, the opportunity to jump onboard the connected/smart home “train” has never been better. “At Lutron, 35 percent of our top line sales are from products that we didn’t even have four years ago,” he revealed in the seminar Connected Home: The Train Has Left the Station.
“Innovation is the engine for growth,” Smith said. “It’s not about lifestyle, but being able to save time to spend with family. Plus costs are coming down and capabilities are going up.” To illustrate that point, he gestured to an assortment of home controls on display. “The products here are roughly $400 to $600 instead of costing thousands,” he commented.
“It’s not just the younger generation that this technology appeals to, but also the aging in place [demographic] or the disabled and wheelchair-bound. [With these controls] you are selling independence,” Smith remarked.
What particularly impressed the audience long after the seminar ended was the revelation that Lennar – one of the nation’s largest builders – had announced in June that 30,000 homes will be built with smart/connected home capabilities. Lennar’s “Wi-Fi Certified” homes will include Lutron Caséta Wireless dimmers and Maestro occupancy sensors as standard amenities, with the option to add more devices after move-in. Select communities will also include Lutron’s Serena battery-powered shades. (Caséta Wireless dimmers and Serena automated shades can both be controlled through the free Lutron App or via voice with Amazon Alexa).
“This is not an add-on,” Smith stated. “The customers who buy these Lennar homes are going to want to upgrade their lighting. Now where are they going to go?” For that reason, he cautioned ALA retail members to start becoming comfortable with understanding and selling this smart technology.
Added Gerry Lynch, whose home automation business merged with Wolfer’s Lighting earlier this year, “The smart home is here to stay, and it’s hard to keep up with demand. We’re riding on that edge, and that’s exciting. It’s been nine months since we’ve merged our businesses and it’s been a rollercoaster ride. If you ignore technology, you will be left behind.”
These experts are firm about the direction the lighting industry is headed. “You have to embrace these new products. You’re going to go through a cultural revolution and a business revolution,” Lynch said. “You’re going to go from selling products to selling solutions. The technology side of our business is experiencing [gains] and so is Wolfer’s. We made a brave experiment, but nine months later our customers are happiest.”
Noted Peter Romaniello, whose design business caters to the luxury market, “If we’re talking about the one percent – the wealthy – there’s no question that they’re going to want connectivity in their homes.” What’s critical for distributors, he said, is the responsibility of sending a knowledgeable employee out to the customer to make certain the system is working.
“We have to get away from the idea of cheapening things and competing on price and go toward providing what customers need and want,” Romaniello commented. “If you look at kitchen packages for the home, you see plenty of upgrades.” The smart home would be no different, he remarked.
Terry McGowan is a believer in simplicity. “I need to know what the market needs and what the consumer will buy, but let’s make it as simple as possible. Underlying all of this, there needs to be standards.”
So far, there are no universally agreed-upon standards when it comes to these connected devices and their protocols. “There’s also a wild card that will affect the connected home and that will be the utility industry,” McGowan noted. “What happens when the price of their commodity goes to zero? I think we’re going to see a revolution in the utilities. Maybe smart homes can take advantage of some sort of ‘time of day’ metering when it comes to energy usage.”