what is the custom installed difference?
Who should you choose to integrate your electronic home? The answer depends on your needs, expectations, and budget. A national service provider may meet your immediate needs at minimal up-front cost—if basic, non-custom solutions will do, and if you can live with corporate-style customer service. Big box stores and internet resellers focus almost entirely on the sale of products, not the design and installation of home electronic systems, so they don’t know much about home integration.
If you are looking for electronic home integration services that are tailored to your individual needs or involve multi-system integration, you will probably be better served by a specialist. That’s where we come in. We are in the service business. We serve your needs by using technology that is chosen and tailored to how you will use it.
UNDERSTANDING THE CHOICES
The field of home integration was created by audio/video dealers and manufacturers—with technologies including multi-room music systems, home theater and automation. Until quite recently, Custom Retailers (having retail-based showrooms) and Home Integrators (integration specialists, some with concept showrooms) accounted for virtually all home integration design and installation. Many of these specialists are highly skilled, and can provide a wide range of services, typically on a fee-for-service basis.
Cable TV, telephone, and alarm companies have begun to sell basic home integration packages, using wireless technology to reduce installation costs. These providers typically promote specials in which a limited range of services and equipment are bundled. Low promotional prices are achieved by shifting most of the total costs into monthly fees. Service corporations typically have limited ability to assess the home and lifestyle needs of clients, or to design and engineer systems to specific individual requirements. Also, they may lack expertise in the design and installation of home theaters, multi-room music systems, and the integration of multiple systems. They definitely lack in customer service. They buy equipment in large volume and sell packages that are the same for everyone. Everyone’s needs are not the same. The way they use their technology is never the same. That is where the personalized approach really shines, and the most important part of our job.
Big Box Stores:
Many of these electronics chains have closed down recently, due in part to internet price competition. Of those that remain, some offer delivery and installation services in an effort to compete with the Specialists. But successful electronic home integration is far more than a retail transaction with delivery and hook-up. Few chains provide the design and engineering services and skilled installation that true home integration requires. Internet sellers provide even less—you must know what you want and how to install and configure it. Because they lack the range and depth of services that are required for true home integration, the Big Box chains are not covered in the analysis below. Nor, for the same reasons, are the internet sellers. It’s not about what stuff you get, it’s about getting the right stuff for your needs in a way that will make it easy for you to enjoy.
A question we are often asked is “What About Magnolia AV?”
It’s a fair question and one we’ll answer succinctly. Our clients want more than any single retailer can provide.
1. We come to your home to gather information on your technology use, budget, room constraints, and more. We make evaluations of every possible solution which may have value. We don’t limit our expertise to products and services we sell.
2. Any Technology Integrator knows that successful projects often take additional partners: designers, contractors, electrical, cabinet builders. We spend every available moment interviewing the best of these so we can recommend and collaborate with the best of them as needed. Every retailer, from Best Buy to Magnolia to Fry’s has rules against recommending complimentary services. You’ll have to vet them yourself and you will will be the agent of collaboration.
3. We have knowledge of pending and future products of which retailers are not aware. Even if they did, can’t share the information with you as they need to sell what they have today. Total Home prevents you from making purchases which become prematurely obsolete. We scour 40+ publications monthly so we can be your trusted advisors. We also learn from our installations which products perform as advertised.
4. We are available nearly 7 days a week, 24 hours a day to handle any post installation issues directly. Our clients prefer that to 800-Geek Squad. We like our customers and enjoy our relationship with them. We have too much invested to disappoint a single customer.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
The giant service corporations are experts at bundling services for a low initial price. They then shift most of the cost burden for installation and equipment into recurring monthly fees, under a binding multi-year contract—just like they do for their cable TV or cell phone services. Reduced initial costs appeal to some consumers, but the total cost over the term of the contract may be surprisingly high. Before signing a cost-shifting agreement, calculate the cost for the total commitment period.
Price competition only intensifies the cost-shifting: even lower up-front fees may be combined with an even greater back-end burden. To make the numbers work, corporate providers may cut corners on design and installation to reduce their own costs. Hopefully this doesn’t result in serious inadequacies, especially when family safety and home security are at stake.
Corporate-style customer service often disappoints, especially in the electronics sector. Many electronic service providers get poor marks in consumer satisfaction surveys—for long waits on hold, billing complications, day-long windows for appointments, no shows, etc. If you miss a favorite TV show due to a connection problem, non-responsive customer service is just an annoyance. But when lighting control, security, or surveillance is involved, the risks can be very real.
Successful Specialists build their businesses on careful design, solid execution, and responsive service, rather than on heavy promotion of enticing initial fees. We recognize that customer satisfaction requires expert design and installation plus competent and timely customer service. And we are eager to provide it. Just like the way we would like to be treated.
The System Processor is the black box that coordinates all of the sub-systems in the home, and supports communication with the world beyond. We only use respected brands in the industry that allow us to provide the best result to our customers. These include Denon, Tributaries, 2GIG, and URC. As Specialists we undergo vigorous and regular training to be certified to design, install, and program these powerful and flexible systems. Most service corporations have opted for their own proprietary systems, which may function well enough within the limited range of services they offer, but are very limited when it comes to special consumer needs. We use equipment for our clients that we use for ourselves and our family. Equipment that stands the test of time, is rock-solid reliable, and is future proof to grow with your needs.
The design and installation of electronic home integration systems is complex work, and takes years of training and experience to master. Service providers just entering the home integration field from the cable TV, alarm, or tele-communications sectors face the daunting challenges of training sales, engineering, and installation personnel to master multiple new technologies, each with a steep learning curve. Will these organizations be able to adapt their services and standardized technologies to individual lifestyle needs? Time will tell. Meanwhile, we will be happy to offer our experience and training in the industry to our customers.
Many Specialists have decades of residential integration experience, and have completed hundreds—often thousands—of projects. The challenge ahead for them is to streamline their design and installation processes so they can offer advanced engineering and superior service to a wider audience.