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Clipsal Slammed As Installer Market Slows

Several CEDIA Members who also sell Clipsal C Bus systems claim that Clipsal are openly urging inexperienced electricians to take on home installation jobs despite many of these electricians having little if any knowledge of IP or distributed audio issues. A recent survey by ChannelNews reveals that builders are by majority (82%) turning to electricians to do custom installs with the main reason given that they either “already have a relationship” or “they are cheaper and I can make more margin”.

In the USA in 2007, 72 percent of builders used electrical contractors for custom installs, up from the previous year’s 63 percent. Fifty-eight percent used custom installer/integrators in 2007, down from 2006’s 62 percent, CEA’s survey found.
Custom installers are globally being challenged by new trades moving onto the custom space including electricians who are being urged by Companies like Clipsal to take on the installation of both lighting and distributed audio as well as a new generation of IP based gear. Recent market statistics reveal that the new housing market in Australia is declining and that installers now have to depend more on the larger job.

During a recent costing exercise for a $350,000 installer project ChannelNews was approached by one electrician who wanted to quote on the job. When asked what experience they had they said “We have done a few houses. We did a Clipsal course and we attended the CEDIA Expo last year”. When asked about installing an IP based network linked to both lighting and sound they said “We have a mate who knows a lot about PC’s he helps us out”.

A leading installer and former CEDIA committee member said “Clipsal have a lot to answer for. They are jacking up electricians to do install’s and nine times out of ten the person doing the job is only skilled in the electrical and pulling cable.  While Clipsal sit on the CEDIA committee they are only interested in selling bucket loads of C Bus and related electrical gear. They don’t really care about IP integration, servers or distributed audio unless it is their own gear and that is pretty awful. Neither do they know anything about getting quality vision or sound out of the devices they are attaching to the automation network.”

Len Wallis of Len Wallis Audio who also sells the Clipsal C Bus system said “Its a case of dog eat dog we are seen as taking work away from electricans and electricans are seen as taking work away from us. Despite this we have seen some shocking jobs done by electricans and when a job has gone wrong there is often nothing we can do about it as it is hard to get to the cabling. Clipsal are promoting electricans into the install business however they are reacting to what builders want”. 

The problems in the installer market are not isolated to Australia. At last week’s EH Expo in the USA Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) economist Sean DuBravac said according to TWICE Magazine “Housing-industry-related businesses have been in recession for more than a year,” DuBravac said. Those businesses include building materials and furniture, whose year-over-year sales fell 4 percent in February following average 10 percent growth from 2003 through 2006.
Likewise, the home-remodelling market is depressed as consumers are scared of market conditions”, DuBravac said. The incidence of people upgrading their homes rather than moving “is not happening to the extent it did before,” he said.

“The glory days are gone,” added Steve Koenig, CEA’s industry analysis senior manager. “Installers have to think strategically about [which builders] to go after.” Those builders are either local, small builders who accounted for a lot of custom install jobs in 2007 or the large builders who accounted for 89 percent of all jobs but sold lower-priced systems, CEA found in its sixth annual builders’ survey. The survey is conducted in conjunction with the US National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). CEA also found small builders are twice as likely to install a home theatre when compared to a large builder.

In Australia several CEDIA members have said that they are concerned about the looming downturn “Interest rates are raising and jobs we thought we had are now being stalled. Another problem is that jobs that that were approved are now being put on hold” they said.

In Australia housing finance for owner occupation, dwellings increased 5.2% as of January 2008.

Dwelling unit approvals – Trend Mthly Jan 2008 7.2
Building approvals -Trend Mthly Jan 2008 11
     
Total dwellings/building commenced – trend Sep Qtr 2007 -2.6

The disturbing trend is that while approvals are up commencement of work is down by 2.6%

According to TWICE Installers who now have some breathing room to think strategically about their companies’ direction can adopt multiple new strategies, and installers who broke out into discussion groups after the CEA presentation offered some suggestions. They include a greater focus on add-on sales to previous customers, using trusted relationships to reduce competitive bidding, creating builder-targeted brochures to outline the profitability of multiform audio/video systems, installing custom technologies in vacant homes to do demos to a builder’s potential customers, and developing protection programs to overcome builders’ fears of call-backs after a custom system is installed.

Small custom builders seem to be the best bet for installers, said David Epstein, chairman of CEA’s TechHome division. Because of cash-flow problems, tract builders have cut their expenses, which include payments to custom installers. “That business essentially dried up,” Epstein told TWICE. Installers who focused on it are “in big trouble,” he said.
Getting any builder to promote custom options, however, is a challenge, Epstein agreed. Builders are a conservative lot, doing just enough to keep up with their competitors but “not springing out ahead,” he said.

The builder mentality could explain why, in Koenig’s words, “few builders proactively market” custom install systems. Depending on the system category, only 9 percent to 28 percent of builders market a given system, with structured wiring among the most marketed systems. “The majority is upon the request of the buyer, or there is no marketing at all,” said Koenig.
In fact, 64 percent of surveyed builders called it “somewhat important” to market home technologies, whereas only 25 percent called it “very important.” The latter percentage, however, has grown in recent years, CEA said.