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ANALYSIS: Smart Training

Installing confidence


The rise of the smart home means a need for more specialist training for retailers and installers. This is where technology association Cedia comes into its own, as operations director Matt Nimmons tells Sean Hannam

There’s an old adage that says ‘home is where the heart is’, but for Cedia (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association), it’s more a case of home is where the smart is.

With the connected home being the most talked-about topic in the consumer electronics market, the technology trade association has seen a rise in its membership, as more retailers and installers look to find out more about how to make the move into this potentially lucrative sector.

“We’re in really good health – our membership is at an all-time high,” says Cedia’s operations director Matt Nimmons, sat in the lounge of custom installation retailer Cornflake’s luxurious ‘App-artment’ in London’s Fitzrovia.

“We have over 750 members in the EMEA regions – worldwide, we have more than 3,700. From a UK point of view, our installer base is up 15 per cent this year alone. We’ve had rapid growth over the past two or three years.”

Commenting on what’s driven that growth, Mr Nimmons tells ERT: “I think there are a number of different factors. The programmes and inititiatives that Cedia are offering are becoming more and more appealing – we’re certainly seeing a lot of people who want to engage with our education, marketing and business tools and we’re reaching out to architects. We’re also noticing a lot more businesses looking to come into the smart-home marketplace. I think the Internet of Things and the buzz around the smart home within the consumer press has led to more of an appetite for it – both for the consumer and for businesses.”

Cedia training session
Cedia training session

He adds: “More traditional hi-fi and electrical retailers, like Richer Sounds and Sevenoaks, and aerial installers, are moving into the smart home. Independents like Hughes and Avensys are also making that transition.

Eroded

“The margins on a lot of consumer electronics are being eroded and, therefore, they need to look at how to add more value to the purchase. You can’t really Google ‘How much is a smart home?’ That’s why there are still advantages for businesses that are operating in that market – they can provide added value for the customer.”

Mr Nimmons says that a lot of the new consumer products that are coming to market still require a degree of installation in order to work. He cites Amazon’s Echo speaker with Alexa voice control technology, which has launched in the US, as a good example: “In the US, a lot of consumers struggled to set up the Amazon Echo. Some of them sent it back, because they thought it wasn’t working properly. It was actually because they weren’t setting it up correctly. Amazon has identified that it needs to embrace and work with the professional channel. This year, Amazon will be exhibiting – and giving a keynote speech – at Cedia’s Expo in Dallas [September 13-17] and Google will also be there.”

So is it a challenge for smaller retailers to demonstrate and sell the smart-home concept?

“Yes. What we’re finding, more and more, is that our members are partnering with interior designers, kitchen manufacturers and furniture companies and also talking to developers, so they can put technology in show homes and apartments and share the burden of that cost.

“In the past few weeks, the Berkeley Group – developer of new homes – has joined Cedia. They want to get a better understanding of the smart home and have access to some of our training.

“Earlier this year, we worked with the National House Building Council (NHBC) to produce a report on the connected home, which has enabled us to create more awareness in the house-builder channel. Historically, we’ve come from an AV-centric background – big screens, big sound and home cinema – but in the past five years, things like intelligent heating and lighting and security control are becoming a necessity. We’re seeing a lot more of our members – and the industry – provide those services to consumers.”

Training has always been a major focus for Cedia and the organisation has recently made some major changes to its Cedia Education programme.

Matt Nimmons
Matt Nimmons

Says Mr Nimmons: “In the past six months, we’ve seen a real increase in Cedia Education – it’s now accredited and nationally recognised by City and Guilds.

“We now have two smart-home programmes – one for a smart-home technician and one for a smart-home designer. That’s really elevated Cedia’s presence in the training space – we’re getting a lot more enquiries. In the first six months of 2016, we’ve had our best year to date for the number of people doing our training.”

Looking ahead, Mr Nimmons tells ERT: “The other area that we’re looking to improve on is making our education more accessible. While we have our headquarters in Cambridgeshire, it’s not convenient and accessible for everyone. We’ve partnered with [the distributor] AWE, which has a training facility in Epsom, Surrey, and we recently announced that we’re partnering with the distributor Unicam in Leeds to provide Cedia’s core curriculum in the North. That’s just the start – our ambition is to make Cedia Education much more national – we’re already in talks with people in Wales.

“In the past couple of years, globally, Cedia has invested in online education – we have over 100 courses available online. We’ve upped our game with new courses for those who are entering the market – education has always been our cornerstone. Most of the distributors and manufacturers in the industry have their own training facilities, managers and programmes. Combined with Cedia’s training, which is always brand-agnostic, any independent retailers who are looking to move into this space can do so with real confidence.”

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