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How to add AV options to your security-based business


June 25, 2019
By Will Mazgay
Will Mazgay

Topics

For security dealers and integrators facing shrinking margins, it is increasingly important to have a broader offering of products and services. One way to expand these offerings is to provide audiovisual products and installations, and be able to tie AV systems into other home automation solutions.

A natural fit

Charlie Porritt, CEO of New Hampshire-based audio systems firm Russound, says margins and money have somewhat left the home solutions industry. “People are looking for additional sales as well as recurring revenue on the alarm side — some of those dollars have come down as well,” he says. “So, when trying to get the maximum revenue per sale, it’s more than just getting that recurring revenue, but looking at saying ‘what else can we add into this sale while we are still here?’”

Electrical equipment giant Legrand sees security integrators as one of its primary target audiences for residential AV, according to Fritz Werder, vice-president and general manager, Residential AV Systems for Legrand’s AV division. He says, “If you look at some of the leading security companies now, they’re not just security, alarm control through their interface. They may also integrate lighting and audio systems.”

Werder uses the example of Alarm.com, which integrates Legrand’s digital audio system into its security interface.

“A big part of why we see security installers doing AV products is because of that blending of the interface…The other thing I would say is there are security installers definitely seeing an opportunity to be able to sell a bigger basket of goods,” he says.

Werder continues, “In the case of new construction, they’re often working with builder partners and they get a chance to meet with homeowners, and if they’re responsible for doing the low voltage work on the security install, why not try to do the rough-in for home theatre, to do the TV mounts, do the cabling and the power for TVs, why not do the speakers?”

He says there is also opportunity for security installers to win AV business in the retrofit market, as they are “going back out to homeowners where they’ve done security installations over the years and they may have a monitoring contract with them, and they’re looking for ways to maintain that relationship. So, they’ll come back in with optional products to try to upsell them on. Whether it’s wireless audio or other opportunities like that.”

Burlington, Ont.-based integrator A1 Security Systems has been offering Russound distributed audio for the past 10 years. Over the past two to three years, the company has introduced more home interactive services connected to its alarm systems, according to sales representative David Vaine.

He says, “It gives the end user more choices, to go with a single solution provider, that we can provide alarms, we can do the distributed audio — for entertaining purposes — as opposed to reaching out to us to do the alarm system and then somebody else, now we can offer that whole package for that end user.”

Peter Garnham, president and CEO of PG Security Associates (PGSA), a Mississauga, Ont.-based manufacturer representative for AV firms and security vendors, says dealers and integrators from the security world have been dabbling in AV for some time now. He says, “A lot of people are migrating over because they’re leaving money on the table, they’re leaving projects out there that they can tackle.”

Garnham continues, “The average dealer out there, if they’re relying on security to bring the dollars and cents in, they’re not taking advantage. The majority of integrators out there, they’re putting in security, they’re putting in closed-circuit television, they’re putting in AV, degrees of home automation.… I think that there’s enough knowledge out there, and there’s enough consumer demand looking for those types of products that dealer/integrators are being pulled into the market.”

A whole home solution

Vaine says A1 Security uses the Russound audio system because of its ease of install. He says, “The technicians don’t need laptops when they go onsite. It’s more of an online portal, and most of the stuff is configured prior to going onto site. Technicians set it up here, and when they arrive to site, load it all up, plug the speakers in, and within minutes the client has access to the app, whether it’s their mobile device or their iPad or tablet.”

He says the firm has also recently started installing iPads on each floor in custom homes. “So now the iPad not only controls the audio system, it also gives you the ability to control your alarm system, and any automation we have through the alarm system as well, whether it be controlling the lights, thermostat, garage doors.… It complements the intrusion system because it’s all one package, one service provider that provides that whole solution for them,” he says.

For integrators, providing this full suite of home automation amenities to a customer can require learning new skills and taking on new capabilities.

Legrand’s Werder cites one example: “As security and AV integrators get more and more requests around lighting or find themselves in more lighting projects, in most cases those require knowledge of electrical insulations or electrical certifications.” He says firms can gain this expertise through partnering, subcontracting or in-house training.

Another area where integrators require growing expertise to deliver automation solutions is in networking infrastructure, which Werder says has grown in importance as more security products have become IP-based.

He explains, “When you’re talking about IP cameras for example, or video doorbells, the foundation for performance of those security systems is the network. If you don’t have a reliable wired or wireless network in the home, you can’t be successful with those security systems.”

Werder continues, “The capabilities have continued to expand around remote network management to where installers or integrators are able to remotely control things away from the job site.”

He uses the example of rebooting cameras remotely as opposed to going to a job site, noting that solving these issues without having to do a truck roll is a huge boon to productivity. Werder also says that digital video recorders, security panels and other equipment can be housed using Legrand’s AV infrastructure products: “They can be stored and work with our infrastructure solutions.”

PGSA’s Garnham agrees that educating dealers and integrators on networking is becoming increasingly important. He says, “It’s just an understanding of how networks go together, how to attach products to them and how to troubleshoot them.”

Garnham continues, “It’s a whole new opportunity. Within the next 12 to 18 months, when the 5G networks are established and running, you’re going to see just a huge proliferation of products that people will be using in their homes.”

Learning the ropes

While offering AV and holistic automation solutions may be attractive to security integrators, in most cases, specific training is a necessary step to add these tools to their toolboxes.

Garnham, for example, provides training for Russound products and systems. “When I do a certification, call it a full day,” he says, while acknowledging that these intensive courses aren’t for everyone. “The problem with something like that is that integrators can’t find the time or don’t want to find the time to take advantage of that. So, they’d prefer to look at a short video clip to get up to speed.”

Garnham continues, “I think that what you’re seeing today, though, is manufacturers putting together YouTube video clips to show dealer/integrators how to do things. I’m seeing short video clips in the one to two to three minute range.”

Russound’s Porritt says, “People are busy and really can’t travel and do the days that they used to do in terms of training.” As a result, “we see a ton of people attending our webinars…We try to make sure we have training wherever and whenever people want.” He explains that the firm hosts about six to eight webinars a month and four to six short videos in the same time span.

A1 Security’s Vaine is the beneficiary of Russound’s training programs, and says he tries to make himself available for technical sessions for new product launches or similar events, along with the firm’s online sessions.

Vaine also explains that PGSA provides valuable product training and technical support. He says, “There haven’t been any issues or any questions that haven’t been answered the first time.”

Werder says Legrand provides training videos as well, from 15 minutes to an hour, along with live webinars every month across different product lines, covering topics like lighting, audio, shading and wireless networks. With respect to webinars, “dealers can sign up and listen in, ask questions and engage on a live basis,” he says. The firm also engages in regional and in-the-field training, often partnering with distributors.

The Legrand executive explains that the level of training depends on the product. “We obviously don’t require someone to be certified to install a TV mount or a structured wiring enclosure, but things that are a little more complex like the luxury lighting solutions or shading, where there is a lot of nuance, we do require them to go through a certain set of training after hours as part of the dealer set-up process.”

Werder says catering to the home automation market has definitely changed the way his business unit approaches training. “Before, you could talk mainly about your own products, and now a lot of our trainings are about how our products integrate with other systems, whether it’s voice control, or how our products integrate with control systems — you have to be able to now talk about how your products fit in to the broader ecosystems that are out there,” he says.

Selling fun

AV might just be one slice of the home automation pie, but for security dealers and integrators, it could be one of the most appetizing.

Porritt says AV can add a new dimension to home solution sales. “They start with the security system and then they add the dessert table, which is, we sell fun. There’s no fear in our sales.” This can be a refreshing change for dealers used to selling alarm systems, solutions designed for worst case scenarios.

As for Vaine, he appears to relish selling fun, and explains that when a customer mentions that they like to entertain, he’s more than happy to help with that. He says, “You can use Spotify through Russound, which is a great added feature, and if you’ve got a SiriusXM radio account you can integrate that as well. Listening to it while you’re sitting outside in the backyard, in the middle of the summer, it’s great for entertaining.”

This story appeared in the June/July 2019 edition of SP&T News Magazine.