Technology - home automation
Nice Builder Services
An interview with Brett Jacob, Director of Builder Services for Nice North America.
BY GEORGE MCCLURE
FOLLOWING THE ACQUISITION OF NORTEK CONTROL in October 2021, Nice, a global manufacturer of smart home and building automation solutions, recently announced consolidation of regional operations under the single entity of Nice North America.
Nice is headquartered in Oderzo, Italy, with North American operations based in Carlsbad, California, and brings 30 years of global experience to the 60-year history of innovation in the region. Dedicated to simplifying everyday movements, Nice offers the widest portfolio of solutions in home management, building automation, security and perimeter protection for residential, commercial and industrial environments.
Here’s an interview with Bret Jacob, Director of Builder Services for Nice North America, the parent company of ELAN®, SpeakerCraft®, 2GIG® and several other brands in the home automation and security space.
"Technology is arguably the most complicated category that builders deal with, so to simplify the concept, our approach became centered around asking them key questions.”"BRETT JACOB
DIRECTOR OF BUILDER SERVICES
NICE NORTH AMERICA
GEORGE McCLURE: Please share with us a bit about your background.
BRET JACOB: Well, I'm an old-time ELAN guy. As of this October, I’ll have had the privilege of representing the business for 21 years. Prior to that I was the owner of an integration company in Seattle where we focused on large commercial system installations. We were an ELAN dealer, and that’s really where it started. Amazingly, I have been affiliated with the brand for about 28 of its 33 years.
A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to move into a business development role at Nortek Control. We quickly identified a need to work directly with homebuilders on behalf of our system integrators, and to design a builder program that ultimately enhances that fundamental builder/ integrator relationship. Year one we showed up at IBS [International Builders Show] with zero builders and a prayer, basically.
GEORGE: What year was that that you showed up at IBS?
BRET: January 2017. I didn't know what our approach would be, but I knew that some of our competitors had people in this position. Joe Lautner and I sought a primary consultant, and we found a gentleman by the name of Mike Moore, a mentor, coach, and icon in the housing industry. Mike has been influential in the building industry for many years, in fact he launched the very first online options design center way back at the dawn of the internet. He became instrumental in helping us lay the foundation of our program.
GEORGE: That’s impressive.
BRET: Yes. Mike's messaging and, frankly, his soapbox ranting to home builders, really resonated with us. His mission is all about new home personalization and incorporating technology in the design center as part of the holistic options selection process. We found most builders were not taking ownership of this category, even if they had a desire to do so. At best, builders were providing referrals of local low voltage companies to homebuyers who inquired about installing technology in their new home. As we met with more homebuilders who expressed a desire to take better ownership of technology and include it as part of the new home personalization experience, it became obvious that home builders were in a predicament.
Technology is arguably the most complicated category that builders deal with, so to simplify the concept, our approach became centered around asking them key questions: “What is a builder’s role and responsibility in providing technology in their homes? Where does technology belong in the new home options process? Professionally installed, or DIY – or a hybrid approach?” Usually builders found out the hard way that when they go the DIY route, they were ultimately expected to service those systems.
GEORGE: Which they’re not really prepared to do.
BRET: Exactly, so over time we have seen a bit of a fallback to the more reliable professionally installed route. Along the way, we've listened to builders and heard their stories to understand their pain points, then worked to develop programs with an approach that helps guarantee a builder's success in delivering connected smart homes to their buyers.
GEORGE: Things that used to be luxuries are now necessities. Anyone buying a new home expects to have robust internet and the structured wiring for current technologies and future upgrades, so any builder that's not offering that has missed the bus it seems.
BRET: Unfortunately, there are still too many. You'd be surprised how many homebuilders haven’t connected with a supportive manufacturer or a solid systems integration company. As a result, they just don’t want to deal with offering technology in their homes – either as a standard or an option.
BRET: Especially during the housing boom of the last three years, many times I’ve heard "Look, I'm selling them as fast as I can build them -- why would I want to mess around with this stuff?" With recent changes in the housing market, I think they’re starting to understand how to make technology a differentiator to attract clients, sell more homes and make a little more money while they're at it.
GEORGE: So how do you get builders to understand things like structured wiring infrastructure?
BRET: All of our Standards – whether designed for a produc¬tion or a custom home, consist of what we call the Technolo¬gy Infrastructure, which is an important element of our mes¬saging to builders. Builders are already familiar with three pillars of new home infrastructure: HVAC, plumbing and electrical. So, we ask them “Do you let your buyers design their own HVAC systems or their own electrical layouts?" And the answer, rightly, is "No way — that's my job." The delivery of those vital infrastructure systems is a real service to the homeowner – it’s what allows them to stay up to date with stylish lighting and plumbing fixtures down the road.
And the same can be said about technology infrastructure. Nothing is future-proof, but you can certainly be future-ready. Lets say, one day, Elon Musk brings out a new video doorbell and everybody runs out to buy the Tesla doorbell — if the builder made the effort to run Cat 6 cable to the front door, then the job is done. The homeowner can just pop off the old one and put on a new one because the builder put that technology infrastructure in place. We use this example to educate builders on that fourth pillar of a modern home — the technology infrastructure, and the importance of under¬standing their role and responsibility in providing it in their new homes.
GEORGE: How do you define technology infrastructure?
Brett: Thanks for asking! It’s three things: wiring to key locations, a robust Wi-Fi network, and a future-ready hub or control¬ler. Wireless technology is an awesome thing; but it’s still not a completely wireless world. Certain things, like smart TVs and video doorbells perform much better with a permanent hardwired internet connection. In 2022, there is not much a builder can provide in their new homes that will deliver more value and appreciation than a strong, professionally installed Wi-Fi network. The final piece is that future-ready hub; the vital device that takes all of these different system elements and gets them talking to each other to create a single app experience for the homeowner. Ring the doorbell at night? The porch light comes on. The Fire alarm goes off? Turn the HVAC off, turn the interior lights on, unlock the front door, etc. A truly connected smart home can implement those types of event maps or scenarios.
"Builders are all familiar with the three pillars — HVAC, plumbing and electrical. Well, we propose a fourth pillar — and that's the technology infrastructure."BRETT JACOB
GEORGE: And you plug ELAN as that hub?
BRET: Depending on the builder or project type we have a couple system controllers to offer. The future-ready solution for our production builders is often a 2GIG security pan¬el powered by Alarm.com’s app, but in the case of custom homes, like our upcoming Stanly Ranch project, it would be an ELAN controller featuring the ELAN app.
GEORGE: Well, that's a good segue into the builder programs that you guys have developed. Can you tell us a little bit about those?
BRET: Sure. As Nice Builder Services, our goal was to cre¬ate a builder program that addresses the three main housing verticals (Luxury, Production, Multifamily), as well as support our company’s primary sales channels. The Nice Luxury builder solution is powered by ELAN control systems and was specifically created for the custom integration compa¬nies who service luxury homebuilders. The Nice Production solution features 2GIG in coordination with Alarm.com and their builder team. When that program launched, we saw immediate traction with dozens of builders who appreciated the cost-effective hardware and simplified implementation process combined with the incredible assets, training, and support all builders receive from Nice Builder Services when they commit to the inclusion of a standard technology pack¬age in their new homes.
GEORGE: How does your typical builder program work?
BRET: We work with our integrator and the builder to create and price a standard offering that is enticing to homebuyers on its’ own. That Standard is then used as the foundation for personalization options, which are designed to further en¬hance that Standard. Knowing that the primary goal of the program is to leverage the Standard offering to achieve high take-rates of lifestyle-enhancing option packages, builders will agree to invest the cost of that Standard.
When the builder uses this technology to differentiate them¬selves in their market by utilizing the marketing assets and sales tools we provide, and begin to see synergy in action between all stakeholders — the builder, integrator, real es¬tate agents, the design center staff – that’s when we start to see the true power of our program.
GEORGE: Tell us more about the ELAN solution for luxury homes. You’ve shown us a good example of marketing materials you provide with the brochure created for the Stanly Ranch development in Napa Valley, California. Can you elaborate on that?
BRET: We've created hundreds of these co-branded custom brochures for homebuilders to use to better market their commitment to offering a smart connected home. We’ve found that builders are using these brochures in a couple of different ways. First, they place them in their model homes, offices, and events to attract a potential buyer. They also use them in the options selection process, typically happening in the design center. When designers are discussing per¬sonalization with the buyer, those technology packages are included in the conversation — along with flooring, counter¬tops, fixtures, and cabinetry, etc., and that is what we define as success!
Behind the scenes, these elaborate systems and options are engineered for ease of use and reliability by the Nice Builder Services team and our integrators. But the optional technology packages are designed to tell a story and focus on the lifestyle benefit to their buyer. This allows salespeo¬ple, real estate agents, and design center staff to simply discuss the benefits of technology in packages like “Peace of Mind” or “Safe & Secure”, and “Music Under the Stars.” Once selected, these packages are ordered and delivered turnkey by our integrator to the buyer on behalf of the build¬er. The builder sets pricing with the appropriate markup and profit, just as they do with any other product or mate¬rial installed by a subcontractor or vendor. That process is enabled through the assets that we provide, including custom brochures, model home gear and merchandising kits, design center displays, and so much more.
For the Stanly Ranch project, the builder and developer are providing their buyers with a very impressive Standard that offers a great deal of functionality: wall to wall Wi-Fi, video doorbell, smart thermostats, half a dozen smart light switch¬es, smart door lock, and an intelligent touch panel. That Stan¬dard system is all controlled from the award-winning ELAN app and serves as the foundation for additional personal¬ization options. At Stanly Ranch, through our integrator Bear Technology, we are offering three large option packages for purchase by their homebuyers — Peace of Mind, which adds an integrated security system, smart surveillance cameras, and smart garage door operators for full security, control and monitoring of both the home and garage. Also being offered is Light It Up, which adds Lutron smart lighting and shades throughout the home, as well as the TV & Music Everywhere package, which includes a 7.1 surround sound system in the media room as well as distributed audio both indoors and out for high-quality entertainment and audio.
FROM THE INTEGRATOR'S POINT OF VIEW
"The greatest advantage of the program is having a manufacturer that stands with the integrator every step of the way, supporting the process with functions like complimentary model home gear and competitive pricing on equipment for the entire project."GREG LUDWIG | PRESIDENT, BEAR TECHNOLOGY
We recently chatted with Greg Ludwig of Bear Technology, the technology integrator for the Stanly Ranch development, about his experience with ELAN and the Nice Builder program.
GEORGE: How long have you been an ELAN dealer? And how did you get involved with the Stanly Ranch project?
GREG: I worked for a company called Peterson Communications for 14 years before I went out on my own. I then started with ELAN in 2008. When the developer, Greg Peterson, was running all the fiber and network on the Stanly Ranch property and was asked by the owners if he knew anyone in the automation field – he called me in December of 2021.
GEORGE: As a tech integrator, what are some of the advantages of the Nice Builder program?
GREG: This was really my first big project working closely with the builder program. The greatest advantage of the program is having a manufacturer that stands with the Integrator every step of the way, supporting the process with functions like offering complimentary model home gear and competitive pricing on equipment for the entire project.
The Nice Builder Services team made themselves avail¬able to us anytime and designed custom marketing assets co-branded to present ELAN and Bear Technology as true partners in providing a connected smart home solution to the Stanly Ranch homebuyers. I honestly think their unmatched support is why we secured the contract for this project.
GEORGE: What do you see as the benefits to the end user?
GREG: I think many of these properties will be second homes for the owners and having every one controlled by ELAN will give them peace of mind while home or away. These homes are rather large, so the flexible user interface gives the owner and their guests the ability to control system elements like lighting, climate and music in rooms that are far from the primary living areas. The homeowner will also have the capability to create custom scenes and functions with the system to better fit their lifestyle. The world is ever-changing and full of new connected devices being developed as we speak. These homeowners will purchase their new home knowing they have the platform and infrastructure in place to grow with it over time.