by Ándria Morgan - MarCom Specialist
Greg Simmons, VP at Eagle Sentry, Talks Builder Relationships: Packages, Pitfalls, and Plotting the Discovery Experience with Homeowners
THE HOUSING MARKET IS BACK. And builders are seeing the benefits of building not just newer homes and buildings, but smarter ones.
According to a CNET and Coldwell Banker 2015 joint survey, 81% of buyers indicate they’d be more willing to buy a home if smart home products were already installed. In that same survey, 62% of respondents said that security is the top benefit for owning a smart home.
New home construction can be a lucrative, but complex, opportunity for our residential members. How does the offer differ than that of direct to consumers? Who owns the relationship with the homeowner? How does billing differ? How do you find and build these relationships?
We recently talked with Greg Simmons of ESA Member Company, Eagle Sentry in Las Vegas, who has a portfolio chocked full of successful builder collaborations, including his partnership on the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) New American Home project a few years ago.
ESA: What are your recommendations for working with builders?
Simmons: We’ve been in business for 32 years — and from the very beginning we’ve worked with builders. When you’re going to work with a builder, you have to take on their mentality and understand the building process. You need to make sure you have the proper licensing and licensing limits, that you are carrying the right insurance and you have to have someone on staff who has a general understanding of the construction process.
How did you build your relationships in that segment?
It’s important to reach out to builders. You have to get out there and let them know you’re there. A lot of them don’t know exactly what systems integrators do. I believe that in order to be in this business, you need to not only be able to do security, but full systems integration. You need an understanding of automation, distributed audio, and potentially control of other low-voltage systems. If you can’t do multiple low-voltage or even all of the low-voltage items in a house, it’s going to be tough to secure that builder’s contract.
Do you ever donate to model homes to get your brand name out there?
The model home a lot of times is the key to showcasing your products. We do a combination of us discounting and manufacturers participating — in some cases donating. This is key in locking down a builder’s contract. The model home is the catalyst for selling into the community.
What would be your advice for establishing and maintaining strong partnerships?
The builder wants you to understand the construction process. A key element is being able to maintain a schedule so that you’re not hindering the trade partner before or after you. The strong partnership is developed by being seen as a reliable partner than can be held accountable for a schedule they’ve committed to and abide by relatively strict standards and rules.
Where are the areas in the collaboration where you think some people miss the boat?
We in the systems integration world may not pay attention to things like safety as critical on these sites. You have to make sure that you have a strong safety program in place. Safety meaning proper eyewear, footwear, and other personal protective equipment (ppe) that adheres to OSHA regulations. The builder generally does not want too many options for the buyers. They want to streamline the process. Its best to develop a standard or optional program that works the best for the builder and makes it easy on the customer.
Who owns the customer? Does the integrator ever have touchpoints with the homeowner or do you have the builder maintain the relationship?
This depends, but a lot of times it is a combination of both. You always have to work directly with the builder first and then generally, if you set it up right, you’ll have a situation where you’re meeting the homeowners to talk specifically about what it is that you do for them. So, we both own the customer. The builder owns the customer because the builder is responsible for providing a warranty for everything that went into that house. Once that homeowner closes, the integrator is going to have that contact with the homeowner.
Do you ever conduct discovery meetings with the homeowner to find out what their technology needs are?
In some cases, in a strong relationship, we may actually be a part of the design center for the builder. So we may have an actual Eagle Sentry employee at a design center to meet with homeowners there. Or we bring the homeowner to our showroom to let them experience our systems and then we translate into the paperwork that goes back to the builder so they can generate a purchase order to us for the products that the homeowner selected. It happens in a combination of ways, sometimes we meet at the model, sometimes we meet at the design center, and sometimes we meet at our showroom depending on the builder relationship.
Have you found new DIY technologies have helped in raising awareness or has it been a point of frustration with price checking?
Generally, homeowners need quite a bit of assistance with the sophistication of the products we are putting in. So home automation, security, automated lighting, automated shading, a lot of these things are pretty foreign to the homeowner and we believe that the systems integrator is still key. We feel that the most successful builder programs are driven by an integrator partnership as opposed to a DIY program or product.
What are the types of builders Eagle Sentry currently works with?
The type of builders we work with runs the gamut. We work with production builders building mid-level priced single family homes, but we also work on the ultra high end. We’ll work in semi-custom and custom homes up to 30,000 sq ft.
Do you have exclusive contracts with these builders that you’ve maintained relationships with?
Most builders have policies that they cannot have exclusivity. Reason being is that they want to continually be able to price evaluate.
What would you have to say to integrators looking to work more closely with builders?
To sum it all up, you have to understand the full construction process and you have to be able to work safely in a new construction environment. You need to make sure you fulfill the insurance requirements. In most situations you need to have a dedicated individual to attend onsite project meetings. A lot of builders will have weekly meetings with the trades and you have to be able to have someone available to attend those onsite meetings. I think a properly developed relationship and a properly developed standard or options program with a builder can be very beneficial to the integrator to the builder and to the homeowner.
This article is excerpted from the 2018 Mar/Apr edition of ESA’s print magazine, Security Nation. ESA Members can view the article in its entirety, by clicking the link below to download. Security Nation is a glossy magazine publication. This exclusive ESA Member Benefit is mailed 6x per year, including profiles of ESA Members, industry news, association updates, best business practices and more. For more information on becoming an ESA Member, contact Membership@ESAweb.org.
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