On Millennials, DIY, Smart Homes, Professional Installation and the Business of IoT Things

It’s not that Millennials and other with-it customers want cheap; they just want smart home solutions that are simple and convenient. Will traditional custom installers meet their needs, or will Millennial-run start-ups own the market?

Editor’s Note: The following story first ran in Security Sales and Integration’s sister publication CE Pro .

In a CE Pro article not too long ago, I said it: the DIY trend is starting to get scary.

I addressed some challenges in the pro channel considering the new world order – one that includes very good, very inexpensive smart-home solutions for do-it-your-selfers, along with an entire ecosystem that makes it simpler for people to purchase and install their smart devices, whether by themselves or with a little guidance from a pro.

And, of course, the new world order includes Millennials – the generation that has grown up on technology, likes to order everything online, and doesn’t want to waste time with pesky salespeople and system designers.

I questioned integrators: What are you doing about this new reality? How can we exploit today’s on-demand economy? What can we learn from Uber and Airbnb?

What can we learn from SnapAV, which pioneered this model in the custom channel?

Why has SnapAV done so well? Because dealers want to research, order, buy and receive products simply, without having to speak to sales, logistics and accounting people on the other end.

Why wouldn’t your customers want this same experience?

Some Readers Aren’t Buying It

RobMacK (posting on a different cepro.com story about Millennials) writes:

We’re supposed to market our products/services to Millennials who have an 8-second or less attention span? Who don’t even have (maybe) 20 percent of the purchasing power that their older (and wiser) boomer generation have? And who think that they know everything (already!) about tech? … Millennials want to do it all themselves. Let them. I’ll still be happy to provide their parents with quality service and equipment.

As an aside, Rob’s comment makes me wonder: Who is actually making the tech-related decisions for their aging parents these days? And who will be the “mature” buyers in the next decade or two?

But the other reality is that “traditional” customers are dying off (literally) and high-touch installs are becoming a smaller piece of the entire custom pie, which is growing overall if you count semi-custom.

It’s not so much that Millennials and other modern-day customers want cheap; it’s more that they want simple, convenient and immediate.

As usual, Steve Firszt of the industry consulting firm Vital Mgmt sums it up better than I:

Julie’s larger point, to me, is the perceived experience of doing business with a specialist. We ask too many questions. We throw around scary technical jargon. As a buyer, I have to make too many decisions about too many things I know nothing about. … [C]heck the mirror and ask, “What is it like to do business with me?”

Similarly, “Ben” comments:

Dealers need to remember who they’re designing for, which is the customer. Dealers can be easily caught up in over-designing projects which will eventually cause customers to turn to simpler, less-stressful solutions (whether that is a DIY solution of just another integrator).


Today’s more mature integrators, retiring within a decade, might do well to proceed with business as usual. But those dealers in it for the long haul – especially those targeting the mid-market – should look out for the eager Millennials now entering the “custom” electronics field. You can be sure they will capture their peers with relevant marketing campaigns and disruptive business models.

Why should we continue to cede “our” business to innovative young start-ups? Why can’t “we” be the future-looking start-ups?

When I urged integrators to consider new business models that jibe with new realities, I was thinking along the lines of one particular example from the senior-living market, which also is being disrupted by a “DIY” movement called aging in place.

There will always be a need for assisted living facilities (as with pure custom integration), but how can these facilities exploit the growing aging-in-place movement? San Francisco start-up Seniorly, the “Airbnb of senior living,” allows facilities to fill temporary vacancies with seniors who might need a short stay. The company has partnered with Lyft to further simplify the experience for the facility, the short-term guest, and their caretaker.

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About the Author


Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration.

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