Has the time come for commercial and residential integrator partner relationships? In these interesting times, with our living and working landscapes changing every day, it just might be!
With so much crossover happening, it does seem like a perfect opportunity to create bridges of collaboration between commercial and residential integrators. Those opportunities, however, will not be without some unique challenges.
So, let’s talk about it! Is it time for your business to expand, or is a partnership a better option for you?
The Work-From-Home Movement
With so many companies moving to either a work-from-home model or a hybrid environment, individuals are requesting that the office spaces within their homes function differently than ever before. For residential integrators, navigating this terrain has been interesting. Prior to this work-from-home movement, a home office would have been differentiated from the other bedrooms in the home by having additional data jacks for printers, along with, perhaps, floor plugs and data jacks to accommodate a floating desk in the room. The home office was more like a space to print out your children’s school reports and check a few emails in the evening.
After COVID-19 lockdowns began, we were immediately inundated with requests for things like better cameras, microphones and lighting for our clients’ spaces, as they were now working from home full time. A request that would be commonplace for a commercial integrator was now falling to residential integrators; not only were many of us unprepared for these requests, but we also were finding it difficult to secure relationships with product suppliers. There were, of course, supply-chain issues, but the problem was not limited to that.
Learning New Systems
More to the point, it was having to find companies that were willing and able to sell these products on a smaller scale, such as for a residential scope. Plus, we had to learn to design, install and teach systems that were new to us. Whereas much of this was difficult for some of us in the residential world, it would have been “just another day at the office” for our commercial counterparts.
But that’s not to say that commercial AV integrators didn’t see challenges, as well, when they received clients’ requests to provide setups in their personal homes that were like the office. Sure, commercial integrators very well knew the products they wanted to use and could procure them, but they found challenges in getting them installed or having the necessary contractor relationships to make this happen in a residential setting. Residential projects often require a lot more fishing of cables, given their lack of drop ceilings and cable trays. That makes drywall repairs necessary, in addition to the different skillset required for the installer. In addition, commercial integrators no doubt saw a rise in off-hours trouble tickets or service needs, such as at night and during weekends, and they might not have been prepared for that.
Expanding Your Business With an Integrator Partner
As Tyler Bogart, vice president of sales at Logic Integration, based in Colorado, says, “Service and support are much different in commercial versus residential. With residential, many of those customers don’t start using their system until after our business hours. It’s important to have some level of after-hours support in your service department to make sure that your residential customers are being taken care of.”
These challenges can cause you to look at expanding your business to cover the needs. However, there is also another possibility: Collaborations between integrators. Much like how many integrators forge relationships with electricians for lighting control systems, commercial integrators could develop relationships with residential integrators for this special situation.
When my own company began working in lighting control, we did not have a master electrician or any journeymen to pull the permits or perform the installation. This caused us, like many residential integrators, to work with area electricians. We would design the lighting systems with the architect, designer and client to determine the exact needs, provide the equipment for the electrician to install, and then do the programming and service afterward. A relationship between a commercial integrator and a residential integrator could look similar.
Complementary Skill Sets
Having access to a commercial integrator who is very knowledgeable about how to make a personal office function at the level of a high-caliber huddle room would be helpful to many residential integrators. They could design the space to include the required displays, microphones, acoustic treatments and lighting, and they could even provide that equipment for the project. Meanwhile, the residential integrator could make sure it is installed properly. This would allow us to provide the best overall experience for the clients, as well. Imagine a world in which an executive has the same system at their home as they do at work. Not only would they become more comfortable with the equipment, but they also would no doubt have fewer issues and service calls. Plus, their overall satisfaction with both their commercial integrator and their residential integrator would be higher.
Another reason to develop this kind of partnership would be working with the designers and clients. Whereas offices are designed to be much more utilitarian, with function often trumping design, personal residences are designed differently. “Understanding why the client purchases in each market can be [challenging] to navigate,” Bogart explains. “Your salespeople must be able to learn how a homeowner plans to live in their home and what their goals and expectations of technology are.” Systems used throughout the home will be different from those used in the office. Nevertheless, those systems must be able to work and play together seamlessly.
Various Users, Various Purposes
Forging a partnership can also help to overcome the additional hurdle of being able to design for a variety of users for a variety of purposes. In a commercial setting, technology usually serves one purpose for everyone in the office, and those in the office generally have a base knowledge of how the technology works. In a residential setting, integrators must be prepared to have the technology serve several purposes, depending on each user’s preference. The users could range from young children, to teens, to adults, to visiting grandparents. And all these people could be daily technology users or visitors who use it once in a while. It’s essential to ensure everyone can easily navigate a system. That will require a special level of patience for some residential clients for whom technology is not a native language.
Regardless of what you choose to do with your business — grow or partner — the fact remains: The landscape of our living and working environments are merging faster than ever. When changes like this occur, opportunities will no doubt continue to arise. The question is this: How will your company and you choose to cash in on them?
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