The Savant Experience
The commercial strategy of one major manufacturer focuses on growth for its dealersJanuary 2011 By Nancy Klosek
CustomRetailer: Your New York City-based Savant Commercial Experience Center has been open a little more than six months. Talk about how dealers have been using the space.
Craig Spinner: It's used by commercial dealers, specifiers and end-users. Of course, since we're well established as a brand presence in the residential market, the Residential Experience Center, which adjoins the Commercial Center and has been open just over a year, has been mostly used when dealers bring their clients through, and when we do architect events.
On the commercial side, a lot of end-user corporations have found Savant by seeing our name out there as the only Apple-based control system; finding us online; or a business owner may own a Savant system in his home or may have been in another home that has one. Once they learn firsthand about us, they're very interested in Savant systems for their own corporations.
We're working on our channel strategy for the commercial side now, but we've passed along leads to some of our commercial dealers. So you're seeing them and specifiers come in as well. There are lots of different players that impact a commercial job: property managers, specifiers, integrators and the IT department of the building or the corporation you're working with.
Since the Commercial Center is relatively new, we usually start talking to visitors by describing who Savant is and what our value proposition is to the commercial markets. If it's a university coming in, we'll show them our classroom, and how we can give educators easy tools to manage technology in their classrooms. We're finding that universities are investing a lot of resources in "smart classroom" environments that involve improving teachers' interactions with students—for example, with things like podcasting, where you can, right after a lecture, create a podcast that can be loaded and accessed right after the session is over.
We joke when talking to educators that, a lot of times today, students have more technology in their pockets than the classroom is equipped with! We're showing them some very cost-effective user interface possibilities with the iPad and the iPhone, where they can manage the classroom in a very easy-to-use, familiar—that's they key word – "familiar"—way.
We're having tons of success on the residential side with the iPad, as we've gotten away from our proprietary touch-panel business and moved in that direction for our main user interface. It's amazing to see how comfortable people are with this device, and how it has taught them how to use a touch screen.
Besides iPads in-wall and on desktops with docking stations in the Commercial Center, we also have two models—19.5- and 25-inch—of our Touch TVs, which are TVs that add a touch panel from which you can manage a number of different video sources, or view a station before you actually play the source. Those are in the sports bar area.
CR: Have you added any embellishments to the facility since it opened? If so, what are they?
Spinner: In the hotel room we're now showcasing one of the launches from CEDIA—our IPBX telephone system, so you can make calls through the iPad, either to the front desk or to the outside. That's slated for Q1 release. That's been a big hit.
We have also had a number of integrators who want to demonstrate digital signage capabilities to commercial clients. With our solution, we've been able to create specific digital signage to accommodate certain enterprise solutions. As an example, we have a digital signage gallery, and if the client wanted to show Twitter feeds at the bottom, we can set it up to do that. Or if a sporting company wanted to show key sports stats at the bottom, that can be quickly and easily put up. Switching out digital signage scenes can be done seamlessly, with the press of a button.
CR: What do integrators say impresses them most about the Commercial Experience Center? Of the executive boardroom, sports bar and hotel suite, which vignette gets the most attention?
Spinner: At first glance, when people are sitting in the sports bar, they don't feel as though they're in a showroom. But I'd say the whole Center flows easily from room to room. When you're in each separate section, you feel as though you're in the actual environment. We can very easily show in the Center how quickly we can achieve HDMI switching, or "handshaking." In the corporate world, that's become very important to companies, right along with digital signage.
CR: How often do you hold classes, and what subjects have been developed for the curriculum?
Spinner: Savant is a new player in the commercial world. We've had some installations and we're going to focus more on that market in 2011. Initially, we're showing how our solutions differ. One of the key points we're trying to make—and again, I use the example of universities, where there are a hundred classrooms—is that we can help in managing technology through our Blueprint software configuration tool. With Blueprint, we're offering a very repeatable model where you can build custom classrooms quickly and easily and have them managed by one person. It's a very scalable solution. If you're a large university, you need to look at how many classrooms you can easily and quickly set up, how repeatable the solution is, how low the management costs are and how low-cost it will be to make changes—and the fact that you won't need to hire any third-party programmers. Those are some of the biggest value propositions we offer.
CR: Talk about Savant's iPad integration initiative. How is the iPad fitting into the world of Savant residential installations in particular—and how does it fit into the commercial sector?
Spinner: It's been a homerun on the residential side. We always felt it would be a big success. And we've been pleased to see these commercial enterprises embrace the iPad solution as quickly as they have. It's about the performance and low cost of the device—and also, the performance of our app that controls the Savant system. It is lightning-fast. When they see all of that, the acceptance rate is pretty high. Perhaps, too, these companies already own these devices, making it even more cost-effective, so they may only have to buy a very inexpensive app and then our control boxes or our audio/video switchers, and they have their solution.
CR: Which vendor partners are involved in the Commercial Experience Center—have you added any recently?
Spinner: At this point, our Excellence in AV Partners include Bay Audio, Brightline, BSS by Harman, Chief, Furman, Lutron, Middle Atlantic Products, NuVision, Powerline Control Systems, Panamax, Planar, Runco, Sherbourn, Planet Waves, Séura and Stewart Filmscreen. Our manufacturer contributors include Gefen, Janmar Lighting, InFocus, Lynk Labs, Semper Fi Power Supply, Innovative Glass and WolfVision.
CR: What else can you add about the thinking behind the whole Commercial Design Center concept?
Spinner: The dual-center concept—having a Commercial and a Residential Experience Center next to each other with the theater a shared space—has served us well. The fact that we used Thom Filicia, who designed the residential side, to do the commercial area design, shows that Savant believes that caring about the appearance of enterprise areas, whether they be museums, hotel lobbies or conference rooms, is important. We think that the look and feel of how technology fits into a commercial space is as crucial on the commercial side as on the residential side. It needs to be high quality, and we believe we've achieved that look and feel. CR