Thursday, October 1, 2020
  Baptism by Colorbeam  

Over the course of the past year, as we’ve put together issue after issue of Connected Design, one thing that truly stands out about successful projects is how important the relationship is between the integrator and the architect, builder, or designer.

The stronger the relationship, generally, the better the final product turns out. The same can be said, though, about the relationship between the integrator and the manufacturer whose products ultimately get installed in a client’s home.

There’s no better case study out there right now than the relationship between Las Vegas-based integrator Eagle Sentry and lighting manufacturer Colorbeam.

During a recent visit to a massive project that Eagle Sentry is involved with, we had the opportunity to learn about Colorbeam—a Cat-5 based, power over Ethernet solution—through Eagle Sentry Sales Manager Cory Reif. The project that we visited, which we plan to fully detail in a future issue, has Colorbeam lighting wired throughout the entire home.

Given the size and scope of the project, we thought this would be a truly unique opportunity to sit down with Cory and Mike Teolis, one of the co-founders of Colorbeam North America, to talk about the product, their relationship, and this project.

Connected Design: Mike, tell us a little bit about Colorbeam and what you guys are all about.

Mike Teolis: Colorbeam is a company that was born out of an integration company the founding partner, myself, and Maurizio Guido all were involved in as basically AV integrators. We've been in the business as integrators for almost 25 years ourselves. We come from that world, and the whole quest for a low voltage lighting solution was born out of our integration company because we wanted something to sell as low-voltage integrators.

And having had success as integrators with what we developed early on we were basically you know tinkering and engineering and designing what has become, today, a very unique solution like five years ago when no one was really talking about low-voltage lighting or what it was even about, let alone with a vision of tunable whites and tunability, and bringing color to enhance space in residential and commercial space. So it was only after about three years of success as integrators with this product that we launched Colorbeam North America as a company to bring the technology to the AV channel across North America, and bring what we think is a great revenue opportunity to the channel that we've selected, and that channel has been us for 25 years. And we're happy to have companies like Eagle Sentry and Cory who understood the technology and the opportunities and basically ran with it in a huge way and hopefully see great benefits for themselves and the company in the years to follow. So that's in a nutshell where Colorbeam was born and why.

You mention the benefits and a little bit about the technology, but what's the elevator pitch on Colorbeam? Why should integrators know who you are and pay attention to this technology that you have?

Mike: Well, I think Cory can attest to this as well as I can. The whole reason, the premise behind bringing low-voltage technologies to the AV integrator is really to add a huge chunk of revenue to what they're already doing. And there is really not a whole lot in AV than anyone can say is either going up the margin, that hasn't been commoditized, that can't be shopped on the Internet, and so on. Because of the low voltage aspect now to this lighting solution, and is designed for integrators—they are really able to now incorporate a huge chunk of revenue in the existing AV projects that they already have. So it's an opportunity to leverage existing relationships, existing projects, and existing competencies that these companies already have—they already understand most of what they need to know to now get into a lucrative, high revenue, new market and couple that with what they're already doing.

That's what we're all about.

Colorbeam's low-voltage lighting solution works in all kinds of formats and gives the user - and integrator - control over the color temperature.

Turning to this project in Las Vegas, Cory, how did this partnership come together between Eagle Sentry and Colorbeam?

Cory Reif: Well we have a mutual friend, Joaquin Rivera, who you know. I actually saw Colorbeam for the first time on Facebook. Joaquin was in Hawaii at an integration show, and Colorbeam was showing there, and Joaquin put up a 30-second video of this new technology that they were showcasing. I saw it. It's a product that I've been looking for. I love Joaquin, and I trust his judgment.

So I called him, he picked up the phone, and I said, 'What is that product?' And he said, 'It's Colorbeam. It's global. It's Cat 5-based. And I'm thinking about repping this product.' I told him he had to get to Vegas and show me this product. And that's how it all how it all started. We've known that this is going to be the solution of the future. We think it's ridiculous, but electricians are still pulling high voltage to fixtures that are so efficient, but they only pull 9 Watts to 36 Watts. It's archaic. It's old infrastructure, and we are supposed to be the experts—leading our clients to the future.

So Cat 5-based wiring, Power-over-Ethernet lighting, we think is the future. And we just happened to have a perfect project for it at the right time. It's 30,000 square feet, and every light fixture in that house is Colorbeam.

So from an integrator’s perspective, Mike, you told us about the revenue opportunity. But in terms of the actual installation, Cory, is there any benefit to you in using Colorbeam?

Cory: Well yeah, we get to control the installation. We've had so many challenges working with electricians that are putting together DMX controlled lighting solutions that are not designed to work together. It creates this really complicated control solution. We have many projects where it's very kludgy, and we're trying to bring it all together. And in the case of this project, we control that now. It's one superior technology that we install, and we integrate with. So we see that as a real benefit.

Talking about this project, I mean, it’s shaping up to be massive. Have either of you ever seen a project of this size from a pure installation perspective?

Mike: No. Although our integration company in the last few years has done some nice residential projects, in size and scope, this is by far the largest single residential project that we've embarked on with a dealer.

Cory: This is by far our largest integration project to date. It's just a unique project. It’s a repeat client. I did this client's house five years ago, and since then I've done multiple projects with him, so we've gained his trust. What we pointed out to him this time around is that this product—Colorbeam—was the right product for his home. He trusted us and went all in. And we're super excited about that because we have used Colorbeam now in other projects, and we have it specked for future projects, but nothing of this size and scope.

A look inside the Eagle Sentry new construction, which has more than a dozen poanels dedicated to Colorbeams' Cat-5 lighting solution. Reif and Teolis called this project their biggest to date.

With a project of this size, there are sure to be some challenges. What have both of you run into and how are you working through those obstacles?

Cory: It's a new technology, so there are challenges. Nothing that has been too difficult, but to do wired topology—it's just a whole new understanding of how to run Cat 5 wiring. But Colorbeam has been great, and they're there to help us all the way through the process, from the design to the layout of the rough in, to the documentation. Without Colorbeam, this would have been probably too big of an obstacle, but we really leaned on them hard.

They provided the CAD drawings for the fixture layout. They provided all of the panel schedules and panel layouts, and have sent designers here to Vegas to oversee the project. So it's been a great partnership, and we couldn't have done it without them.

Mike: To Cory's point, one of the things that we recognized early on is that it was going to be a bit of a challenge because we are bringing a completely new vertical to a new channel that hasn't been in this market ever. So we feel it is important for us to support our dealers—certainly at the outset from a design perspective, from a technical support perspective, for anything that we feel that we need to do to grow as partners in a very new vertical for us. I mean, our dealers are new to the market, our rep firms that represent us are new to the market.

We went with a rep firm that comes from the AV world as well because they knew who the key players in each market were, but they are also new at this.

So, we find ourselves as manufacturers supporting not only our dealers, but our rep firms in the education process, and we understand that it is going to take some time to get everyone familiar with all of the components that need to go into a project—especially one of this size. But we're happy to do it, because it's a learning curve for everyone involved, us from the manufacturing standpoint, right on through the dealers. So together, every day is a battle to educate and to win new projects in a very new environment for everyone. We're happy to do it because we as manufacturers are learning things that we need to learn as well from the dealers and I think vice versa.

It's been a great relationship, especially with Eagle Sentry because they brought things to our attention that we need to either expand on or do better, and we're always listening to our dealers because they are the ones in the field having to deploy the technology. We get great feedback from dealers like Cory and Eagle Sentry and vice versa. So we look forward to continuing with a very close relationship with all of our dealers.

Cory, when we were out there visiting this project, you had mentioned the importance of getting in early on in the design process. From your perspective, why is it so important to have that in with the architects, builders, and designers, and how does it benefit you to be in on the ground floor on these types of projects?

Cory: Oh it's huge. With this particular project, our "in" was the homeowner, which led us to the architect and the builder. We find ourselves working the architect and designer channel more because we think it's key moving forward.

And one nice thing about the Colorbeam product is that it's very accepted by the architect and designer channel because they do offer all of the current trim options that these architects with their contemporary designs are looking for, including square, three-inch, rimless fixtures. Colorbeam has all of those offering. If they did not have those offerings, we probably wouldn't have been able to get this product into this home because of the level of detail and how contemporary it is. The demand for the right trim and fixture is critical. So, the technology was right, but also the aesthetics were what they needed to be compliant with the design, so it just worked out perfectly.

Attending events like Azione and HTSA we hear these conversations, but they generally focus on the difficult time integrators have cultivating those relationships. What can you share about how you’ve been able to successfully develop those crucial professional partnerships?
Cory: I can only speak for what's worked for us, and really it was really leveraging the builder channel first. General contractors were probably the most open to working with us. And it was establishing that relationship with the builder that led us to the relationships we have with our architects and designers. And what I've found is, if we can show these architects and designers something that they haven't seen, something that might solve a problem that they've had—that opens the door for a conversation.

So, products like Colorbeam are, I think, critical. If you can bring something like this to an architect that might not otherwise be so willing to talk to you, and you can show them that this Cat 5-based, color-changing light fixtures, and explain it in a way that is appealing to them—tunable white is probably the thing that an architect would grab onto more than anything. Color temperature is a real problem for architects, and with most light fixtures, you're locked in on a certain color temperature, and it may not highlight the home the way the architect envisions.

With Colorbeam, you can adjust the color temperature to whatever the homeowner or the architect wants for each fixture. If you can successfully explain that to an architect, you've got 'em. You’re in.

To that point, Colorbeam and low-voltage lighting has been a hot topic in the industry right now. Aside from the financial benefits to the integrator, Mike, what do you think is driving this trend in the integrator community?

Mike: We really feel that, from my perspective and Maurizio's, that the transition or the introduction of lighting to the channel today is as important as the movement of projectors and box sales were in the early '90s to what became of the integration market. And what I mean by that is, there were a lot of guys very doing well in a time when we were selling box projectors, and selling them for $13,000 and making 45 points, selling them like they were hotcakes, to a projector being commoditized and selling for $400 out of Costco.

The advent of integration really moved most of those guys and brought them to what has become the AV integration world, but a lot of those guys were busy selling boxes. And, quite frankly, a lot of those guys disappeared. We really feel that that migration to AV is as important as it was to move to the integration channel back in the early 90s.

We're trying to convince, as quickly as we can, most of these players in the AV channel that this is the direction that you need to go, whether that be with Colorbeam or anything else. But that whole market shift into low-voltage lighting will be a great add-on and an important add-on to what you're already doing, because we feel that the AV channel has all the skills to basically deliver everything that is low-voltage.

And more and more technology will become low-voltage if it isn't already, so it just enables AV guys now to be the experts and to deliver a more comprehensive low-voltage solution, which is beneficial to everyone involved. I mean, now they are the one point of reference for more products, so that's better for the builder and it's better for the homeowner. There's no finger pointing. You—as the low-voltage integration guy—are now deploying everything from AV to security to, now, lighting, which really benefits everyone. And that's our message, and we're working hard to get that message across to the channel that we grew up in. It's as simple as that.

Really, what it seems like is, this product and this type of a solution allow you both—the manufacturer and the integrator—to differentiate yourselves. Integrators, Cory, have always been viewed more as solution providers rather than home theater builders, for example. This just gives you a way to add lighting into the fold.

Cory: I would add to that—you know, we're all being a little threatened by the Internet of Things and the Do-it-Yourself technology out there. It's getting really, really good. And our strategy is then to become part of the building core.

We're a big-time motorized shading company—that's a big part of our business, to integrate those shades into the architecture. Well, now we're part of the light fixture business. So it just plays into that theme of becoming part of the building core. And we think that if you don't do that, you might be in trouble a few years from now as the technology advances. This keeps us relevant—the more and more we can become part of that infrastructure and part of that core building product.

Mike: On the topic of specifiers, what we're finding—and as Cory touched on—from an AV perspective, it's always been the biggest challenge to be relevant to specifiers, whether that be an architect or a designer. We didn't really have anything to excite them, that spoke to their profession where they would be calling an AV guy to say, 'Hey, I've got this project two years down the road. Let's talk about what you can offer.'

That didn't exist, it never happened.

But now, our best dealers who truly understand this are now able to form relationships with specifiers because they are bringing something to the table that touches their profession. Whether it's an architect or a designer, your whole life is about transforming space in different ways, including lighting, which may be the way to transform space—so now you do have something to talk to them about, which betters them as an architect or a designer, and it's already happening.

Our key dealers, six months after getting into the space are basically being called into projects that are going to happen a year or two down the road, and they're being called in for the lighting component and how they're going to tie the low-voltage lighting into the rest of the low-voltage technology, where it would never have happened in the past. So, they're reaping the benefits of now, 1) getting in early, which is everyone's goal, and 2) forming relationships with specifiers, which they didn't really have the ability to or basically the direction to do it. So that's really positive when we are able to have those conversations with our channel.