design-build – project profile
The Starpower Process
the CEO of tech integrator Starpower outlines the key components in a successful project.
BY David Pidgeon
I’VE BEEN HELPING PEOPLE CREATE their perfect home entertainment venue for over 25 years. As CEO of Starpower, a family owned and operated technology design firm and whole-house systems integrator, I’ve come to recognize over the years that there are three key components in getting residential and commercial technology projects to work and operate to specification – representing those products that are tried and true and represent value and reliability post-installation, surrounding myself with the finest co-workers and team members who share my passion and getting a process in place that we can follow to ensure maximum, consistent success.
Let me share a recent project with you that I think will illustrate our process and the caliber of our team members who work together seamlessly to not only meet, but exceed, client expectations. This includes a fully integrated process of consultation, designs and drawings, integration, follow-up and maintenance.
a friend of a loyal customer
Approximately two years ago, a loyal customer introduced me to a gentlemen who was not only going to be building a new house, but being himself in the construction industry was also going to serve as his own General Contractor (GC). This is not an entirely unique situation, but it did lend itself to not only working with Starpower, but our sister companies – Ed Kellum & Son Appliances and StarFloors – entering into the conversation.
I spoke with the prospective client, Mr. W at length to get a feel for what he was intending and to what degree he knew about and understood technology solutions that would likely impact his project. When I had a firm understanding of his likely needs and how we could best serve his interests, I began to introduce him to our team, beginning with one of our most capable system designers, Trey Bitler, who is also the store manager for our flagship showroom in Dallas.
Trey, why don’t you pick up the story and talk about the discovery process?
TREY: Thanks! As Mr. Pidgeon outlined, there are different ways customers find their way to us and begin to discuss their aspirations and vision of a lifestyle enhanced by modern technology. In this case, Mr. Pidgeon made the introduction and so began a multi-year process to design and integrate technology into Mr. W’s new construction.
As all of our senior designers have multiple certifications and manufacturer trainings in a wide range of technologies, we like to begin the discovery process by asking some basic questions about what they think they want, how they envision living in the space and slowly begin to piece together more in-depth details to guide the design process.
When we engage a client who is planning a major project that will require months or years to complete, whether a remodel or new build, we will typically introduce them to one of our customer service representatives who can act as a point of contact over the course of the project. In this case, Mr. Pidgeon brought in our head of customer service, Brandi Thompson.
BRANDI: Thanks Trey. Yes, I was introduced to Mr. W and as it was at the very beginning of the process, I briefly said hello and let him know that as the project progressed, I would personally be looking after some of the details that go into a project – making sure products are ordered, monitoring supply chains, and double-checking scheduling and other details that can get lost in the shuffle.
DAVID: I think at this point we all had a good idea of the scope of the project Mr. W was interested in pursuing. Where did you go from there, Trey?
TREY: After I have a high-level discussion with a client, I typically suggest they come by our showroom so they can get a better idea of what is available as far as the latest technologies. And Mr. W is a good case in point – while he was quite knowledgeable about technology in general, and he knew how he wanted his house to function, he still wasn’t sure how to get from here to there.
So once we are in the showroom, I begin a multi-stage discovery process. I can walk the client into a room or space where automatically several actions take place. The lights will come on, the TVs might come on or music begins to play and all of a sudden you see how whole-house automation plays such a major role in the entire process.
Once the client begins to understand what is possible, then we dial down and begin to look at individual technologies. If they are really into movies or sports, we can look at the different display technologies and the differences in TVs and projectors. We can sit and listen to some speakers so they can decide what level of performance will work for them. They can use touch panels and hand-held remotes and begin to understand how the room operates and how comfortable they are with any given system. Basically, I like putting the technology into their hands and letting them play with it. That’s really the only way you’ll become comfortable with a system.
From there, as we discussed his project, I knew that Mr. W’s house was going to need an automation system that could handle his needs and have the ability to manage all of the sub-systems. That’s when I turned to our Lead Programmer, Mike, for his input.
MIKE: One of the things I like about working with Trey is that he explains to our customers the difference between control and automation. A hand-held remote gives you control over the TV. Channel selection and volume. Where an automation system gives you the ability to create scenes where when you walk into a room you can say a command or push a button and a series of events will automatically take place.
Based on interviewing the client and what he was envisioning, I thought that URC would make the most sense as far as the main automation brain of the house. There was a lot that had to be tied into the system and being that Mr. W was acting as his own GC and had his own IT team and lighting contractor, we needed a platform robust enough where we could tie into just about anything.
With URC, I can put what’s most important on the UI (user interface) and allow him to be two touches maximum away from where he wants to go. Keypads and touchscreens help to eliminate wall clutter. Anything that can sit on the wall – like an intercom, doorbell video, light switch – can be programmed into the URC platform to deliver a slick, modern aesthetic.
And URC offers me a level of remote training and educational tools to keep me informed as to the latest trends and interface options. It’s really about removing the mundane from the client’s lifestyle – like having to think about light switches and turning things off and on. He just wanted the house to react to him. And he wanted it to look cool, since he entertains and likes showing off his artwork and Star Wars memorabilia.
We programmed custom images from actual photos of the various rooms in the house into the GUI (graphic user interface), so from their phones, the family intuitively understands which room they are making remote adjustments to. It’s that level of detail that Mr. W was after when he started explaining his vision in the early part of the discovery process.
TREY: Shades were always a part of the discussion from the beginning. As soon as he saw motorized shades that would not only give him privacy, but also protect his collection of artwork and memorabilia from UV damage, he was all in. We tied the operation of his shades into a celestial calendar, so depending on where the sun is during the day, when direct sunlight was an issue, the shades would go down. When the sun went away, the shades would go back up. And he wanted it throughout the house. We not only programmed his shades, but we also gave him a one-button solution via the touch panels in case he wanted to manually raise or lower a shade.
MIKE: In this case, I’m glad you suggested QMotion as the shading solution. They not only have incredibly silent motors and a wide range of fabrics and designs, but they also work perfectly with the URC automation platform.
We also programmed in a whole-house audio system, as well as an Atlona whole-house video matrix switcher so they could watch programming supplied by cable boxes located in a central location in any of the rooms that have TV displays.
One of the coolest things we did was program over 250 voice commands into the URC automation platform via the Alexas that are placed strategically throughout the residence. So Mr. W can walk anywhere and turn on lights, change music, turn on TVs and whatever else he wants to do. All with simple commands.
And we also incorporated interfaces for Luma surveillance cameras, smart door bells and other security features Mr. W was interested in. And then of course, the outdoor entertainment venue.
TREY: Yes, the outdoor set up had a few twists to satisfy Mr. W’s needs. He lives off of a golf course and he has a nice outdoor patio space, pool and yard area. He wanted to listen to music, but not so loud that it’s blaring onto the golf course.
So when we interviewed him, we decided to construct a three-stage system – the patio had its own sound system. There was also an outward facing system that covered the pool area and then landscape bollards that face inwards from the edge of the perimeter facing back to the house. He can control the volume on all three systems independently to provide optimal sound and coverage.
Video was provided by a SunBrite TV and we programmed the system so he can listen to the TV or have music on in the background if he’s watching a sporting event and doesn’t care to listen to the announcers.
So after a lot of discovery and drilling down to what his expectations were in how he would actually live in the house, we ended up with a whole-house automation platform that controls all of the sub-systems.
DAVID: And not only did you guys put together an awesome technology package for the client, but Mr. W also took advantage of our sister companies since he was building a house from scratch.
BRANDI: That’s right! When he visited the showroom he toured our active kitchens and was impressed with the Thermador family of appliances from Kellum & Son, so he decided to integrate those into his beautiful kitchen. And when we explained that StarFloors is another sister company he investigated their offerings and commissioned them for his flooring needs.
Like most of our customers, they are blown away by our interactive showrooms. They are so impressive and really give you a feel for how technology and design impact your daily life. We hold, or I should say we used to hold, over 100 events every year in our showrooms. We do a terrific amount of charity events and invite in chefs to cook in the operational kitchens.
And while the systems integration process for Mr. W was pretty seamless and I never had to step in and put out any major fires, Trey and Mark made sure the family was comfortable walking the finished project. But even then, Mr. W still had several issues that he asked us to address after living in the space for several months.
TREY: That’s right. One example concerned the embedded lights in the stairwell leading up to the master suite. His electrical person told him the lights were pretty dim and shouldn’t need any kind of tuning. But after living in the house for a while, Mr. W called me and said the lights were keeping him up at night! So we went in and tied them into the URC platform and brought them up to a 25 percent glow level at dusk and turned them off at 11:00 p.m. and turned them back on at 4:00 a.m. until dawn. So part of our process is letting the house settle, if you will, before returning for major and minor tweaks.
MIKE: I had a few instances like that where Mr. W would call and ask if I could come over and make an adjustment, and I would say, “hold on, let me remote into your system and make that change right now.” And he was amazed by that! I explained that we are able to monitor his URC platform and connected devices 24/7 and receive alerts should something go off-line. We can then either fix it remotely if possible, or at least understand the problem if we have to roll a truck.
DAVID: Well, I think that at the end of the day, our processes of discovery, giving the client one central customer service representative to call with any issues, education about using the technology and then post-sales follow up and maintenance is what makes these types of large projects go as smoothly as possible. The entire team did a great job and we made another life-long customer. Over two-thirds of our business comes from repeat and referral business.