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NEW ADDITIONS THE CUSTOM INTEGRATION CHANNEL by Lindsey Adler

This project, called Fish Camp, was designed, engineered, built, landscaped, and even furnished by D’Asign Source with a Coastal Source patented plug-n- play lighting system.

Everyone’s curious about the new kid on the block. This cliché is especially true in a relatively small world of custom integration, when new vendors promise unique business opportunities or claim to solve difficult technical challenges. There were around 110 new exhibitors at CEDIA EXPO 2013. That’s up more than ever. Some of them could be doomed to the dusty relics of history, but others could be poised to change the AV industry as we know it. They are undoubtedly worthy of our curiosity, and hopefully, some of them serve as a source of inspiration and business growth. So who are some of these fresh-faced

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manufacturers? Residential Systems reached out to a number of them to find out what drew them to custom installation, their biggest challenges in brand recognition, and what their outlook is for the future. The majority of manufacturers queried had some sort of previous tie to the custom channel and saw a void that they felt could be filled with their own solutions. Mike Anderson, president and CEO of TiO, said it best: “I’ve been in the channel in various capacities for more than 30 years. What else would I do?” But of course it’s not about staying in the

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industry he’s spent his career in. Launching TiO, an amplified wireless audio streaming and distribution product, had a bigger purpose. “There are needs that are not yet being addressed, and TiO provides unique solutions. There is still a lot of opportunity in the channel,” Anderson said. Coastal Source, a manufacturer of outdoor lighting and audio systems, sprung from a 35-yearold Florida custom integrator, D’Asign Source. “We developed a product line that responded to all the issues we had with existing outdoor products from a quality, reliability, ease of installation/ use perspective, and, last but not least, dealer profitability,” said Franco D’Ascanio, president,


The C SEED 201 high-end outdoor TV features ground retractability and daylight compatibility.

Coastal Source. “We understand the custom business and the pressures on the dealers and developed our products and business plan to be a natural and profitable additional revenue stream that is much needed in the CI industry.” As a mid- to high-end custom integrator for many years, David Tshirpke, CEO of WASP Audio, found himself coming across “the same problem every other custom installer comes across on a daily basis. Sometimes you just can’t get wires from point A to point B,” he said. “I decided there’s got to be a better way, so I made a better mousetrap.” That led to the company’s line of wireless audio products designed to solve the problems of conventional wired and wireless systems. The introduction of the iPad was the moment that changed it all for Marc Hofer, founder of iRoom, who has since made the full transition from custom installer to manufacturer of stylish and lockable in-wall iPad docks. “[Hofer] saw an opportunity for a game-changing accessory aimed at residential and commercial integrators,” said industry veteran Chris Lehnen, who now serves as president of iRoom U.S. “Now, we offer an entire

line of solutions. Custom installers are who we know and understand best.” Although, Westone has been in business for 55 years with its hearing healthcare and pro audio products, the Colorado Springs-based company ventured into consumer audio only recently with custom in-ear monitor (IEM) earphones. John Lowrey, VP of the audio group at Westone has

worked in the CI space for years. “I see Westone’s custom IEM as the ideal complement to a client’s custom home theater solutions,” he said. “The clients that are serviced by the CI space are looking for unique custom solutions. There is nothing more custom for headphones than an IEM. They can be personally designed for each and every client just as their systems are.” Of course, there are other paths to this industry for some of the newcomers. David Schanin, president of Hydraconnect, was renovating a new home and having a custom AV system installed when he realized his installer was limited by what was available to build an HDMI-based package. “There was no HDMI switching gear that was reliable and worked up to the standards that we needed at that time,” Schanin said. “That was frustrating because I purchased first-class quality equipment, but it had to be a component system, not HDMI.” After Schanin and a partner looked at the problem, they said, “we could do this.” They decided to take a different tactic to develop solutions with a top-down, systems-oriented approach. The Hydraconnect HDMI switching systems offer remote access, a web interface, and cloud-based updates.

The industry is driven by dealers installing in people’s houses. There’s a comfort level. Whereas, new technology brings a certain level of uncertainty. David Sukoff, Sookbox

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he continued, “because the industry is driven by Some new manufacturers come from dealers installing in people’s houses. There’s a other technology fields entirely. Luxury comfort level. Whereas, new technology brings outdoor TV supplier C SEED is an a certain level of uncertainty.” Austrian company with a background Sukoff also acknowledged the barrier of in LEDs. “We had the vision of bringing entry being higher with the steadfast nature the same basic idea of big outdoor screens of this industry, but he is not overly fazed to a next level,” said Alexander by this challenge. “We believe the superior Swatek, CEO. “This new level technology will be adopted. We believe in for us was to approach a private innovation.” audience in a private setting with WASP’s Tshirpke finds that the an overall extremely innovative CI is still too focused on new and extremely sophisticated construction, a disadvantageous outdoor cinema solution.” place to be stuck, he feels. CIs A tech startup born from also need to be comfortable a few MIT grads (though not going after more mainstream developed in any affiliation with Fibaro’s home automation system integrates a multitude of devices with a robust user interface focused on lighting, customers, not remaining the university), Sookbox was shades, energy management, and various sensors for safety and security. restricted exclusively to high-end not looking to make a product for the custom channel; it just worked out that way. its first-run film release private theater experience, customers. “We need to change the philosophy and Its product is a software-based messaging system Pang refers to as “the final jewel on the crown” for the way that some CIs work,” he said. The WASP wireless audio system installs in less to connect and control all devices. “A natural custom integrators. application for it is media distribution and the ability Greg Brett, president of enerG, a home than an hour, he added. “From that perspective, to have a handheld device to send instructions to a automation solution with a recurring monthly they can make more money on more jobs.” At the start, Tshirpke was faced with many media device and have it play media wherever you revenue plan, described a situation where the want,” said David Sukoff, principal. custom integrator is more or less their own worst challenges concerning wireless audio technology Fibaro has already established itself enemy. “The pattern we see is that many suffer and its poor reputation for quality. After two years internationally in 55 countries, but more recently, from what we call ‘the one-and-done syndrome,’ of technology development, wireless audio has began rolling out its Intelligent Home solution in where they are waiting for referrals for their next improved by leaps and bounds. For other young companies like iRoom, the the U.S. market. The system focuses on lighting, job.” He feels that the integrator needs a new way ability to get out of the office and in front of dealers shades, energy management, and various sensors of doing business. for safety and security. The latest software update And not all integrators are enthusiastic when is a challenge. The company began tackling that enables dealers to add multimedia devices with it comes to change. Hidden Vision TV identified issue head on in 2013. “We began hiring sales pre-installed drivers, available from brands like this issue as “the fear of the unknown,” said Karen reps in the U.S. and a distributor in Canada,” Samsung, Denon, Pioneer, Sonos, LG, and Sony. Beshara, co-owner. The unique mounting products Lehnen said. “In 2014, we will hit the road hard to OSD Audio has sold its outdoor rock speakers from Hidden Vision TV include for some time direct to consumers, but has recently a Flip-Out model, which is pivoted to target custom integrators for a flattering a bit out of the box from the reason. “The CI channel is the largest remaining CE typical TV mounts traditionally category that still values a product’s build quality and employed in a home. performance,” said Doug Turner, VP of marketing Coastal Source’s D’Ascanio and sales. “Many of the CE industry segments now also cited how dealers are busy place a higher value on convenience and fashion.” by their traditional business practices, finding that, “although very interested, they cannot HydraConnect’s HM-16X16BT matrix switching processor was designed to resolve Your own Worst Enemy? problematic audio mode conflicts inherent to conventional HDMI matrix switching systems. Venturing into a new market will naturally lead to take the time to embrace this some speed bumps. Many of the new manufacturers opportunity to grow their business in a meaningful demonstrate the line and sign new dealers.” Resources are the big impediment for C SEED and profitable way.” cited the industry itself as a source of impediment. The Coastal Source dealers that have dedicated too. “With HQ and production facilities in a small For Prima Cinema, this is dealing with the “highly fragmented” nature of the CI channel in time and effort to adopting their outdoor lighting country like Austria, it is sometimes challenging the U.S. “Prima Cinema is a new and growing and audio systems “are reaping excellent returns on to conquer a global market,” Swatek said. “As we company, and keeping all of our existing and new their investment,” D’Ascanio said. “Some have had operate on more [or] less all continents, we need to make sure that everyone with whom we work partners updated with product, content, and events their first sales exceed six figures.” As the biggest outsider new to the industry, [with] share, agree, and live the same appointed is a big task when our goal is to always provide ‘white glove’ service to our dealers and clients,” Sookbox’s Sukoff noted, “it seems like the space benchmarks with regard to quality, service, etc. that is in a lot of ways set in how they do things and we have appointed for our business.” said Jason Pang, founder and CEO. The test for Hydraconnect is a basic matter Prima targets the upper echelon of clientele with with the brands that they use. It’s understandable,”

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consumers into the market for our products. CEDIA dealers often fail to exploit these kinds of opportunities. It’s incumbent upon manufacturers to provide the tools to help these dealers take advantage of this rising tide.” On the ultra lux side, there was even more optimism with the distinctiveness of the systems “Prima Cinema is very bullish on the custom home theater market as we witness increasing consumer demand for private home entertainment experiences,” Pang said. “We anticipate that our unique offering of first-run theatrical films will help consumers decide to build or update their existing theaters, and we’ve witnessed this in The road ahead many of our clients.” Most new manufacturers are highly C SEED is banking on consumer demand optimistic for the future. OSD’s Turner, for individuality, non-negotiable quality, and however, offered a cautionary stance. “I the desire to reward themselves with luxury believe that there will be major turmoil within Westone’s E-Series 10, 20, 30 and 50 were designed to provide the most discerning technology. “[These] are strong values to our industry over the next decade. I believe professionals and enthusiasts with the ultimate sound experience. They are cast, stay,” Swatek said, “hence, we are not only that as much as 50 percent of the hardware sculpted, and polished by hand from actual impressions of the individual’s ears. products found at the CEDIA and InfoComm wireless architectures that can be easily installed in convinced, but also highly motivated to move further with our development.” existing homes.” shows this year will be replaced by apps.” He also noted that marketing efforts by big Lindsey Adler is associate editor for Residential TiO’s Anderson also admitted the general industry challenges faced the past few years, but corporations like AT&T, Comcast, and Google, Systems, Systems Contractor News, and he sees bright days ahead. “We believe the market “will create many new opportunities as they bring Healthcare AV. of numbers and being one piece of a big picture. “We’re small and up and coming, and our challenge is to break out from the noise of all the other folks,” Schanin said. The visibility factor, which includes supplying proper training and support, is also a key element to Fibaro’s future. “Showing everyone the solutions and possibilities we offer is our number one focus,” Bira said, “which translates into a great end-user experience.” Fibaro is rolling out some special programs for dealers over the next few months to help gain traction.

is coming back, and there is plenty of gold to be mined in the space, especially as smart devices become ubiquitous and manufacturers embrace

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Residential Systems - Up & Comings  
Residential Systems - Up & Comings  

March 2014

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