Competing With Office Superstores
After years of preaching the virtues of residential home networking to a market that wasn't ready for them, custom installers can finally take heart that the technology has gone mainstream. For many jobs, particularly new constructions, a network isn't even questioned anymore. But for existing constructions, the market opportunity that installers have waited for all these years may be changing at Internet speed.
Consumers are being told that setting up a network in their home is an easy business. Broadband providers are sending them self-installation kits to route DSL and cable modems. CE manufacturers are promising plug-and-play capabilities through simple, affordable devices that can work on several kinds of wires, or no wires at all. There are large discount office superstore chains that theoretically specialize in this kind of home tech. Has the professional installer already been left out of what was supposed to be a huge home networking market?
For elaborate whole-house applications with distributed audio and video, obviously not. But smaller jobs that might otherwise have been nice little profit centers are now competing against the perception that consumers can simply buy a home network from a home tech superstore. Can they? Custom Retailer sent our mystery shopper to four of the big chains to find out. We visited Staples, CompUSA, OfficeMax and Office Depot to see what consumers are being offered, and what you can offer them yourself, if they still need help (hint: they do).
Our customer's needs were pretty basic. He has two computers in a basement home office and one in an upstairs bedroom. How can he and his wife distribute and share the broadband access and various peripherals? At three of the four chains, the approach to selling home networking was largely the same — cash and carry. If you don't like it, or can't get it to work, you can simply return it. As we'll see, CompUSA, which has taken an active interest in home installation and tech support, was an exception.