There’s always a lot to be impressed by when walking the floor of any consumer electronics show. Product demonstrations of the latest technology are intended to blow attendees minds and get them excited about upcoming releases. The same even goes for smaller buying show exhibits like what the Nationwide Marketing Group brings together twice a year at their PrimeTime events for member retailers. Though less about the future of tech and more about the present opportunities to stock their showrooms, attendees of PrimeTime have a chance to get up close with some of the latest in consumer tech, bedding, furniture, and more.

All of that said, walking away from the recent PrimeTime show in New Orleans, I feel confident saying that I had one of the most mind-blowing experiences I think I’ve ever had at a trade event. And it all centered around the unveiling of Nationwide’s tiny smart home. Though only 370 square feet in size, the fully automated and completely decked out home is the embodiment of everything Nationwide has been working towards in the connected home segment. Supported by the launch of the Connected Home Division within the buying group, the tiny smart home was a central figure of the PrimeTime show floor and was positioned right next to another similarly built showcase from Control4—which we’ve covered previously.

The mini smart home mobile park at PrimeTime was really something to experience, but boiling it all down, the presence of these two mobile homes provided attendees with two massive opportunities: to get a look at what a real and proper smart home demonstration ought to look like, and a bit of education around how the technology itself and what a project like this entails.

Teched Out

In walking through the tiny smart home, you honestly lose sight of the fact that you’re actually standing in a home that’s just 370 square feet in size. In that amount of space, Nationwide and their partners were able to pack in just about everything you’d expect to find in a traditional home. There’s a patio area where a full outdoor grill can fit.

When you walk in the front door, you enter the living room area, which features an full three-seater couch, a large screen TV, integrated ceiling speakers, a Sonos sound bar, and a well-sized cabinet under the TV. Just past that is the kitchen, which has built-in full-sized appliances, including a dishwasher, refrigerator, stove, and GE Appliances’ new Kitchen Hub—a 27-inch touchscreen device that runs the full Google Android platform. There’s also a full sink.

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Looking into the tiny smart home from the patio.

Moving another few steps back, you enter the bathroom/washroom area, which has a standing show, incinerator toilet (turns your waste into literal ash), and a stacked washer-dryer system, and vanity area with a second sink.

If you look up before entering the kitchen, you’ll find the bedroom loft area, which holds a full-sized bed and a side table.

Throughout the tiny home there are also hints of the “more traditional” connected home products like security cameras, locks, temperature control systems, connected lighting fixtures, smart speakers, and more. Of course, with their tight partnership with Google and Nest, Nationwide has the home fully automated and controllable through the Google Assistant.

In speaking with Derek Mattila of Nationwide—the man who drove this tiny smart home initiative—the project presented some unique challenges for the group, including figuring out how to get everything “networked up,” as he put it, and all connected and automated. In total, the integrator and builder who worked on the project spent roughly two days getting the whole home up and running efficiently and successfully. In the grand scheme of integration work that’s not bad, but it’s something that Mattila said they’re looking into condensing for the future. Additionally, the construction of a tiny mobile home made everyone involved have to step outside of their comfort zone with some fo the unique challenges that arose, like weight distribution, waste management (hence the incinerator toilet), and more.

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Inside the tiny smart home, looking from the living room area back toward the kitchen and loft bedroom.

From the tech side of things, what this home really does is show the difference between the DIY smart home audience and a custom integrated smart home. Sure, adding a few sensors, smart light bulbs and a a voice assistant speaker in the home might be enough for some (or even a majority of) consumers. But to really get that fully-automated, highly efficient smart home experience—that’s where the custom installer needs to be brought into the picture.

Selling the Smart Home

Experiencing the expertly built tiny smart home is one thing. Understanding the why’s of this project brings the appreciation for what Nationwide has accomplished to a whole different level. In building out this mobile, fully-automated abode, Nationwide wanted to offer members a tool to help them both understand what a real smart home looks like, and how to sell it to their clients.

Nationwide has placed an emphasis on the connected home in recent years with a pavilion for the tech at PrimeTime shows. But even those could be described as glorified trade show booths.

The tiny smart home kicks to the curb the idea of what a trade show booth needs to look like. And because of its mobile-friendly design, the structure will be able to serve a purpose beyond this PrimeTime event. To that end, Nationwide plans to bring the tiny smart home on the road to members stores, giving them the opportunity to have localized events that feature this unique showpiece.

Beyond the wow factor that it’ll bring at those events, the real purpose and goal of this tiny home is to educate the consumer. Selling the idea of the smart home has been a challenge for retailers of all shapes and sizes. Small kiosks and display areas that have dummy product out with signage work well for those individual products and brands. But that type of display doesn’t give the consumer a way to experience how that product actually works. There are some fancier display units available to retailers that give off the illusion that the product is active and working as intended, but they tend to lack the ability to have the customer engage with the device and experience a real-life scenario where it might come in use.

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The tiny smart home park at PrimeTime featuring Control4’s home (left) and Nationwide’s mobile abode.

The tiny smart home solves all of those challenges by providing visitors with a true-to-life smart home experience. You can walk through the front door, control everything with your voice, walk from front to back, experience the home, turn the shower on and off, interact with product, and get the vibe of what it would be like to live inside that mobile home.

As Nationwide put it at the outset of their PrimeTime event in New Orleans, consumers are hesitant to jump into the smart home space. More than half admit that their scared to install that first product for one reason or another. That said, once they do make that leap, 42 percent come back to add on another product. Adoption only grows from there.

The Connected Home segment has grown 52 percent annually and could reach as much as $490 billion, per data cited by Nationwide. That’s a massive opportunity for electronics retailers. They just need to figure out how to sell it better—and Nationwide wants to help by providing their own story through this tiny smart home.