Home Automation Training Venture HAUS Closes, Liquidates Assets

Three principals of the high-end integration firm Xssentials launched an ambitious franchise-like business one year ago called HAUS (Home Automation University), but the group couldn’t attract members quickly enough to sustain the costly venture.

I wish I would have written this HAUS story earlier, in better times, after I visited them in March of this year. I wrote in detail about the launch of Home Automation University, but never got around to posting the follow-up.

Now, HAUS is closing its doors after less than a year of operation. The company is liquidating its ample assets via an online auction that begins Wednesday (Oct. 19) at 9 a.m.

“We couldn’t get members at the rate we thought we could,” co-founder David Daniels tells CE Pro. “The industry wasn’t ready for it.”

The Denver-area venture was launched last year by three principals of the high-end integration firm Xssentials – Daniels, Mike Thul and John Carlen. Everyone, including manufacturer partners Savant and Sonos, seemed to be rooting for them.

At Xssentials, the trio had launched a separate division called ebode for less-custom, lower-priced, higher-volume installations. That business would serve as the proof-of-concept for HAUS, which hoped to help other dealers venture beyond high-priced, high-touch, labor-intensive installations.

Perfecting Education … to a Fault?
Education and member collaboration, which feed on each other, were key tenets of HAUS. In fact, the company was so passionate about these principles that maybe, just maybe, they overspent on perfection when “really good for now” might have done.

Everything about training was scientifically devised and expertly implemented, down to the size of the rooms, the color temperature of the lighting (blue light is calming, but also gives you energy), and the configuration of furniture (swiveling chairs encourage interaction).

HAUS co-founder David Daniels in the video-production studio: “We couldn’t get members at the rate we thought we could. The industry wasn’t ready for it.”

HAUS hired training and education expert Shuli Steele to not only develop the curriculum but to design a 25,000-square-foot campus optimized for learning. She has a master’s degree in architecture.

“Having Shuli as an expert is invaluable,” Daniels told me when I visited the shockingly stunning campus earlier this year. “She makes sure we design everything based on how adults want to learn and interact.”

For example, training segments are relatively short, punctuated with breaks for students to go off and contemplate or share with their peers.

“We give them ways to apply what they’ve just learned,” Shuli told me earlier this year. “If you create a setting where you can immediately turn around and share what you’ve just learned, it stays with you. … There is lots of research on this.”

For this, HAUS provided a diverse set of spaces – isolated areas for contemplation, hands-on stations for technology tinkering, vendor-specific lounge areas and multiple zones for interacting in small or large groups.

The spaces “allow people to learn quickly, and then immediate apply what they’ve learned through role-playing, sharing, discovery and teaching to fellow students,” Steele said.

The classrooms, or learning centers as HAUS called them, allowed for discrete control of each individual light fixture – “using the latest in LED technology,” Daniels said – to facilitate different uses of the rooms. In the collaborative learning spaces, all tables and chairs were on casters, and mounted displays could be pivoted easily to accommodate different groups.

“You can change the function of the room in 10 minutes,” Daniels said.

Other Stellar Amenities
As with other investments in HAUS’s state-of-the-art facility, the company spared little expense on its video-production studio staffed by three full-time specialists. The group was to develop thousands of hours of film for members, from training videos to advertising spots.

HAUS had a dedicated room with a green screen for filming. Two Canon EOS C100 cinema cameras and various audio devices and mics from QSC and Shure are listed for liquidation.

In the same vein, HAUS invested heavily in food services, with a restaurant-grade kitchen and a full-time banquet manager from Marriott. An eating area at the campus, called “Fuel,” was always stocked with snacks and beverages. Several serving tables with induction tops for heating ensured there would be no waiting in line for food.

Fine food and exceptional service were, like everything else at HAUS, just a means to an end – an end that saw erstwhile hobbyists turn into savvy business people running profitable businesses.

If members enjoyed food, social activities and camaraderie, they would be more inclined to return again and again for training and engagement, and bring others along with them. They might camp out there for a week and have all the amenities needed to conduct day-to-day business, soak up some learning, chat with vendors and unwind with associates during happy hour at the fully stocked bar.

This was, on all accounts, a first-class operation with a solid strategy behind it.

Alas, HAUS couldn’t hang on long enough to enjoy the critical mass of members that would have become self-perpetuating.

No Time for Training?
At the end of the day, Daniels says, dealers knew they could use the education and the collaboration to improve their businesses, but they didn’t really take the time to exploit the opportunities available through membership.

It was a challenge, he says, “getting dealers to spend time focusing on their business.”

Michael Fehmers, principal of Haustech (no relation), a small integration firm in South Pasadena, Calif., was one of the first dealers to join HAUS. He told us when he joined the group that he was hoping to learn effective business processes because “we don’t have a lot of systems in place.”

He was looking for guidance on “how to run the company more efficiently, manage a larger number of jobs and definitely learn more about service plans.”

In particular, Fehmers explained, “It’s really exciting for me when people can get this stuff at a reasonable price,” which would require an education and back-end systems, the likes of which HAUS could provide.

When he learned of HAUS’s demise, however, he conceded, “I actually haven’t been utilizing their services all that much. I need to get out to Colorado to go to their school and learn the system, but I honestly haven’t had time to.”

Just as Daniels said.

What’s next for Daniels, Thul and Carlen? They’re back in the day-to-day at Xssentials and still working on ebode.

“I would love to see it start up again,” Daniels says. “It would be a great thing for the industry and we had fun doing it.”

About the Author

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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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