Should You Support DIY Installations? New Experience and Market Opportunities Await

The do-it-yourself (DIY) security and smart tech market is here to stay, and there is a lot of discussion on how this trend will affect traditional low-voltage security contractors. Companies such as Google, Amazon (which recently bought Ring Video Doorbells), and others, are getting in on the business, and they are sure to have an impact on overall market penetration and sales. 

So what is a low-voltage security contractor to do? Should you ignore it altogether? Or, should you dive in and start installing DIY with their other solutions, or develop other strategies? Probably the latter two points, because there are many ways to approach the market in a positive manner with the correct plan and strategy.

Snapshot of the landscape

The good news is that DIY, or self-install, has created new opportunity for ECs. Consumer awareness of security’s benefits has increased. Many solutions start with smartphone video surveillance, which is popular for those who don’t want monitored security but simply want to check in on the premises.

“While there is clearly growing interest, DIY is not necessarily being viewed as major competition at this point,” said John Robuck, Capital One’s managing director and head of security finance, Bethesda, Md. “Established industry dealers view these products as additive and not comparable with professionally monitored systems.” 

Anna Sliwon, research analyst II, security, technology, for IHS Markit, London, said the proportion of sales of connected DIY systems compared to professional security systems is still very low. 

“This is because providers of such systems struggle to market them to wider audiences, and the typical retail channel is resistant to adopt these products without the assurance of high sales,” she said. “Although DIY systems are marketed as easy to set up and usually come preconfigured, the installation does require a certain level of technological savviness from the user. This will limit the number of end-users who would consider buying a DIY system.”

DIY systems fill a gap in the security industry for users who don’t want to be tied to a long-term monitoring contract, while usually providing a comparable level of security.

“DIY solutions are particularly attractive to residential end-users living in rented accommodation, or with tight budgets where their circumstances do not allow for a professional system,” Sliwon said. “There is a growing segment of the population who consider DIY security systems as a hobby and are likely to use online forums to look for installation and setup advice.”

As DIY systems become increasingly plug-and-play, they are being used in commercial settings, especially buildings and apartments with no previous history of security equipment, therefore replacing the professional install option as a first choice for new users of alarm systems.

Chris Peterson, principal, speaker and consultant for Vector Firm, Orlando, Fla., has seen an uptick in DIY activity in the commercial space, as some technologies become easier to install. (Vector Firm is a sales management consulting firm focused on the security industry.)

“Some end-users are quite competent and can hang cameras themselves; or, they might get in above their head and bring in systems integrators to finish the job,” he said.

Pathway and approach

Peterson said there are specific sales tactics traditional security contractors should apply to the DIY customer.

“What they are doing and what they should be doing are two different things,” he said. “They are trying to convince the user that they need them, when if it’s only a camera in reality many times the user can do it themselves. They can hang cameras and connect the devices—that’s just the hard truth. Security integrators are clinging onto something that is disappearing.” 

Instead, it is important for companies to understand and play off the real value they bring to the end-user in providing professional services such as cyber security and remote-
managed services with cloud-hosted technologies. 

“Contractors can provide services to support DIY customers, and that’s where they have to make a choice,” Peterson said. “There’s value in having one source to rely on, but perhaps they can do the access control or other solution for that customer. They can also assess the scenario for a customer. Perhaps they installed the cameras themselves and it isn’t working properly, so they can charge to complete the installation. There’s definitely value in that. There’s no value in challenging the customer with statements such as ‘you get what you pay for.’ Don’t throw down the gauntlet. Visit the customer and listen to them. Be empathetic and serving.”

Mark Fischer, technical consultant, Systems Support Specialists, Dix Hill, N.Y., concurred that the DIY trend is opening the market.

“It’s not taking business from the traditional security contractor but actually providing a lot of opportunity to leverage it for professional monitoring and value-add services,” he said.

A certain percentage of users will choose to monitor it themselves using a smartphone app.

“The issue is that these users can’t always be available to investigate an alarm 24/7,” Fischer said. “How do you reach the 911 system when you are on vacation? Smartphone monitoring has its limitations.”

One element holding DIY users back from professionally installed systems is long-term agreements that also don’t fit well with renters who want the freedom to move without early termination fees. However, DIY opens ups new business in many ways.

“Even ADT has a DIY program that allows them to complete the installation for the customer if they run into problems,” Fischer said. “And, certain manufacturers now have integrations with consumer products such as Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa. This is creating a hybrid type of offering that can integrate alarm systems with DIY. You will see people requesting that more now. Security contractors need to focus on incorporating new services that address the needs of DIY users.”

What the future may hold

One thing is certain: the industry is undergoing widespread change.

“You are going to see huge conglomerates come into the industry with more DIY products and the professional central monitoring centers will be hardest hit unless they change,” Fischer said. “There’s a lot of opportunity with DIY and it’s a matter of being able to upsell and provide the type of services that create recurring monthly revenue and not just a one-time sell.”

DIY systems meet the security needs of a specific group but are unlikely to replace the need for a high-quality, professionally installed and monitored system.

“One option to get on top of the challenge is to include DIY systems in their offerings while providing after-sales support to users,” Sliwon said. “Some of the professional security equipment providers have already begun offering DIY security systems. Another opportunity would be to partner with consumer ecosystems such as Arlo, Ring or Nest. Although DIY systems will not completely replace professionally installed security systems, these offerings can provide dealers with additional revenue streams from a customer base not currently being served.”

About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer

Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at dlocommunications@gmail.com...

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