Bay Area Services, a successful HVAC contractor in Green Bay, Wis., is using Internet-connected door locks, security cameras, and thermostats as a means to an end: to build his customer list and increase sales on service calls. According to Tom Beaulieu, president and founder, these products, “have been the ticket to get my salespeople into customers’ homes, and we have expanded our customer base because of it.”

About two years ago, he attended a meeting and was introduced to an Internet-connected system from Ingersoll Rand that had the capability to remotely control temperature, monitor door locks, and bring up video images of the home and its surroundings. Beaulieu said, “When I found out a door knob could send a text message, that really excited me.” The system utilized a smart phone to notify a homeowner who was entering the home and when it occurred in real time.

The Nexia Home Intelligence System

That was Beaulieu’s first exposure to the Nexia Home Intelligence System which combines technologies and products from Ingersoll Rand companies Trane and Schlage. Nexia is built on a wireless technology known as Z-Wave that communicates with devices such as thermostats, door locks, and cameras and translates it into a simple control the homeowner can manage via the Internet. According to the company, the Z-Wave technology enables the homeowner to add other products as their needs change. Beaulieu was also attracted to the technology and the simplicity of the system compared to the wired home automation systems that can cost up to $75,000. The system is Internet browser-based software that requires a monthly subscription.

Why Invest in Home Automation?

Most contractors look at the home automation market and view it as totally foreign to installing and servicing HVAC equipment and as a distraction to their business, but not Beaulieu. He saw this as a tremendous opportunity to grow his business and offer more things to more customers. He said, “This product and service is something I can bring to homeowners in between the typical life cycle of replacement furnaces or condensing units.” Also, this new technology product is a way to gain more customers and increase referrals. A satisfied home automation customer will tell friends and neighbors and that gives Bay Area salespeople more opportunities to not only talk about the Nexia system, but they can also evaluate the entire HVAC system while they are in the home. Often times a visit to talk about a wireless thermostat can lead to a major system upgrade.

Bay Area Services is promoting Nexia because it offers more than remote control of the temperature in the home, and it has a lot of functionality. “Now we can bring in the neat factor, and we have confidence that it works, it’s dependable, and it’s secure,” claimed Beaulieu. He sees this as an opportunity to offer products and systems that excite his customers. Being able to show live video or being notified by text when someone’s child gets home is much more exciting than talking about static pressure and relative humidity.

Changing the Mindset at the Company

Beaulieu said, “I became excited about the Nexia system because it’s something different that we can talk about.” The more he learned, the more he became passionate about the benefits of the system. But he had to bring that same passion to the entire company, and that meant changing the mindset of every employee.

First he invested in several systems for internal use and set up mock stations of all the components as well as iPhones and iPads. Then he arranged for three companywide meetings, including office staff, to create excitement about the product and what it can do for the homeowner.

The next step was to convince HVAC technicians that they can install door locks, security equipment, and an Internet-connected system. Beaulieu knew the initial reaction was going to be “We can’t do that,” so he went to a local builder and had 20 mock doors built with a standard door lock, and then proceeded to have his employees go through all the steps necessary to install the Nexia door lock from Schlage. Now according to Beaulieu, “Everyone in this company can install a door lock in ten minutes.” The same hands-on approach was used for setting up the security cameras and setting up the systems.

Results and Forecasts

The investment in equipment, training, and manpower is already paying off for Bay Area Services, with 10 to 15 connected systems a month being installed. The potential is much higher because Beaulieu estimates that less than 5 percent of his sales calls result in a home automation system, but this does not discourage his efforts because the hype of the new technology is the company’s ticket in the door to sell all of its other services. Beaulieu claims he has significantly expanded his customer base because of his promotion of the system. He said, “I think we are in the infancy of this whole thing and I think it is going to explode because it’s becoming so affordable.”

Beaulieu is optimistic about the future because of the proliferation of mobile devices and the attention that is being given to Internet-connected devices like door locks, security cameras, and thermostats. He foresees these devices becoming the norm in new construction and he referred to the home automation products that are starting to show up at the big box retailers. He pointed out the thermostat is the most difficult product to install, and most consumers and professionals outside the industry want to stay away from it. “I’m looking for the average Joe that doesn’t want to mess around and wants to pay a professional to get it done.”

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Publication date: 8/20/2012