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What to look for in a dealer


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I am writing this post in order to help educate home owners on what to look for in a dealer. The reason I am bringing this up is three fold. One, because of other posts I have read on this forum. Two, what I’ve read on another forum I thought would be useful here and Three, what happened to a potential client of ours.

Before I start I want to make it clear, I am NOT a C4 dealer, as many of those here know I am a Crestron dealer, but either way this applies to all CI’s.

Once you're ready to go and you have a list of recommended Ci’s from friends, co-workers or members on this board it’s time to investigate them. Positive word of mouth and high recommendations are a great start but you will want to compare them and see what their credentials are. Below is what you, as client, should be looking for in a CI.

1) Licensing - All CI’s are low voltage contractors. Check to see if the CI you plan on using is a licensed contractor in your state or if your state requires CI’s to licensed (In California the Low Voltage licensing class is C-7). Also check to see if their license is in good standing with the state or if there have been complaints against them. If a CI company is pulling, terminating, designing or engineering systems that use CAT5 (6), Speaker wire/cabeling, RG6 (59), etc, more than likely they are low voltage contractors and your state requires LV licensing. Licensing will not guarantee a perfect CI contractor but will lower your risk.

2) Bonding - Once you hire a licensed contractor MAKE SURE they have a valid Contractors Bond with the state they are licensed in and that they ALSO pull a performance bond for your job and they give you a copy BEFORE ANY WORK STARTS. The second is VERY important. A performance bond is basically an insurance policy that the contractor takes out to guarantee the job will get done, including system installation and programming, on time as a performance bond has a finite date. If for any reason the CI contractor bails on a job half way or two-thirds through, and you have paid the CI firm for work that they have not done, the performance bond guarantees payment for another contractor to come in and finish the job. Also, you, the client, will have to sign off on the bond stating that all work was completed, as stated in the scope of work, in order for the bond to be released. Remember only licensed contractors who are in good standing and have a good record can get a performance bond. If the CI firm or company is not licensed or if a licensed CI firm has bailed or skipped out on jobs they can not get bonded. If you ask your CI for a performance bond and they can not get one then that raises a red flag. (A side note: If the CI has employees working for them make sure the CI firm carries workers comp. insurance. If the CI’s employee gets hurt on the job ad the CI does not have workers comp. insurance guess who’s liable for the injured employee, you, the home owner, is responsible.)

3) Inspection - Make sure your LV (Low Voltage) wiring passes inspection. If not this can be a major issue in the future. One example, a home owner, who at the time was not a client of ours, house, unfortunately, burned to the ground. The arson investigation determined the cause of the fire was related to LV wiring that was done the prior year by an unlicensed CI and was not up to code. Well since the home owner hired the CI, the home owner took on all the responsibilities and since the CI was an unlicensed contractor and the LV wiring was NOT up to code his home owners insurance denied his claim.

4) SOW (Scope of Work) - This is another very important piece of the puzzle that the client tends to over look. Keep in mind we are CI’s and not mind readers. We may have an idea of what you want but you need tell us EXACTLY what you want your system to do, how you want it to function and what you expect from it. We can only guess and guessing will never achieve what you are expecting. Below are examples of what a SOW is and what a SOW is NOT. A - D comes from Jeremy Weatherford who posted this on a different forum and I found it to be applicable to this post

A) A parts list is not a scope of work. A parts list is helpful, but there are too many different ways the parts can be connected unless it's a wall plate and a projector, and then what do you need code for?

B) A functional drawing is not a scope of work. It narrows down the possibilities, but especially with multi-room systems and multi-display systems, there are more possibilities than could be feasibly presented to the most technically-savvy customer or even on a touch panel.

C) "Just like that other room we did in 2006" is not a scope of work. If it is just like it, why do you need new code? If you need new code, you have to explain what changed.

D) Stating that “The scope of work is what you *sold* the system to do” is NOT a scope of work.

E) A SOW is what determines which of the thousands of different projector controls/DVD transports/routing possibilities/room combinations actually go on the touch panel. If you make the CI guess at the scope of work, you will wind up paying the CI firm to build two systems: one built how the CI sees it, and one built to your specifications, once the CI drags them out of you.

Your CI needs to take time out, sit down with you and DOCUMENT what you expect the system to do. Then he or she needs to go back to the office and put that into a SOW that both you and the CI sign off on. Now both of you, the home owner and the CI, are on the same page and you have documentation.

5) Architectural/Engineered Drawings - This is where 99% of the clients skip on but are the most important. No matter if it’s a one room system or a whole house system that covers 25K + Sq ft. You need to have your system documented. Why? What if you want to add on later and the CI firm is no longer in business or if the company sends out a new tech who is not familiar with your system? The Architectural/Engineered Drawings will save you time and money because the CI person or CI firm does not have to reverse engineer your current system. The Architectural drawings are all they need. The drawings should include power distribution, required circuit amperage for equipment, wiring schematic, rack elevation front and rear (if applicable), complete network and IP address layout and schematic, etc. Again this will will save you time and money when you have to bring in a CI firm or a new CI person that is unfamiliar with your system.

6) Project Management - Make sure the CI firm has a strong project manager. Find out what their background is. Were they installers that were moved to PM or have they been doing PM as a career? Are they PMI certified? What size projects have they handled? Who are their clients? Did the project come in on time and on or under budget? How many projects are they currently managing and do they have time for you and your project.

7) Professional Certifications - Check to see if the CI firm you select or the person your CI firm is sending out has professional credentials OTHER than C4 training. One example is CEDIA certification? Training and certification other then C4 training and certification, demonstrates the individual is serious enough about their job to take it beyond the minimum required. Remember certification, such as CEDIA follows the individual and NOT the company. A person is certified not a company. Also CEDIA Certification DOES NOT mean they are CEDIA Members. You have to be or have a CEDIA Certified person on staff in order to qualify for CEDIA membership. CEDIA membership has a whole other set of requirements to meet. CEDIA membership also requires CI’s or a CI firm to be a licensed contractor and be insured for a minimum of 1MIL. liability amongst other requirements.

Another example is trade certifications. Are they Cisco certified? What kind of ADVANCED network training do they have? Just because a CI can plug a controller, computer, switch, etc in to a router does not mean they know networking.

8) Professional Affiliation - Does your CI or CI firm belong to any professional affiliations? At the minimum I would highly suggest that the CI or CI firm you plan on hiring is an active member of CEDIA. As I stated above, CEDIA membership also requires the CI or CI firm to be CEDIA certified or have a CEDIA Certified person on staff, be a licensed contractor and be insured for a minimum of 1Mil. liability amongst other requirements. The others to look at may be ASID, AIA and U.S.G.B.C depending your project.

9) Life Style Discovery - I am adding this section because the following topics come up quite a bit "Please Review My Quote”, "What Do You Think", “Will This Work”, “What Should I Purchase” “What Should I Install”, "My Dealer is Recommending the Following”, "New house construction, thoughts on quote", etc. I feel that those who are posting these types of posts are headed towards having a system that will have issues down the road or does not meet their needs & thus, does not fit their lifestyle and that's the key, LIFESTYLE.

The reason I am posting this is to open up the eyes of potential C4 customers as to what their CI should be doing so potential C4 customers will have faith in their CI and not doubt what is being proposed. As a disclaimer we, Digital Studio Werks, are NOT a Control4 dealer we are a Crestron dealer. As in my other postings what I mention below applies to all dealers/customers weather you are looking at C4, Crestron, AMX, Savant, etc.

When we take on a new project and prior to ANY product discussion, we sit down with the client and work to discover their lifestyle. We have a "Client Life Style Discovery Book" that is split up into 10 sections. 100% of the time, when we are done with the "Lifestyle Discovery Process" the client discovers needs they have that they never considered and we know what to design for and what equipment to spec. Now if your CI is looking out for your best interest they would do a "Lifestyle Discovery" prior to quoting you any product or price.

Every time we go into a meeting with a new client (Note: our clients are Architects, Interior Designers and Builders) and we show them the "Client Life Style Discovery Book" we hear comments along the following "This is great no other CI has anything like this", "If our past clients were given this questionnaire by the previous CI's we used they would be getting the most out of their systems", "We do not know how other CI's can quote a project without knowing the clients lifestyle." Whether we are doing one room for an Interior Designer or a whole house for an Architect or Builder we ALWAYS do a "Client Life Style Discovery Questionnaire" as this will determine what equipment will be needed and is NECESSARY while at the same time allowing for growth without over designing a system and wasting a clients $$.

In every single post I read on here, the person posting makes no mention as to their lifestyle or if the CI spent the time to discover their lifestyle and needs. If the CI did a lifestyle discovery it needs to be in writing and based on that they will know best as to what your needs are. If CI did not do a lifestyle discovery then they are guessing as to what your needs are. Without knowing how you live, what your lifestyle is like, how you will use your system, how your family will use your system, etc. no one here can give proper advice other than your CI who should have taken the time out to understand your needs through your lifestyle. The members here can advise you based on THEIR experience and lifestyle but since no 2 systems are alike and no 2 systems are used the same way you are just grabbing at straws as to what you should use or do and it may or may not work for your particular needs/lifestyle.

Following the above does not guarantee that everything will be perfect but it does reduce your risk of hiring a bad CI or CI firm. Also, a CI or CI firm following the above separates the true CI professional from the wannabes', trunk slammers and weekend hobbyists who say "hey, I can do this". Make sure the CI or CI firm you plan to hire can back up 1-9 above with proof and documentation BEFORE you give them a single penny.

When looking for a CI or CI firm balance the above with experience. If a CI or CI firm says they have been doing CI work for 10 years but are not licensed or insured, do not belong to a trade organization such as CEDIA and have no advanced training compared to a CI or CI firm that has been in business for 5 years and has all the above plus great references, then ask why not and see what their answer is.

Remember, listen to what your gut tells you, 99% of the time it’s correct. No amount of experience, licensing, insurance or professional membership can over come what your gut is telling you.

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  • 3 months later...

Question:

You mentioned the guys insurance company didn't cover his loss...

If the electrical inspector is responsible and passes the installation wouldn't the city/township/village insurance have to step in and pay for the loss since they allowed it to be installed not to code?

In Michigan I know the inspectors can be held liable for issues from what they personally have told me so it seems to reason that they should be paying for the loss.

Not that I'm saying you shouldn't have a professional but I'm just trying to understand the liability statement you made.

:)

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Hi,

The reason being the LV work was not inspected was that it was done after the build and thus no inspection. This was not a new build, add-on or remodel the client was was having a LV contractor run some LV cable through the attic and down a wall for some lighting after the house was completed. I was not involved since the home owner was not a client of ours prior to the fire so I do not know the exact details. We got involved about a year and a half later, after the house burned down, when he started rebuilding.

A side note, the ironic part of this was I remember when this client first came to us (through his architect) about 3 years earlier and he baulked or I should say had a fit, when we told him how much it would cost to just do the plans, let alone consulting fees, product cost, installation costs, programming, etc. Well 4 1/2 years later he is paying for a new house and about 1.5 times our original pricing.

Question:

You mentioned the guys insurance company didn't cover his loss...

If the electrical inspector is responsible and passes the installation wouldn't the city/township/village insurance have to step in and pay for the loss since they allowed it to be installed not to code?

In Michigan I know the inspectors can be held liable for issues from what they personally have told me so it seems to reason that they should be paying for the loss.

Not that I'm saying you shouldn't have a professional but I'm just trying to understand the liability statement you made.

:)

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  • 3 weeks later...
My question would be what to do when your dealer never gets back to you and you leave messages over and over and you never get a resolution when things aren't working....

I know I'm not paying $20000 for a home install like some of his clients but as good business practice I have found that I am not impressed with my dealer's lack of etiquette in returning my calls and fixing issues....

Find a new dealer.

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Hi,

The reason being the LV work was not inspected was that it was done after the build and thus no inspection. This was not a new build, add-on or remodel the client was was having a LV contractor run some LV cable through the attic and down a wall for some lighting after the house was completed. I was not involved since the home owner was not a client of ours prior to the fire so I do not know the exact details. We got involved about a year and a half later, after the house burned down, when he started rebuilding.

A side note, the ironic part of this was I remember when this client first came to us (through his architect) about 3 years earlier and he baulked or I should say had a fit, when we told him how much it would cost to just do the plans, let alone consulting fees, product cost, installation costs, programming, etc. Well 4 1/2 years later he is paying for a new house and about 1.5 times our original pricing.

Question:

You mentioned the guys insurance company didn't cover his loss...

If the electrical inspector is responsible and passes the installation wouldn't the city/township/village insurance have to step in and pay for the loss since they allowed it to be installed not to code?

In Michigan I know the inspectors can be held liable for issues from what they personally have told me so it seems to reason that they should be paying for the loss.

Not that I'm saying you shouldn't have a professional but I'm just trying to understand the liability statement you made.

:)

Ahhhh..... there in lies the problem - going around the inspection process....

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