Editor's Note: Why DIY is Winning

Dec. 13, 2022
When it comes to smart homes, consumers are speaking to us with their wallets

This article originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.

My father is the type of guy who generally doesn’t “ask for something” for his birthday. Often, it is a guessing game as my wife and I browse the golf section at some random retail outlet. This year was different: At Thanksgiving dinner, he came straight out and asked me to get him a video doorbell.

Perfect, I thought. This is the opportunity I had been waiting for to get his home security system, which is at least a decade or two old, updated. I would talk to his alarm company and get him upgraded to a smart-home platform and they easily could add that video doorbell. Win-Win!

So, I called the unnamed alarm company the next day. I hinted that I have connections in the industry. I dropped some big names that most people know. The salesperson was definitely nice, and he was professional. He explained what I would need (a new alarm panel and a system to communicate with the old sensors, and, of course, the new doorbell). He crunched some numbers. He got his manager to approve a nice discount … and then he told me it would cost somewhere in the $900 range and that the monthly monitoring cost would increase by about $20.

I was taken aback by the price. I truly believed (and sort of still do) that residential security companies were intent on getting legacy customers economically upgraded so they could add new smart-home tech and cameras, and the associated RMR and stickiness that comes with it.

It being the Friday after Thanksgiving, I picked up flyers for Black Friday sales at Lowes, Home Depot and Best Buy. ALL THREE had a name-brand video doorbell for 35 bucks. I knew I could install it, and my parents’ alarm system is old, but, heck, it still works fine.

It was an easy decision, and it is one that consumers are making all over the country. People often speak with their wallets, whether it is smart-home gadgets or national elections. This is why DIY is pulling ahead in the residential market, and alarm companies need to understand these dynamics.

What is – and isn’t – working

First of all, the industry-pushed narrative that most people aren’t savvy enough or willing to install their own smart-home gadgets is outdated. There might have been a time when self-installs were cumbersome, but companies such as Amazon, Apple and Google – and Sonos, Simplisafe and Arlo, for that matter – aren’t stupid. They made self-install about as easy as possible. I downloaded an app that walked me through the doorbell install process step-by-step, and it wasn’t difficult. In fact, we were up and running in less than 10 minutes.

What about professional monitoring? Although this argument holds water when it comes to alarm systems, it is another often-cited narrative that is losing ground in the market. Many of these DIY systems offer low-cost professional monitoring packages. More disturbing to me was why updating an alarm panel would necessitate a $20 monthly monitoring price hike.

There once was a time in this industry’s recent past when companies would give away hardware for free if a consumer signed a multiyear contract. The back-end RMR easily paid for the hardware (and then some). Although I understand that money costs more these days, I would have been happy to sign such a deal for my parents’ upgrade.

In any case, I know this isn’t exactly an industry touchy-feely column, but sometimes the hard truths are the ones that create the most change. The residential security industry enjoyed a high tide during the pandemic that quickly is receding, and it is time to win back consumer hearts and minds. The path is through their wallet.  

Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of Security Business magazine. Email him your comments and questions at [email protected]. Access the current issue, full archives and apply for a free subscription at www.securitybusinessmag.com.