Industry leaders from Lutron and Google/Nest discussed the role of lighting in today’s connected world and the opportunities on the horizon
Light is something you have to see and feel,” explained Michael Smith, VP/Residential Sales for Lutron Electronics. “And ‘intelligent light’ is about delivering light how the consumer wants it, when they want it. I think what we’re really selling is joy — but how do you convey that?”
Door locks, doorbells, and thermostats are all household products that most consumers grew up with, but now they operate differently – wirelessly – and smart bulbs and smart lighting fixtures are joining those ranks.
“The Internet of Things has made our lives easier,” Smith told the ALA Conference audience. “When consumers go for a run, they don’t need to bring their car keys. While they are driving up to their ski house, they can set [the home’s] temperature to be warm before they arrive.”
This synergy between lighting and controls is also happening on the manufacturer level. For example, controls leader Lutron purchased architectural lighting fixtures, controls, and lamp manufacturer Ketra earlier this year.
Thriving in a crowded market filled with a vast variety of smart light bulbs and wireless control apps requires a different thought process. “We’re not selling things; we’re selling a feeling,” Smith stated. “That’s where we are taking the next chapter in lighting [as prices come down]. “You’re not selling fixtures, you’re selling a lifestyle.”
Smith pointed to Whole Foods Market®, Disney®, and Apple as leaders in shifting the consumer mindset to one of seeking “experiences.” In order to succeed in this new retail era, lighting showrooms will have to adapt. “Disney has ‘Disney Magic.’ What are we doing to create lighting magic? What are we doing with our demo rooms [to show off that magic]?
“Google, Microsoft, Comcast®, Apple, and Amazon are betting millions of dollars on the connectedness of homes,” Smith remarked. “You have to develop that experience [with lighting] or people will go elsewhere for it. You will be beat out by other channels.”
Smith added, “I love disruption — but it’s change, and fear of change exists in all of us. This [the connected home] is the future; I don’t think we’ll be going backwards to how things were.”
Along with these disruptions come challenges. “There is a lack of awareness [among consumers] as to how these products will make their lives easier,” Smith stated. “They will be wondering, ‘Where do I go to experience them?’ and ‘Who can I call to install it for me?” There are also concerns from builders who don’t have enough skilled labor to handle complex installations, so you will start to see builders standardizing some of these systems. It has to be simple,” he commented.
“Just because you haven’t sold a connected home product before doesn’t mean you can’t sell it in the future,” Smith advised. “This is a $53 billion market — what’s lighting’s piece of the pie going to be? This is our opportunity, but we have to embrace change.”
Gene LaNois, head of the Professional Channel at Nest, had a strong message for the audience. “We were a one-product company,” he said, speaking of the initial success before Google acquired the business and propelled it to new heights.
The connected world will continue to grow. “If [a product] has electricity going to it, then it will become connected,” LaNois remarked. “If it doesn’t, we’re going to figure out how to make it connected.”
This connectedness presents a lot of opportunity to those with an entrepreneurial spirit. “What do you have within your infrastructure to expand your business?,” he asked the crowd.
“When you leave this conference, you’re going to want to adopt what you learned here. You have to take the time to learn more about it,” LaNois commented. “With the connected home, you don’t have to [enter] it all in one big bite. You can pick a few devices to focus on. If it’s not what you want, don’t feel pressured — but if you are looking for something that will be incremental to your business, then it’s the connected home.”
There are three things every business owner must do, according to LaNois: 1) Adopt 2) Learn 3) Evolve. “You have to pass [what you’ve learned] across your organization or designate [that job] to someone. Smart home adoption is growing rapidly and it is literally going to go faster. We are still in the infancy stage; we are just learning to walk. There is plenty of data out there [on the connected home]. It’s up to you to decide to be in it,” LaNois said, adding, “Google is having to figure out how to do business with you.”
The goal, according to LaNois, is “to build a ‘Thoughtful Home.’ This will take some machine learning and some AI (Artificial Intelligence) in there,” he remarked. “Having your lights turn off at 11p.m. by using your phone is cool — but having your home know it’s 11p.m. and time to lower the temperature and dim the lights, etc. is the ultimate. Our thoughts [at Google] are revolving around the Thoughtful Home.”
LaNois echoed Smith’s urging that the time is right to enter the market. “Installation is still a major barrier to purchase, and even plug-and-play set-ups can be intimidating,” LaNois noted. “We’ve found that the number one reason someone purchased Nest was the ‘cool factor.’ And the number one reason for not purchasing it was that they didn’t know what works with what and needed an expert. This is your advantage,” he commented. “Ninety-five percent of people will purchase the product [you’re selling] after they’ve had a consultation. Don’t make the process complicated. If you’re interested in connected lighting, now’s the time to hop in.”