This is the opportunity for independent retailers

You know the smart-home market is gaining momentum all the time, so don’t put it off, make the move now, be cautious and build it up slowly, says Hughes Smart Home general manager Ashley Shorey-Mills

So, we’ve all been reading about the smart home and how it’s the future. All well and good, but should we listen? Why should we invest? Do we need to change?

Now, I appreciate that I am in a privileged position as someone who has already made the leap. But the world has changed over the past couple of years and now it’s an even bigger consideration. I still believe firmly it is something that we should all be investing in.

There are numerous reports on the billions of pounds that the smart-home sector will be worth but, cutting through it all, what are we left with? A sector of the market that is years away from comfortable self-install and a minefield of information and systems that the average consumer won’t understand, let alone look at purchasing.

This is the opportunity for independent retailers. With service expertise, and a trusted brand, we have the key attributes people look for when investing in new technology. Whether it’s on TV, radio or the press, the smart home and IoT is slowly becoming a consistent discussion point among the media and your customers. That is the key. Your customers – whose families have been shopping with you for years – will want to understand these new ‘buzz’ technologies. Can we afford to let them go elsewhere?

Growing

When we set up the Hughes Smart Home division, we started on the basis that our existing customers wanted extra. We knew the smart-home market was growing, but equally we knew there was still room to grow and improve our service offering for ‘standard’ TV customers – the ‘untouched middle market’.

We were selling a TV and soundbar, but we were simply living up to customers’ initial expectations – not their ultimate desires. When you are in the customer’s home, you can see the opportunities. In-store, sales staff can’t see them, and so with confidence and awareness low, we decided on a dedicated team.

The team started with three. They visited customers’ houses and suggested ways to improve their purchases. Our shop staff would speak with customers, develop the relationship as normal, but then spot that a customer had potential for extra and arrange a visit from the smart-home team – and so it developed from there.

Service

We added extra turnover, at vastly higher margin, and customers received a level of service they wouldn’t have expected, which they happily paid for. We would take products out to the customer, if required, so that they could see them in their own home, and used the sales staff in the stores to be our advocates by selling the benefits of the products and extra services that we offered.

However, this was just the start. As we were able to slowly build up our business by this simple little bolt-on service, we knew that we had to develop the true ‘Smart Home’ aspect of the business as well.

This involved spending time, effort and money on training. We needed to understand so many extra aspects of this new area, so we looked for support and found ample avenues – other smart-home dealers (Dugdales of Clitheroe), suppliers (AWE) and one of our key industry groups (Cedia). There are so many different groups, willing and happy to assist with improving awareness and knowledge in this massive sector, that you are never alone. It really is its own community.

Knowledge and understanding is so important, not just for us, but also for our customers and cannot be underestimated. The feedback is that the public like the idea of a smart home, but don’t understand it and feel it is too difficult to use. This is again where we come in. How are people going to experience this without local shops being able to show it to them and install it? Yes, Germany, France and the US are ahead of us in take-up, but equally they have a housing market that makes installs easier. They also have utility companies installing these goods, so naturally numbers will increase from this market, but getting a smart thermostat from British Gas is not going to make a home smart in itself. Consumers need help to understand how and why they should get involved.

So what can you do? You don’t have to go in-depth into the whole smart-home market from day one. We took our time, researched the products and invested slowly.

You can take your existing CE and MDA customers and give them something extra over your competition, while putting extra money in you till. Then, develop your offering to expand into new avenues as and when you are comfortable.

But the time is now. We are probably no more than three to four years from the ultimate era in smart home. Leaving it until 2019, when who knows how much the living wage will be and how many other barriers will make customers question a new investment, would be a huge mistake. So invest cautiously and consistently by being proactive now and learning as you go.