Builders Speak Out
Sherwin Loudermilk, by virtue of his background, experience, and training, was primed for the era of the connected home.
The owner and president of high-end luxury home builder Loudermilk Homes, which serves the Metro Atlanta area, studied Computer Science, worked at IBM years ago as part of the then-emerging telecom industry and was involved with a team that put together a ‘home of the future’ for Epcot Center. “Everyone assumed it was science fiction – the Jetsons,” he said.
Fast forward to present day, and Loudermilk is right in the thick of the reality of Jetsons home design.
“When I got into the home building, this was one area where I could spend a lot of my focus in leveraging my background and knowledge,” he explained.
The first order of business in that process was to learn what the newest home techs were, and then seek out the right partnership with a technology integrator who could “see my vision, which was all about the customer experience,” he said.
It all came together when, three years ago, Loudermilk met Michael Buckner, managing partner and director of sales of Canton, Ga.-based Audio Intersection, on a build site. “The client had brought him in, I saw the way he portrayed himself and the processes he had, and we worked out how the two of us could fit together, and I realized he was the type of integrator I wanted to work with. At first, we took baby steps, making sure we understood things. And now, I wouldn’t trade them for anybody.”
Clearly, technology, for this builder is anything but an afterthought. It is a consideration from the outset of a build. One of the key differentiators for Loudermilk’s skill set versus his builder competitors is that he is keen on providing the “brains” for a smart home between the bricks – and that is through his alliance with Audio Intersection.
“We have a base package that goes into the house” with the integrator’s collaboration, he explained. That package includes a Control4 ‘brain’ – the intelligence behind how everything in the house interconnects, including the thermostat, an irrigation system, a light switch that controls multiple cans, and a camera for the front door. Additionally, there is pre-wiring for “anything else you can think of: speakers, phones, Internet, keypads, cameras…” If the client wants to go further in adding to the base system, “everything is set up if the homeowner wants to take things to the next level – we just pass over Audio Intersection’s contact information and they can take it from there. Our base package we give to all our clients. Then if they want to install speakers, the wires are already there. If they want to do racks, it’s set up for them. ”
Indeed, everything tech is offered in close cooperation with the Buckner and his team.
“We partner with them in helping them understand where the products should go in the home. We want to make sure that when the client walks into the house they don’t have a keypad right on top of the thermostat because you can control the thermostat from the keypad, too. We map that sort of thing out so that the client has a better experience and that everything is aligned based on the flow of the house.”
This pre-emptive thinking is part a meticulous nine-step “no surprises” process that informs the entire build process at Loudermilk. “One of those steps, when you get to Step 5, is, right after the framing, before the mechanicals or lines of electricity are installed, we bring clients out and show them what they agreed upon. Then after it’s installed, we bring them out again to validate and cross reference – ‘Are you sure this is where you want everything?’ – down to the USB ports in offices and near where beds will go. All of that is done in three different ways to make sure the client truly gets what they’re expecting.”
The upshot of it is that clients are thoroughly vetted as to desires at the outset – but their initial directives aren’t set in stone. A YouTube video has Loudermilk stating that “we actually encourage our clients to make changes on the fly – they’re very complicated but we’ve incorporated them into our process.” That is a true measure of this builder’s willingness to customize – which is totally in tune with how integrators like Audio Intersection who are worth their salt always work.
Loudermilk Homes has remained right in step with the voice control phenomenon’s rise, with the collaboration of Audio Intersection. Together, they have created some of the first Alexa-enabled luxury homes – and Loudermilk said that he has even worked with Amazon on refining naming conventions that enact certain control systems.
Loudermilk has multiple locations, but in its Milton showroom, when clients walk in, the first thing they see is “a big panel that talks about our technology – and there’s Alexa on all the shelves, and you can talk to her. The entire setup of the Sales Center has speakers, subwoofers, lighting controls, TVs – everything. So when you come in, you can say, ‘Alexa, turn on Good Morning,’ and all of a sudden the lights turn on, locks unlock, and the temperature turns to the right degree setting. And if you want to leave, you just say, ‘Alexa, turn on Good Night.’ Or you can turn on, say, Jazz music at 50 percent volume. All of it is live and interactive. We also show off all the extras available from Audio Intersection. We explain to clients that you can always add – anything that has an electronic pulse, we can control.”
Loudermilk observed that an affiliation by a builder with the right custom integrator is crucial to preparing for the new wave of smart home demand that’s growing along with voice control awareness.
“I have competitors – 20-year-old custom home builders. And they do a great job, but they really don’t understand the technology side of it so they just outsource it, and say, ‘You guys just take care of everything.’ But the problem with that is that they, then, don’t design the home around the technology to make it comfortable for the client. We do. I think that anybody who allies with an integrator – or any subcontractor – it’s just as important as allying yourself with the plumber who’s involved in the construction. You need to understand where the speakers are going to go – have some intelligence behind why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you just are throwing in some wires, you’re probably not going to give the best experience to your client. If you really understand and partner with an integrator, and you set the vision and the expectations with them - and we have a one-page list of expectations – and if they have their own processes, then the combination of the two certainly gives a great, quality product to the client. It’s critical for a builder to partner with the right low-voltage carrier, to make sure they’re giving that right product back to the client.”