Custom Install and Smart Home roundtable: “I’ve been amazed by the array of training that is out there!"

posted on Saturday, 22nd October 2016 by Steve May

Smart home  Training  AWE Europe  Lilin  Invision UK 

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At the recent ERT retail industry trade awards, Robert Hughes, managing director of Hughes Electrical, was lauded with a Special Achievement award. Hughes has become a poster brand for a new generation of custom install specialists, specifically those which have successfully moved from traditional bricks and mortar electrical retailing into the often choppy waters of custom install.

“Everyone needs a second specialty these days,” Hughes told the audience of industry professionals. So how best to develop just such a second speciality? The key is training – and lots of it.

As Jason Aldous, MD of distributor Aldous Systems, says: “As a System Integrator you need to understand all technologies involved to be able to understand what needs to be done.”

To learn more, we turned to industry figureheads for advice on how to build and expand a CI skillset...

Where should aerial installers, retailers and infrastructure professional look to broaden their custom install knowledge? Just how easy is it to jump on the Smart Home bandwagon?

Ashley Shorey-Mills, Southern Area Operations Manager SmartHome Manager, Hughes: “I’ve been amazed by the array of training that is out there. You have organisations, groups and other comrades in this market, all willing to help and advise to grow this market.  In my eyes, the best places to begin are with training and industry organisations such as CEDIA, and then distributors of smart home products like AWE and Invision UK. When we first started, the team at AWE were incredibly helpful in all aspects of helping us to understand which direction to head.”

“We needed our dedicated smart home sales team to understand fully everything we do, and all products that are available, as well as how it is installed.  We then needed our teams of installers to be fully confident in these new products that they would be installing in our customers homes.  We have done very basic skills training at AWE to get around 40 staff to a basic level, with then the majority of our training taking place at CEDIA with a core team of 12, split between sales and installation.”

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Stuart Tickle, Managing Director of AWE: “You must understand the benefits of the products you are selling, and how these devices may or may not connect with one another. Presenting yourself as knowledgeable is of paramount importance, as working within a customer’s home requires trust and professionalism.

“This requires training from people in the know. AWE’s Smart Home Academy covers a range of courses, including CEDIA Training, Foundation Workshops, Lighting Control System Design and Programming, Single and Whole House Control and HDMI and 4K Video Distribution.   

“Our Foundation Workshop is aimed at independent retailers, and focuses on the fundamentals of smart home installation.  Uniquely, as well as important background and theory, there is a heavy bias towards the essential skills and knowledge required for a variety of tasks that integrators will be faced with on a regular basis in a hands on workshop. Starting with basic health and safety advice and do’s and don’ts of CI, the full day course then progresses into the practical sessions. A variety of tasks await course delegates, from neatly and safely placing an in-ceiling speaker between joists and mounting a TV bracket, to reliably terminating and testing CAT 5/6 networking cables.

“Products need to be displayed in a real life set up for customers to fully understand how these systems can work in their home. Therefore, a demo facility is a must. For those retailers who don’t have the space to do so themselves, we at AWE provide them with an industry leading demo facility. AWE’s dedicated Show Apartment, Dolby Atmos Home Cinema and Product Showroom showcase the latest products as part of a working solution that people can experience first-hand.

Retailers that can build business in this area with a service and maintenance offering will see longer, more profitable relationships with customers. My advice would be to do it, and do it now.”

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So how important is it to specialise?  Should outfits specialsise in network security and IP, or multiroom audio and home entertainment – or just go for everything?

Charlotte Blissett-Griffiths, head of marketing at KNX pioneer Ivory Egg: “Given the complexity of even a single product group, it is worth specialising initially to ensure you are able to offer a high level of relevant support. There are benefits to offering a complete end-to-end solution as you can position yourself as a one-stop shop. But the amount of support you will require needs to be considered, particularly given the diverse range of skills needed from TV cabling to networking.” 

Chris Pinder, Managing Director, HD Anywhere: “Do a survey of your existing customer base or ask leading members of your sales team which services they most frequently get requests for, but are unable to fulfill due to a lack of training in that area- do people want you to fit a Nest thermostat but no-one in your team knows how?

“With the emergence of multiroom audio video consumer technologies like Sky Q and Sonos, we’re really seeing a growth in the number of home owners seeking to get HD and 4K movies, games and shows to every room in their home. The thing about audio visual equipment is that it’s a good gateway into other areas like whole-home control and we’d recommend you start with AV equipment before branching into full-blown whole-home automation.

“People come from all backgrounds and all skill levels so we our training tends to cover both basic theoretical and practical principles that need to be understood in order to be a good AV equipment installer.”

                    Also read
                    Review: AWE Expo Smart Home event 2016
                    Custom opportunities 2016: Where’s the beef?

Jason Hill, Group VP at LILIN: “Our courses are focused on key groups, so we generally understand their competencies and limitations, that we way we can deliver valuable content in shorter time frames. We can’t take someone on ‘Surveillance for Custom Install’ who is not a Custom Installer with good networking fundamentals. They would learn something but would be unable to apply the knowledge.

"Our advice for training would be to carefully understand the content and whether it is suitable/valuable for the candidate. To make sure the training is not a product promotion session wrapped in a thin veneer of ‘training’. Is the training is delivered by and independent trainer (rather than a manufacturer) are they current and do they have the latest technology available to support their training? Technology in this sector moves fast, it’s not much use being trained on an obsolete piece of kit…”

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology journalist, who also writes for T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice and ERT (amongst others).

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