Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Home Automation?...Nope!

“Home Automation” has been around for over 20 years and other than in the very high end, custom integrator market or the geek community it has never received mass market adoption—and that is still true today. The term, “Home Automation” is viewed by most consumers as being something that is too complicated, too expensive and “unnecessary”. It is something that Bill Gates has in his home.

However, Home Energy Management, Safety and Security, and Remote Home Management are taking off like wild fire. Consumers can now get products and packages that address these needs at major retailers such as Lowes, RadioShack, Fry’s and Amazon and giants such as Best Buy are planning rollouts. What has changed that is driving this growth?

- Solutions that actually resonate with consumers: Not many really care about “automating” their home, but many care about saving money on utility bills, being more green, protecting their home better and being able to manage these things while on the go.
- Easier to install: With wireless technologies like Z-Wave and Zigbee, homeowners and renters can install these solutions easily without running wires and putting holes in the wall.
- More affordable: Lighting control for $40, thermostats for $99, door locks for $199, all available today at large retailers makes this more accessible for the average consumer.
- Interoperability: Technologies such as Z-Wave have created interoperability certification programs that have over 350 products from different brands that work together on the same home network.
- Technology that actually works: In the past, the more affordable technologies such as X-10 or the “Clapper” either had very limited functionality or they were not consistent in their quality and performance. Now with technologies from Z-Wave, Zigbee, Insteon and other low priced technologies are powering high quality products from major home brands such as Schlage, Black & Decker, Trane, Leviton, GE and many others.
- The Killer APP…control with your mobile phone: Studies have shown that there is a very high interest in consumers wanting to be able to control their homes while on the go. However, having to use your office computer or open up your laptop while in the airport has never been a good user experience. Now you can turn on your air conditioner, let you child in the door when she forgets her key or make sure you turned off your lights all from the convenience of your iPhone, Blackberry or other mobile device.

In addition to all of these compelling market drivers, there is a synergy developing between the retail channel and other major channels that are investing in these categories. The Cable and Telco service providers have been aggressively looking for a “quad” play (in addition to voice, high speed internet and television content). All three of these compelling Home Automation services leverage their broadband services delivery and their potential for another recurring revenue model. The Service Providers are trialing and rolling out Safety and Security services and Energy Management services worldwide. Typically they cannot and do not want to support the breadth of product hardware that consumers will embrace. They have been actively looking at “hybrid” models that include retail partnerships for the distribution of the products consumers need to fulfill their service.

Likewise Utilities and local governments are highly motivated to provide consumers with the tools to help them shed load during high demand times. Again, they do not want to be in the business of supplying thermostats, light switches, pool pump and appliance controls to the end user. However they will supply incentives for consumers to buy these devices at their local retailer.

It is clear that now is the time for retailers to prepare themselves for the looming boom that the affordable control of the smart home will bring to them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Facing this downturn is daunting and many will be overwhelmed and undone. And that’s the good news!

We are all suffering the impact of the depressed economy. Sales are down, margins are lower and profitability is either in jeopardy or lost. Facing this downturn is daunting, and many will be overwhelmed and undone.

But that’s the good news. Because if you use this time to become analytical, self critical, and open to change, and willing to make some hard decisions, you can take advantage of the overwhelmed and undone and not just survive, but thrive.

Remember, your competition is reeling just as hard as you are. If you are more aggressive, more flexible, faster acting and more tenacious, you will not only survive the short term but you’ll also garner market share and strengthen your position for the long term.


You can’t walk into an employee’s office or a department meeting and provide your team with the impetus or catalyst to make changes or add more tasks without first helping them offload some of what they’re already doing.

In most organizations these days, the bulk of the team is at or over capacity. I rarely walk into a business and see people goofing off or looking to avoid work. Most often people are working hard and scrambling like chickens sans skulls to meet deadlines and get their work done. And unless the top managers are bullies or tyrants, most team members actually do care and want to do a good job.

Unfortunately, in most organizations there is no support or process for identifying what not to do. In short, saying yes to things is easy, but saying no often seems nearly impossible. It’s just like telling people to “focus” or telling them to work smarter and not harder, and unfortunately, it’s just as meaningless.

Once you have people focused on fewer things, they will usually have far more clarity and have the capacity to take on change, new practices and new efforts.

Much like the business as a whole, there should be a regular process for each member of the team to look at the bottom 10% of what they are doing and divest on a regular and ongoing basis. And this shouldn’t be done by accident.

Most often the things that don’t get done are not the least important. Instead, they’re often the most challenging, have the least support and the most constraints -- though in many cases the biggest payoff. The decision the team or team member makes around what not to do, and what to say no, to needs to be conscious and deliberate.

You must provide the goals, tools and measurements that let people know what task is a low priority, what doesn’t make the grade, and what needs to be cut.

Remember – addition by subtraction is still addition.

Step2 – Goals, tools and measurements. Are we looking at the right things?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Do you really wonder what happened to Circuit City?

Welllll, If anyone reading is as old as me, they will remember the time a few years back when CC and BB were neck and neck in volume around the $9-10 billion range. Now, with BB over 4 times the size it is interesting to second guess what happened. Clearly it is much more than the fairly recent (07') change in commissioned sales people to hourly. Circuit has ALWAYS had a much more stodgy, sterile brand positioning than BB. They just have never appeared to be fun or cool or happening. They also pretty regularly abdicated a business when they couldn't figure it out thus reducing traffic (and cross traffic) and making people go elsewhere (BB, Wal-Mart) when they couldn’t find what they wanted at Circuit. They got out of the CD, DVD software business when they couldn’t figure out how to make margin there (and pre-downloads this was the main traffic source for CE retail and MADE BB for a long time. Movie and music media bring traffic and is a much more fun business than hardware. It represents celebrity and passion. Its all about the movies and music). They got out of the appliance business when they couldn’t figure that one out. They basically fed BB the business they didn’t want or couldn’t hack. The salesperson transition was just another bad decision in a long line of them.

This is exactly what happened to the Good Guys. Every time they couldn’t figure out how to make exorbitant margins in a category, they got out of it. Video game software, entry level prices points, computers, on and on. You would go in and ask for something and they would literally send you to BB to get it. Once you went to BB and saw they have the entry level CD player for $39 that you wanted to buy for your kids room or a gift and saw they also had the $299 one that you wanted when yours broke, why would you go back to the Good Guys, ever? Retail isn’t rocket science but you would think so with so many bad executions out there.

The irony is that the market is HUNGRY for a good, solid competitor to BB. I hope my friends at BB forgive me, but the experience is not so terrific there. In an effort to compete with Wal-Mart they have really downscaled the experience. You can't find more than a handful of aisles with more than a little tiny 1" by 2" tag with no more than a price and a model number. If you haven't already spent hours online figuring out what you want, the store selling environment will clearly not help you. What happened to the days of experiential selling? Look at Apple. While they have a much smaller assortment and granted Apple products are hot in and of themselves, their stores are cool (or as the younger folk say, "tight"). Can you imagine an Apple-like store with all of the gear of a BB? Wow, I would go there. Target sells a LOT of the same stuff as Wal-Mart but they sure do appeal to my sense of fashion and make me feel better about shopping. So does Costco. Great brands, great prices. And who can say they don’t love all of the food sampling stations?! So, retail doesn’t have to be such a trying, boring, stodgy, staid, depressing, negative experience as what CC has provided. Of course I have a lot more ideas has to how they could execute a successful turnaround but if I give them all away, then why would they hire me to turn it around? :-)

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