Home automation the Jay McLellan way
Jay McLellan hates it when people say home automation can do anything you can imagine, that it’s “all up to your imagination.”
He says manufacturers and installers really need to start presenting a value proposition to the home owner.
“There has to be a practical level where you say ‘these are the major components I want to automate.’ For some people that’s driven by entertainment, for others it is security and energy management,” he says.
“Further, when people install home automation systems, they expect them to last 20+ years, not two or five like your VCR or computer. Computers may be obsolete in four years, but a home automation system will be with you for quite a while so the systems are upgradeable, they are reliable, they don’t have disk drives or fans – they are designed to sit there and run for 20 years and not be rebooted. So, reliability is key.”
In 1985 Jay co-founded Home Automation, Inc (HAI), which, in 1988, introduced the Model 1503 to the then unassuming American market. It was the first system to offer complete burglary and fire protection, telephone access, lighting and appliance control, plus programmable automation in a single affordable product.
“We’ve always focussed on what we see as the ‘common sense’ approach to home automation. We see it as a bit
like installing digital plumbing inside your house.
“To me, this is pressing a button as you walk out of the house which switches off all lighting and ensures the house is secure. But, there is a growing trend of people wanting everything from the toaster to the doorknobs automated because someone told them there were no limits.”
Under Jay’s direction HAI has developed a comprehensive and award-winning line of products that coordinate security, temperature, lighting and whole-home audio for comfort, convenience and safety.
“The company started 25 years ago in a very small office of about 100m² in New Orleans and are now in a 4,700m² building, having taken lots of steps along the way,” he says.
“But we have grown very, very carefully, which has allowed us to really focus on what our dealers want most from us.
“As we’ve grown we have moved into security surveillance, control systems, distributed audio, and we’re very strong in the energy management and security sides as well. It really is a practical product that is entertaining and fun at the same time, it’s a very enjoyable business.”
Since the company’s inception, Jay has been devoting time to growth, recognition and advancement of the home automation industry; HAI was a charter member of the Home Automation Association (HAA) in 1989, which later evolved and grew to become the TechHome Division of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).
Still headquartered in New Orleans, HAI is now considered a market share leader in home automation systems, with revenue growth of 35% or better for the past three years.
But recent economic events have led to a slow-down in the US market, and Hurricane Katrina reportedly cost the company approximately $1 million in damages.
“The US has recently been on a major spending binge and is now suffering a massive hangover,” Jay says.
“HAI has always been targeted at the mid-range market; we’re definitely not the highest end product, but we’re not an entry level product either. And, to be honest, we don’t want to be everything to everybody. We are more concerned with giving you the best value for your dollar, by providing most of the functionality the high end systems provide at a fraction of the cost.
“So, yes, the economic downturn has affected us, but not enough to break our backs.”
HAI has now been present in Australia for the past six years, distributed through Alloys Digital Home Automation & Entertainment. But, as the company has continued to grow, it has been able to develop a better understanding of the local market and offer a product that is “right for the Australian climate.”
“A lot of manufacturers will bring over a product that is specified to American Standards with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude, but we are focussed on finding something quite specific to your market,” he says.
“In order to do that, we understand we can’t be all things to all people and make every single product because there are so many products already out there. So we just focus on what we do best then establish relationships with other guys out there that do their parts well.
“But, the best thing about working in Australia is that you also speak English, which makes it a lot easier to cater for you and your market!”
Energy conservation, alternative energy and better building techniques are ongoing endeavours being pursued by HAI‘s engineering and product development divisions, in conjunction with several private and US government agencies.