The US's annual CEDIA Expo took place in Atlanta, Georgia in September, marking its 20th anniversary. The international trade association has more than 3,500 member companies. While the show's impressive product rollouts seemed to buck economic trends, Margot Douaihy believes that in post-show analysis, it's clear that manufacturers and custom installers need to do business in different ways.
The US is still mired in an economic slump, so it's not the best year to celebrate the CEDIA milestone. Nonetheless, many eyes are on the American custom install channel to see how and when it will recover, and if there are lessons to learn.
CEDIA '09 reported a 20,000-person turnout with a 12% decrease in attendance from '08. The general feeling in the Main Hall was that the show was valuable; the quality of conversation and trade was high. CEDIA confirmed that half of the attendees were custom installation "decision makers."
While there were extensive product rollouts that seemed to buck economic trends, close post-show analysis shows that the industry as a whole needs to take a new approach to business. Now, more than ever before, dealers must innovate, partner with home professionals such as architects and interior designers, and market their unique skills and expertise to broader client bases. It's also time to return to the database and offer upgrades, retrofit or energy-saving solutions, or add-on services.
Here are other developments from Expo that will inspire confidence in European custom installers.
"Green" is the buzz in just about every sector of the American economy; CEDIA Expo was no exception. Green and clean technology products were noteworthy in Atlanta, and according to William Maiman, marketing director of MechoShade Home Systems, the green trend is real. "The marketplace is proving the demand," he said. "There is a lot of interest in textiles of all kinds that prove to be green in some way." MechoShade uses a GreenSpec in its product literature and is a member of the US Green Building Council.
Figures from the Consumer Electronics Association, host of the International CES, support Maiman's claim. A 2009 CEA study reveals 89% of American households "want their next TV to be more energy efficient." In fact, green CE is a top priority for 33% of consumers within the next two years. Meanwhile, as many homes and condos sit vacant, environmentally conscious homes are showing solid growth. At CEDIA Expo, attendees had the opportunity to visit dozens of exhibiting manufacturer who touted green solutions. There was even a CEDIA University class offering tips on 'Getting Into Green' to help members capitalise on retrofit and green-market opportunities.
As for other exhibitors who showed off their green wares, the Electrolux/Beam theme was the 'Green secrets of Beam,' according to Larry Hartley, vice president, sales and marketing, Electrolux Home Care Products.
Hartley said that central vacuum systems are considered green for several reasons, and clinical studies from University of California Davis show a 61% reduction in allergy symptoms with a central vac in the home. Central vacuum is a NAHB green-certified product and Beam's central vac affords five NAHB 'points'.
Awareness of Smart Grid terms and technologies, such as smart meter and AMI, is low among installers, yet almost one-third of integrators have installed some type of energy-monitoring system in the last year.
Dwight Gibson, vice president and general manager of the Connected Home Solutions division of Ingersoll Rand, developed Schlage's award-winning iPhone app that offers homeowners "real-time information and intuitive control" of their energy usage.
Meanwhile, Sharp says it is seeking ways to reduce its carbon footprint and support the "green-collar economy."
Long-term commitment is also key for NuVo Technologies, a growing brand across Europe. Besides the expansion of its whole-house distribution system, NuVo used the CEDIA stage to promote the efficiency of its product portfolio.
On top of the conventional control platforms, dealers are finding additional options such as Crestron's Green Light occupancy sensors with built-in microprocessors and photocells.
Lighting control manufacturer Lutron Electronics has been a green advocate since long before it was de rigueur. Its new HomeWorks QS Wireless, a light control system, also controls temperature and audiovisual systems, and has the ability to monitor and save energy.
An economic stimulus Act just passed by US congress is allocating $280 billion to solar energy financing, opening new opportunities for solar manufacturers and custom installers. The hope is that this will set the pace for wider adoption of solar and energy efficiency projects nationwide. The HTSA (Home Theater Specialists of America) and Sharp recently partnered to certify 23 individuals from 16 various member organisations within HTSA who were trained in the art of sales, design, integration, and installation of grid-tied, photovoltaic, solar energy systems.
Clearly, manufacturers are attempting to reduce energy costs and consumption as they increase profits. Installers are exploring whether green is a profitable proposal in this value-focused climate. Many industry veterans believe the time is right, according to Rich Green, CEDIA educator and custom installer based in California. "Energy is the new audio," he told the audience during CEDIA's 'Pre-Game' seminar. "Energy is what's changing our industry."
Considering the combination of utility market unpredictability, awareness of home sustainability, and more affordable lighting and automation systems, perhaps the time is right to explore if green can usher in real revenue?
As with any business, it's helpful to identify your individual growth areas and the skills needed to deliver on your brand promise.
(Picture: John Staley)