For years do-it-yourself (DIY) security existed on a parallel track with the professionally installed security system — rarely, if ever, intersecting. Not anymore. Manufacturers and security dealers today are investigating ways in which to capitalize on the potential of DIY security as technology has gotten more intuitive, buyers more savvy, and the industry increasingly feels the pressure from “outside” providers such as MSAs, big box stores and mega players like Google and Apple.
“DIY has been around for many years in terms of putting equipment in but still having monitoring,” says Dave Mayne, vice president of marketing, Resolution Products, Hudson, Wis. “But there are a couple of new twists to DIY that are causing the [professional] industry to have a different reaction to it.”
The history of DIY security is a bit muddled, but it is generally agreed it has been around in a real way for between 11 and 14 years. “There were companies that tried to go to market in retail; there were fits and starts,” says Christopher Johnson, president, LiveWatch, St. Marys, Kan. “We introduced a full-service DIY model in 2002 during a time when nobody in the [professional] industry wanted to hear about it… and that lasted for years.”
Protect America was another pioneer in the self-installed monitored security space in 2005. Since then, companies such as Frontpoint, SimpliSafe, Scout, Canary and others have joined the growing movement.
“A few have been doing it for a decade,” Mayne says. “But over the past 18 months a larger segment of the business is calling in and asking us, ‘How would I do it? Can you create kits for me?’ It is not new, but this is the first time it has expanded to a larger chunk of the [professional] dealer population.”
Competitive pressure is part of the reason the industry suddenly cares about DIY. But opportunity is an even bigger draw. In a market that has for years struggled to get beyond the magic 20 to 25 percent penetration mark, DIY represents new hope for growing the market. And increasingly the industry is taking notice.
For example, Monitronics Int’l, the Farmers Branch, Texas-based monitoring company, purchased DIY security company LiveWatch in March 2015, an acquisition that now operates as an independently managed company. “Based on research and what I understand, DIY seems to have accelerated in the last couple of years,” says Frank Guido, chief marketing officer for Monitronics. “Some of it is because of investments by private equity companies looking at this as a catalyst for expanding the market. I came out of the wireless industry and saw the expansion of the markets both in cable and wireless with pre-pay. While it is not a direct parallel, DIY reaches an audience that may not have been targeted in such a refined manner before.”
According to Dallas-based Parks Associates about 27 percent of broadband households report having a working security system and of those, a little more than 20 percent report that it was DIY. Many of these are professionally monitored, since top companies such as Frontpoint and Protect America both require monitoring with their systems, says Tricia Parks, CEO, Parks Associates.
“We are seeing an evolution,” she says. What I might have said even four years ago wouldn’t be valid looking at the landscape now. I have been a skeptic about DIY in the past. The reason was in our surveys over the past 20 years a majority of households have reported that having a professional [technician] install a system is in itself important to their sense of security. On top of that, the former DIY systems have not necessarily been great. But technology has improved at the same time as communications and sensors have improved and there has been time for at least some of the players to create more robust systems that really can be installed by the homeowner [or someone they hire].”
Parks also backs up Mayne’s observation about the last 18 months. “The DIY number has increased in the last 18 months. It is still a minority, but we are seeing results that indicate 26 to 30 percent of new sales are DIY. There has been an increase and also new entrants into the marketplace.”
Guido expects DIY market growth to continue in double digits going forward. “The thing that attracted us to DIY and why we bought LiveWatch was the growth potential. We are looking at a segment of the market that is probably 10 percent or less, but growing at a pretty exceptional rate. Last year our LiveWatch business grew nearly 50 percent. There is a lot of upside for market expansion.
“DIY will grow faster, but it is coming from a smaller base. From a sheer numbers standpoint our research supports that the growth still remains on the professional side, but where does that cross over and when? That is the million-dollar question. As we see the overall market expand it will be interesting to see how the two play out over time.”
While professionally installed security and DIY security have traditionally operated on separate paths, Johnson sees them increasingly converging — to the benefit of both industries as well as consumers.
“We have been part of the alarm and security and life safety industry for 14 years, just with a different go-to-market strategy. Recently we have seen a lot more interest from the manufacturers that want to sell more product and see [DIY] as part of the industry with the most growth potential. There is also a lot of interest from the interactive services and software sides because it is clearly a good fit. I don’t think that professionally installed or DIY are mutually exclusive anymore because they can now operate together to expand the market as a whole while serving different market segments; but also I think the traditional dealer can use elements of DIY that are very interesting.”
Inder Reddy, general manager intrusion and residential solutions, Honeywell Security and Fire, Melville, N.Y., has had many more conversations with dealers about DIY recently, he says. “I think there are a couple of reasons. One, the technology has become a lot more mature. What used to require a higher level of technical expertise is a lot easier to install now. Secondly, the products are a lot more accessible now with the growth of the Internet and online shopping…. This is very significant because it is a key way the consumers are looking to purchase and install. For the professional dealer it is a way to grow their business and drive lower subscriber acquisition costs. A DIY customer helps this by taking out the install costs. And as we think about the Millennials and the generation coming up, their purchasing habits and the way they consume information is very different and a growing trend in the marketplace.”
Honeywell is working closely with its channel partners to understand and address this space, Reddy adds.
When you combine today’s technology with consumer readiness, really all that is missing for the professional market is the channel readiness, which is beginning to take off at a rapid rate. With ADT just rolling out its Canopy DIY offering, and many dealers large and small offering or looking at DIY, the third leg of the stool is in place to make this something that could really shake things up.
What’s In A Name?
There are as many names for what the professional security market is offering as there are ways to offer it. In fact, many feel the very name “do-it-yourself” is misleading when you add a professional component such as monitoring to the mix. DIY security, hybrid DIY, self-installed or professional DIY — whatever you choose to call it, it is helpful to understand from the professional standpoint what DIY security is, and what it isn’t.
“I think the broadest definition of DIY is really walking into a retail channel, buying something off the shelf, taking it home, installing it yourself and monitoring it yourself,” says Mike Hackett, senior vice president of sales and marketing, Qolsys Inc., San Jose, Calif. “As a manufacturer if we said we were going ‘DIY’ that could set off alarm bells to our customers. We think of [what we are doing] more as hybrid DIY, meaning the dealers we serve merchandise their products and services online, conduct the transaction online or with a quick follow-up phone call, then configure the system in their warehouse and mail it to the customer. The customer gets it in a nice, pretty box, plugs it in, sticks up the window sensors and other devices and typically follows up with a call to activate the account…. That is why we hesitate to embrace the stricter term ‘DIY.’ Hybrid DIY tells the channel we are not talking about the Home Depot shelf, but professional sold, configured and monitored. The only thing that is DIY [with this] is the installation.”
Dealer Creed Anderson, CEO of Encinitas, Calif.-based San Diego Security and Fire, particularly doesn’t like using the term DIY because it makes him think of “Pinterest fails.” He prefers the term self-install. “The term DIY somewhat limits your outreach or customer base. Not everyone wants DIY; they just want it to work on a more intelligent level.”
For some this may mean they buy it pre-configured and have it shipped to their home, but have a professional install it and monitor it. Others want a short-term contract instead of a three-year commitment. Customers and providers alike find that it is sometimes best to “DIY the DIY” — to pick and choose the elements of traditional DIY that work best for their needs.
Dallas-based manufacturer Smanos Inc., for example, is taking a slightly different approach to the professional installer market, offering a product that is also sold in retail channels but giving them the opportunity to get the sales and installation profit on a product that is otherwise designed to be self-monitored. “They would rather get more sales with customers they don’t get than not have those sales at all,” says Brian Stark, Smanos general manager. “There is still a large contingent of homeowners out there that will pay for installation, even though it is a DIY product.”
Professional DIY security (meaning any traditional professional security provider that is using an element of DIY in their sales and marketing practices) is generally designed with the same quality and performance standards as the professionally installed systems, Mayne explains. “Our technology has been built and designed for the professional industry, which means we meet all regulatory standards and are compliant with UL for fire and life safety. Many others aren’t and can’t be. If you are putting something in a home to protect your family, you want some assurance that it was designed and thought out completely.”
In fact, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is actually thinking about developing standards for DIY security but there are a lot of questions to be answered first, says Neil Lakomiak, business development director for the Northbrook, Ill.-based standards body. “We are entertaining it. There are a lot of different flavors and we are still trying to understand what it is that the end user and consumer want. What is important to them? Ease of use? Ease of installation? Safety, of course, but what about interoperability? We need to understand this before we make a jump into developing new standards.”
When done well there are a lot of similarities between the DIY security and professionally installed markets. “What we offer is not that dissimilar to the services traditional dealers are offering,” Johnson says. “Our marketing and delivery are the difference. We are using the same equipment and central stations and response protocols and having to go through the same regulatory and compliance and licensing.”
Professional DIY does not necessarily even compete with big box stores, Johnson adds. “Homeowners still want a security professional to help them design and think about how to use the system. The clerk at the box store is not going to give them that level of service.
“We think we operate in the middle and have the best of both worlds. We use professional equipment and services through the central station but we deliver it in a more efficient manner.”
What professional DIY often is not, however, is extremely low cost — even for the dealer. “There is a misperception or misunderstanding that DIY is this really low-cost platform in terms of creation costs,” Johnson says. “It certainly was 10 years ago, but a lot of that has changed.”
The pricing on professional DIY typically resides somewhere between full DIY and professional installation and monitoring. While there is a wide range at both ends, professional DIY might save the user on average as little as $5 a month or up to half what a traditional system would cost. Johnson estimates his company’s offering ranges about 30 percent less than a professionally installed system. “I think some of our value is around price but most customers are not focused [just] on price.”
That is because where professional DIY often beats traditional DIY is on value. “It is still more expensive than true DIY, but the value proposition is you are getting real security,” Hackett says. They also get a safety net if they run into trouble on the installation. Most dealers who offer this model are more than happy to either go out and help or walk the customer through the installation remotely by phone or Internet help line.
Why Do DIY Now?
Ultimately every dealer who is interested in DIY needs to decide when, why and how to do it, and whether the benefits are there. For more and more of them, they are.
Megan MacDonald, vice president of product strategy and business development, My Alarm Center, New Town Square, Pa., points to opportunity as a deciding factor in her company’s decision to roll out a DIY brand in the last half of 2015. “The line between professionally installed systems, capabilities, features and self-installed professionally monitored systems, capabilities and features is only going to continue to blur even more. With that there is a lot more opportunity to not only grow your business with a DIY offering but to use it as a tool for retention and reduction of attrition.”
Gerard Avellone, president of Avalarm Security, St. Louis, Mo., is just about to pull the trigger on offering a new professional DIY option after losing some customers to more traditional DIY options. “I have a lot of customers asking about DIY and have lost a couple of strong leads to it.”
Avellone is looking seriously at DragonFly, a professionally monitored DIY video offering being introduced as a joint venture by RSI Video Technologies (which was recently purchased by Honeywell), St. Paul, Minn., and USA Central Station Alarm Corp., Port Chester, N.Y.
“With this solution they handle everything, from the support number to the website,” Avellone says. “It is 100 percent turnkey. I don’t have to do anything but get the lead and collect the RMR. Whether it is more business on the DIY side or more in-house customers, it is just more business. There is no reason for me not to get into it. I would be lazy not to. I might as well do it because everybody knows it is here and it is only going to get stronger.”
For some dealers, the promise of a future professional customer is one reason to offer some form of professional DIY now.
“I don’t want to lose another customer,” Avellone says. “There have been several but one in particular I know I would have had that customer down the road if I had been able to provide a DIY solution for them now.”
The DragonFly offering itself will promote this concept. “Our idea in DragonFly is to build in a semi-annual information push down to the smartphone to remind the customer that they found DragonFly through a professional alarm company and that when they are looking for a professional installation to remember that company,” says Bart Didden, president of USA Central Station Alarm Corp.
Reddy definitely sees the potential, particularly for entry-level products such as DragonFly that may not do everything a full connected home security system can do. “If you are a customer that does a self-install using a starter kit and like the features and capabilities and are happy using it but now want to expand to the broader connected home systems world with lights, locks and thermostats, this could be an opportunity for the service provider to come back and do that. So, yes, I think DIY systems could be a warm lead to a customer with the opportunity to upsell. This is something we encourage our dealers to think about.”
John Campau, president and CEO of Comtronics, Jackson, Mich., is one of those dealers; but he didn’t see the need to wait for them to come to him when they were ready for something more. “The Honeywell app was really the driver for us. When you download that free app you can control burglar alarm, video, lights, locks, thermostats, GPS, garage doors, event notifications and smart scenes. You need multiple apps to do what one Honeywell app will do. This app was a red flag that waved in front of me and I said, ‘Wow, we can sell alarm systems or cameras, and put the control into the consumer’s hands. Why not put the box into their hands, too, and let them install it if they want to?’”
At press time, Springfield, Mo.-based DMP announced to dealers in attendance at the company’s annual Owners Forum meeting in Las Vegas in April its offering of The Company Store, an integrated Web applications and product delivery engine designed to help dealers “leverage the new Millennial marketplace.”
Dealers may link to the DMP online store from their website, which their customers can directly access. From there, the customer is prompted with “Let’s build your system.” The online store even includes a checkbox for optional installation of the products a customer purchases.
“The Company Store allows the dealer into the DIY market. The easy access to a website brings flexibility into contracts and competitive offerings to a particular marketplace,” said Jeff Britton, DMP’s vice president of product design. “The heavy-duty work is fulfilled by DMP to make DIY systems even easier for dealers and end users.”
Dealers enter their own pricing and decide what their price points are going to be, through an administrative dashboard. End users may navigate the website without the help of a dealer directly and end users can choose their contract, based on what the dealer chooses to offer.
The Company Store is a new concept for dealers that want to participate in the new Millennial marketplace, without having to invest millions in back-end fulfillment, DMP described.
At the same meeting, DMP introduced OnDemand Monitoring, a service in which end users log into MyVirtualKeypad.com and schedule the exact monitoring times they want and pay a per-day rate, set by the dealer. End users may set up their system to monitor on days they will be away from home and will have the option to turn off monitoring when they choose. “As opposed to a standard yearly contract, the system’s lack of contract allows for a short-term pay option,” Britton described. “The flexibility of this system allows dealers to go after new markets.”
Others see professional DIY as a way to grow the pie exponentially. “I think it comes back to market expansion and being able to extend a great service,” Guido says. “I think as you expand the market and educate a broader audience on the value of basic home security and bring into play how home automation can provide even greater peace of mind, that is pretty powerful. It allows you to cast a bigger net to engage with a broader segment of the market.”
MacDonald refers to a concept called the wavering core. “There is a segment of customers outside of the traditional customer or on the fringe that likes the idea of security but is more willing to explore it in a different way, which makes the pie bigger. That is really what we are looking at with our option. There will also be professional security customers that are willing to change, assuming the cost savings is dramatic enough. Both ideas are in line with the thinking that this grows the market overall.”
She also points to existing professionally installed customers that may ordinarily be lost to attrition when they move to an area not serviced by her company. “This is a huge advantage as a business because we can still provide for them using this model.”
Changing buying habits are another big reason many in the professional security market are looking to the DIY market, whether to borrow some sales and marketing elements or to offer a professional DIY alternative of their own.
“Forrester and others have put out research that estimates 60 to 80 percent of purchasing decisions are made by comparison shopping on the Web,” Guido says. “As companies get smarter on how to engage that trend, it is helping shape the market.”
Hackett agrees. “Everywhere else in every other consumer segment, the share of online buying is growing exponentially. Blockbuster is no longer around. Malls are struggling. People want to shop online. You have to fish where the fish are.”
For MacDonald the online trend is another plus. “It gives us a national reach because the product can be drop-shipped directly to the customer. We can go anywhere UPS or FedEx can get to, which is a huge advantage as opposed to having to build operations or buy markets to supplement the existing organic business we have today.”
Anderson says customers today like to buy — if you offer them the right thing in the right way. “Customers love to buy. They don’t want to be sold. But everybody loves to buy things, if you give them the appropriate options and follow their buying process; they are more comfortable with their decisions.”
THE PROFESSIONAL DIY APPROACH
For those who have already taken the plunge into the professional DIY space, there are as many ways of going about it as there are companies. Many of them offer guidance and help for others trying to do the same.
Comtronics, for example, has another side of the business that sells cellphones, something Campau felt was an especially natural fit. While he is also selling online on his website and plans to launch a full retail e-shopping center this summer, Campau started out by using his storefront facilities to promote the professional DIY solution he created with the help of Honeywell, and hopes to be able to franchise the concept to other interested dealers and cellphone stores. “This is what made it super attractive for us. We invested in displays with door locks, motion detectors, door contacts, keypads, video and access control and we invite our customers who are buying cellphones to demo these.”
Campau even modeled his pricing on the cellphone industry. “We have aligned our DIY security package around our Verizon Wireless business, with a two-year agreement, a low down stroke and $199 to buy, just like an iPhone. We carry the note for a year and bankroll it at the point of sale, all the while monitoring the system as well.” Campau charges $45 a month for monitoring and will also professionally install the system for a $100 fee or for free with a three-year contract. The basic package includes a wireless motion detector, three door contacts, one remote key fob and a controller, but additional contacts and elements can be added.
“Our master vision is to take it nationwide with other cellphone dealers. Our next immediate move is to start offering this as a franchise kind of thing for alarm dealers who want to be able to sell our box as well.” Comtronics would private label it for the dealer, who could set their own pricing and sales model.
Developing or identifying the right package and kit is crucial, Mayne says. “It can be a big hurdle to find one for the consumer that requires very little programming. We have a partner that built the capability to pre-program kits for us so the dealer can sell online, through social media or wherever and be able to say, ‘OK, in two days a box will show up and it will be programmed and all you will have to do is download an app and be up and running.’ The ability to provide that kitting service is really important and is something a lot of successful DIY companies have had to build.”
In addition to kits, dealers have to figure out how to market, sell, deliver the equipment and bring it online, he says. Do you want to allow customers to add new devices using Z-Wave or ZigBee? (Most recommend this as it leads to a more satisfied and sticky customer.) What length contract do you want to offer?
“You have to really think through sales and marketing both up front and ongoing,” Mayne says. “I wouldn’t underestimate packaging and fulfillment. If you don’t have a tech on site when somebody gets this box, who are they going to call if they run into trouble? You are really building the whole business model.”
With products like DragonFly, much of this is taken out of the hands of the dealer, which makes it an ideal entry-level way to try out the professional DIY market, Didden says. “We call them referring partners. All they need to do is refer people into their sub-domain Web page we create for them. They are not selling or installing or servicing anything.” The mandatory monitoring plan triggers the RMR stream for the dealer, he explains. At press time DragonFly was due to be released by the end of April and includes three pieces: Outdoor cameras, indoor cameras and a hub controller that can be connected via Ethernet, Wi-Fi or cellular.
My Alarm Center’s offering, called LiveSecure, was an organic design from scratch, using systems from Alarm.com and Qolsys, MacDonald says. “We do not have a click-to-buy option on our site. We found that most people do want to have a conversation prior to buying because the experience is very personal and customized. Then we build the system for that customer. It is prepared in the warehouse and within five days the customer has a box in hand with a 17-page easy-to-follow set-up guide with a lot of illustrations. Generally speaking we don’t hear from them until they have completed the installation and call us to verify that we see everything on our end and activate the monitoring component.” The system includes open and close sensors and a connected smoke detector for $99 with monthly monitoring plans from $35 to $55 a month, depending on which elements they want to add (such as video, which is the middle package, or home automation, which is the highest), she says. Contracts are still three years but if the customer pays more up front they can get a one-year contract.
“The way we are currently marketing LiveSecure it is a stand-alone entity targeted at those willing to self-install,” she explains. “They don’t really know professional install is an option from us.” Although the companies do cross promote if the customer is looking for one or the other types of systems.
Anderson’s company began last summer as a traditional professional installation company but quickly switched over to a professional DIY company using Resolution Products’ Helix platform, he says. “One hundred percent of our business is DIY. We will do a professional install if it comes to that, but for now it is about simplifying for DIY. The key is to do what you advertise. If you are advertising a less than 15-minute install it has to be less than 15 minutes. If they have to sit on the phone for an hour you might as well dispatch a tech because it is costing the same amount of time.”
However they do it, those that are offering professional DIY ultimately see it as both a business growing and saving proposition.
“You can either bury your head in the sand or grab the business by the coattails,” Avellone says. “There are huge changes coming and I want to be on the cutting edge of all of it. The next 10 years will change so much that if you are not grabbing hold of the new stuff you are just going to get left behind.”
Johnson adds, “DIY is now a permanent part of this industry. It is not a question of if. It has already happened. All the biggest players are doing DIY and that is not going to stop. The same people that used to criticize DIY are now going after it aggressively.”
The alarm business is in a state of rapid change on many fronts, and with users that want to buy this way, better and simpler-to-install technology, and the lure of the smartphone app, professional DIY is shaping up to be one of the next big disrupters, Campau believes. “I joined this industry 30 years ago. I have seen a ton of change, but I am positive that I won’t have seen as much in the last 30 years as I will in the next five because technology is moving so fast. It is crazy exciting to see.”