We have quite a number of fans to iconic.systems. I have had clients moving from other states comment about dealing with us was so easy compared to the pain points they had with past experiences. We have had other clients ask if we would go to another state to help them. Having a local company is important and having someone who can provide the type of system and experience is key to satisfaction. But technology is constantly changing, products are updated or obsoleted, and services come and go. Nest thermostats said they would never integrate with other systems and that was backed by their CEO at the time stating this in a keynote speech at CEDIA Expo (the largest single industry event). The following year they said they would integrate with any other systems with an open API. Then the year after that, they started removing integrations again and breaking code that made them communicate to outside systems. So if massive companies like Nest, owned by Google, change their direction so many times in such a short period; then imagine how difficult it is for smaller manufacturers and especially integrators to keep up with the ever changing landscape of technology. But I digress. We take over quite a number of projects that were installed by others, especially when it comes to Savant based systems. So we see the work that many others do, even if we are not really competing with them on a daily basis. We know what we do well and, of course, we think we do those things the best. But we are not the right fit for everyone and truth be told, not every potential client is the right fit for us. We specialize in clients who want convenience features that come with having smart home features, those who want designer features that can sometimes be difficult to master to make the home look great, and homeowners who want someone to make it easy to operate, have installed, and maintained. We also sell systems and not a list of products that the average person (or insider) would struggle to figure out. This all means that not everyone will find our method or even our company appealing. So we get asked who else would you use if we weren't invited to do the home system.
- BRAVAS. This company is a conglomerate of 15 or so regional integrators that got together and formed a single company several years back. In some markets, these were the best of the best. There are lots of benefits to this approach. They can share resources and buying power that individual companies would not be able to do. They have a good reputation and will go far to protect that. So they are less likely to leave a client hanging. They sell many similar brands but as part of a larger corporate machine, they do not change the methods or brands as easily. What the one in Kansas City does, the one in Houston needs to be able to do the same things. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Once they have a proven method, they stick with it. This makes a good case for potentially having more reliable systems. But it also means that some newer, cutting edge features may not get implemented until they are tested and fully vetted. This can take years in some cases. A company like this will also have system designers, engineers, and other specialists on staff along with a robust corporate team. That also comes at a price. I was recently socializing with some of their executives when one of them mentioned that there are some projects that they can't compete on. "Being BRAVAS means a higher price tag" he said, because they have higher overhead which translates to higher priced systems. But if you are building a massive estate and your technology budget is going to be $1M or more, then this is likely the company or type of company that you would want to engage because there are not many that can support THAT level.
- Best Buy / Magnolia. Considered the the kings of electronics for quite some time now, the Best Buy empire is vast. For DIY or cash and carry items, they are likely the go-to for most of the country. In some markets, their installation and integration departments are very good too, especially if they had a Magnolia name attached. But as with many things in life, it makes a difference if you have a good team in your closest location. And if you really get good service from some of their team, there is no guarantee that you will get the same group back at your home the next time. Just like the example above though, they have a reputation to protect as a publicly traded company, so it is unlikely you will really be left holding the bag on an installation. They have evolved over the years with the addition of Magnolia for higher performance systems. However the pandemic really showed them what their core business is and it isn't high end home systems. Their online model or online purchase / store pickup method shot through the roof as people were home more. Their in store experience, which many believe is needed for higher end items and systems, went to nil. In fact some stores were not even open to shoppers, yet they would still do car delivery. As a result, they have started to put even more of a focus on cash and carry items, less on whole home or high performance products. There are even rumors that the Magnolia sections of some stores will be merged into the standard store experience and the higher level technicians and system designers will be a thing of the past. So for a simple hang and bang TV purchase, DIY products, or even cash and carry; Best Buy will likely remain the leader for quite some time. I have bought a handful of things from them recently that are not related to automation or audio so I didn't have to order it online. They will continue to be the 800 lb. gorilla in the industry and with that comes positives and negatives.
- Digital Delight. I know these guys pretty well and have for quite a while. When I was doing marketing, I helped them with some of their vehicle wraps and other advertising. The owner has been to my house while I was building it. They are good people and have good intentions. They honed in on an underserved market and made an impact, even being in some trade magazines. Their specialty is installing or setting up DIY products for people who like that concept but don't want to actually do it for themselves. There are a bunch of people out there like this. I have been in to some very high end homes that have DIY products scattered throughout. Some of it is familiarity with the products, like Alexa. Some of it is because the homeowner starts small, maybe even with just one room, likes the product(s), and eventually wants more of it for other parts of the home. Maybe they don't like to plan things out or think of things in advance, don't need a technology designer, and just want to buy tabletop products as they go. Digital Delight does a good job of making individual systems work well in a home. You could have an independent system in your living room, a separate system in the bedroom, another system outside. They even coined a hashtag to signify local systems to each area of the house. So when it comes to DIY products and making them work as well as they can, this is the type of company you would want to use for those homes. If you have more of an interest in the DIY categories and less of a systematic approach, a company like Digital Delight is probably your best option.
- Unlimited Integration. Another group of people I know very well. Known in our industry and region as very stand up people, these are probably people that you can really trust. They design some of the same systems and use some of the same brands that we do, but there are definitely some different ones too. In fact, I recommended the remote tech support service that we use to them and they now use the same one. There are quite a few similarities to our companies, so this is one that I would say is most like us in a bunch of ways. They do specialize in some things that are different from us though. They can do a security system for you. We can integrate security systems, but we contract out security systems to a company that can monitor and service them. They do predominantly Lutron products for lighting and shades, whereas we are mostly Savant and Vantage for lighting control. If a customer bought a home that already had an existing Lutron Homeworks system in it, UI is the company I would call, and have before. And if another client bought a home with a Vantage system in place, we are the company to call, and they have contacted us before. We would likely take different approaches to new system design and products used, but the end result and the price points would likely be very similar between our two companies. Obviously the back end tech support would be the same since we use the same company for that. We have a ton of successful deployments in condo projects, so especially if someone is in that environment, we would have some specialties that they would not have. But there are some things that Unlimited would be more specialized in that could make them a great choice.
- Neighborhood / local mom & pop types. There are obviously other companies in an area as large as Houston. And in some suburbs or areas of the metro area, there may be a small operator that will give excellent service. Sometimes a smaller group can give you a little more personalized attention or might work odd hours to get the job. If someone who lives in your neighborhood, where the owner might be the one to pick up the phone and / or do the install themselves, is the most important thing to you; a small, very local integrator may be best suited for you. Some of the smaller operations really do a lot to earn your business. Years ago, I was an operation like this and we would frequently do things that others larger than us would not or could not do. Unfortunately we all know the sayings about good intentions. Quite often small integrators don't have the resources to finish out the job, make it work properly, or worse. These types of operations are who our company usually gets the most service calls to take over a system from. They often have good intentions and start a system, but may not have the experience to get to the finish line. Maybe they are competing more on low price points and if they don't include all of the items in the design that integrators with lots of deployments would know are needed, then it can ultimately cost you in time or dissatisfaction. But there are clearly going to be some reputable establishments that specialize in your neighborhood. In some ways you have to be willing to risk a little in order to find out if your project will be a success or failure. You may not know until the very end. There is always a trade off and there is definitely no one size fits all approach.
Just like there are fans of different cars and trucks, personal preferences and personality play as much a part as reliability and performance. It would be impossible to go through all of the options. As a company, we volunteer and attend numerous conferences and conventions to network and measure our work across the entire industry, not just the local level. It would be hard to find another company in Houston that has such extensive experience, resources, industry involvement, and talent. But this article was intended to go through some of the most common alternatives to using us as the primary company on the project. Basically who we would recommend, why, and for what types of projects. We know we are not a perfect fit for everyone out there. Understanding the players in the market can help one decide who is best suited to provide them with exactly what they are looking for.
Business Development - iconic.systems
CEDIA Registered Outreach Instructor, ALA Lighting Specialist
Savant Ambassador, Savant Platinum, Savant Advisory Council, Legrand Elite, Sony Diamond