‘How Do You Find The Right Smart Home Dealer?’
It’s never perfect for you or your Dealer, but there are some things you can do to make it a great experience.
It’s all about expectations. If your expectations about working with your dealer match their reality it will be a positive experience.
So here are a few things for you to look for when you’re searching for a dealer.
1. Find a dealer that says ‘No’
You want a custom integrator that will say ‘No.’ If a dealer is saying they can do anything, and everything, it should be a red flag.
When it comes to programming, integrating devices, or deploying new tech, you want your dealer to say ‘No’, at least some of the time.
Despite all the marketing hype about smart home devices talking nice to each other, a lot of devices just don’t work well together.
A dealer saying they won’t program a device, or won’t guarantee a product is a good indicator.
It’s a sign the dealer has enough time in the lab to know what things may negatively effect your experience.
A dealer who says YES to everything is either inexperienced, or desperate for the sale.
2. Find a dealer with a service plan
I Know a ‘service plan’ makes many clients anxious, but I can almost guarantee you’ll have a horrible experience if your dealer doesn’t have one (I’ll explain why in item four).
No matter the quality and expertise of the system design, the install, the programming, or the actual hardware, you will need follow up service on your smart home.
You want to know what is your dealer’s availability, and what service will cost. Do they provide service after hours, on weekends, and holidays?
What are the cost for service? Will cost be different after hours and on weekends?
It goes back to the idea of expectations. The specific answers to these questions matter less. What’s important is that you know the answers in advance.
Understand that very few dealers have this in place, but if you think it’s the dealer you want to work with there are some ways you can help them. More on that in a minute…
3. Know what their realistic time frame is for service
When I worked in the alarm industry, big companies like ADT promised service in 72 hours. That was the industry norm.
In the smart home industry there are no industry standard for service windows.
At some point in the process, you want to know when something goes wrong, a dealer will be there immediately, even if it’s a holiday, a weekend, or midnight.
During the sales process, dealers will usually agree to this kind of discussion, and they have the very best intentions, but it’s not realistic. They won’t be able to deliver.
There are exceptions. You’ll find dealers here and there that have the bandwith for this, but the majority of dealers are small 2-5 person teams with limited time and resources to provide service.
Have an honest conversation with your dealer about their bandwidth, and what is a realistic expectation.
Again the time frame is less important than your expectation of their ability being accurate. If you know they’re usually 1-2 weeks out, you can work together to make it a win-win.
‘Hey I’m having a party two weeks from this Friday, could you put me on your schedule for a tune up Friday morning?’
4. Plan on paying for follow up service
If your dealer isn’t charging for follow up service, one of two things will happen. They’ll go out of business, or they’ll never be able to service your system.
I know because that’s what happened to us. Free service sounds attractive, and it helped us close a lot of deals early on, but it almost put us out of business. It’s not a long term solution.
Today we need 2-3 highly skilled service people, that is people who do nothing but provide service to existing clients, and even then it’s a battle to provide timely service.
Without the revenue generated during service visits, it’s almost impossible for a dealer to put a service team in place that can provide you the quality of service you expect and deserve.
If you want a dealer to be there when you need it, find one that bills for service.
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5. Know who is actually the dealer
It’s common for dealers to network with other dealers on a project, especially for projects requiring tech a dealer doesn’t already carry.
We are Lutron dealers, but not currently certified for Ketra Lighting, or hardwired shades. We have a project requiring both those items, and have teamed with two other dealers.
There is nothing wrong with this, but as the Client you want to know it is happening.
It effects the speed and quality of the initial install and programming, and it effects follow up service and warranty.
Ask your dealer if another dealer or company is going to be involved on the project. Find out how your dealer plans to manage the service and warranty of those devices in your home.
Again this is common, and not a problem, but it helps to be on the same page.
6. Know your dealer’s programming bandwidth
Dealers deploy different strategies to manage programming. A Crestron friend in Utah outsources all of his programming, but has several programmers on hand for follow up service.
A Savant friend in California outsources programming and follow up support, and doesn’t have staff on hand to program.
If your dealer has one programmer, you need to understand that is the same person providing service for all their clients as well as programming your system.
So it can be an indication you’ll have delays on your initial install while they’re scrambling to wrap up your project and keep existing clients happy at the same time.
A single programmer isn’t inherently bad, you just want to know what the dealer is doing to keep up with programming.
Are they outsourcing? Do they have a large inhouse team? Or are they a one man band, with no help or support?
7. The lowest bid isn’t your friend
I work with dealers all over the country. Consistently the best dealers hold their prices up. That doesn’t mean they’re the highest, but they are never the lowest either.
If a dealer is desperately lowering his or her price to win the sell, it should be a warning.
If the dealer has courage to say, ‘hey I’d love to work with you, but these are our rates.’ It’s a sign they’re doing some things right. More than likely, they have enough work, and happy clients.
The longer dealers are in the game the more they ‘say no,’ and the less they ‘lower prices.’ Experience teaches us quickly we can’t survive either.
A final word
The goal here isn’t to hurt new or less experienced dealers. Just the opposite, it’s to help you and your dealer have a happy relationship for years to come.
If you’ve found the company you want to use, but they don’t check some of these boxes, use it as a chance to help you both.
If you’re following us, you’ve likely seen our Boca Raton project. When we first finalized the contract, the client asked me about my service plan.
I was honest, I didn’t have anything in writing. I told him we were working on some things with a 3rd party company, but hadn’t gotten there yet.
He told me to write down best I could on an email what we intended for the follow up service, and what he should expect to pay so that we could all be on the same page.
That helped me grow as a dealer, and take an important step forward. I’m grateful the client didn’t immediately throw us out for missing this checkbox.
Many of our Clients are successful business people, and I’ve appreciated more than I can say, they’re advice to us over the years as we worked on their homes. It’s helped us tremendously.
It’s an opportunity for you to provide some mentoring to a dealer you like, that may need a little nudge, but is also very capable of installing a phenomenal system for you.
Best of luck finding your dealer… there are some amazing ones out there!
Named one of Technology Integrator’s Top Talent Under 40, Matt has designed systems for 20 national award-winning projects, including "Home Theater of the Year", and "Custom Smart Home of the Year" from CTA™ (Consumer Technology Association). His ebook “How To Wire Your Smart Home” is a best seller among professionals and DIY-ers alike. He has taken classes with Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). You can watch Matt share the secrets of his craft on YouTube!
Matt is a Golden State fan.