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Distributors: Hottest Home Tech Categories Remain Lighting, Outdoors, and Networking

Distributors remain as vital to the custom integration channel as always, and perhaps even more so these days with emerging and trending product categories.

It’s not surprising that in talking with a couple of distributors, the growing importance of high-performance home networking and an array of lighting solutions are the big story.

Here, Drew Fischer, Vice President – Home Integration & Specialty Sales for DOW Technologies, Cody Crossland, VP of Sales and Marketing at Blackwire Designs, PowerHouse Alliance executive Director Dennis Holzer, and WAVE Electronics’ Bryan Stewart, Chief Sales Officer, tell CE Pro about hot home tech categories, recurring monthly revenue opportunities, education, and more. 

CE Pro: What are your hottest product categories? 

DREW FISCHER: Networking remains a key growth category for us. As the demand for home technology continues to grow, ensuring reliable, high-speed connectivity is required for every job. Additionally, innovations in outdoor living drive the increasing need for robust connections that span beyond indoor spaces to cover the entire property.

CODY CROSSLAND: The evolving networking requirements for advanced technology have shown how a correctly designed and implemented network is critical for any project.

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DENNIS HOLZER: At PowerHouse Alliance, our hottest product categories currently include lighting and shading solutions, outdoor TVs, and those lines that support light commercial projects. Our lighting and shading solutions have seen significant growth, driven by their ability to offer energy efficiency and enhanced comfort. 

Another reason this category has seen growth is because we’ve been able to expand our offerings to include products that can meet a variety of project budgets. Outdoor TVs are particularly popular during warmer months and are increasingly being used in commercial entertainment spaces and stadiums. Lastly, light commercial projects are trending upward as residential projects slow down, with small office, restaurant, and retail space projects providing ample opportunities for our dealers.

BRYAN STEWART: After a meticulous R&D effort by our WAVE Electronics Team, 2024 saw the launch of a brand new category for WAVE Electronics dealers: commercial 70-volt audio by Elura Audio. This comprehensive line of products includes mixer/amp components, discrete amplifiers, in-ceiling full-range speakers, support equipment, and several pendant-style subwoofers and full-range options. The Green Label began shipping in February and has far exceeded the expectations of both WAVE and our customers.

Security with Illumivue always has something new and exciting to discuss. There are new updates to the Illumivue mobile app and a new 8MP camera shipping in July, with a pre-order queue already forming.  

CE Pro: Are there any others that you could see trending upward in 2025? 

FISCHER: We see a rising demand from end-users for lighting solutions, including under-cabinet, low-voltage, and outdoor lighting. We anticipate growth in the number of our customers that are servicing that demand. This category not only presents a fresh revenue opportunity for our dealers, but also aligns with the expansion of outdoor living, fueling the need for increasingly sophisticated lighting solutions.

CROSSLAND: With Wi-Fi 7 starting to show up, 10 gigabit networks are going to be required and the increase in high bandwidth networking products will continue to grow. With Ruckus and NETGEAR making some of the best networking products, it ensures our dealers are set up for success and will not have service calls. 

HOLZER: Our current trends are setting a good course for what we are expecting to see in 2025 – we anticipate continued growth in advanced lighting and shading solutions. The accessibility of advanced lighting and shading solutions to the middle market will help drive demand beyond the luxury segment. We also have a few things up our sleeve in this category that we will be excited to share in the future. We don’t anticipate these light commercial projects to let up anytime soon, so we will continue to offer training and support to our dealers so they are prepared to tackle these projects with confidence.  

STEWART: In the few months since Elura Commercial Audio began shipping to dealers, the market response has been overwhelmingly positive. We are confident that our commercial line will continue to expand in the coming years.

Additionally, all WAVE dealers are enthusiastically embracing automation, lighting, and shades. Not only are sales growing from brands WAVE reps like Lutron, Savant, and RTI, but dealers are also adding resources to their teams, including specialists in interior design and lighting philosophies.

Finally, the residential and commercial security business continues to evolve around ease of use, connectivity, and simplicity in decision-making. Illumivue has always focused on innovation, but future products will prioritize intuitive interaction over technical understanding.

CE Pro: Have you rolled out any programs, incentives, specials, etc. during the past year?  

FISCHER: We maintain a strong focus on value-added programs for our retailers. Our Flash VIR specials have paid out over $150,000 to dealers, our Smart Services program significantly reduces shipping costs for dealers, and our free marketing design has helped dealers advertise and create their own unique brand. Our dedicated account managers continue to provide design and troubleshooting support. We are committed to offering white-glove service with industry-leading programs that benefit dealers of all sizes.

HOLZER: Each PowerHouse member is very attuned to the needs in their specific market so they have been nimble to create programs that will drive value for their dealer customers. Across our members training programs continue to be a huge benefit that is offered. Additionally, many dealers don’t realize they can take advantage of design services offered by their distributor partners. This is a huge benefit and helps ensure that dealers don’t have to turn away work because of project complexity. 

Last but not least, we’re fortunate to have continued to expand the number of vendor relationships we have, adding nearly three dozen new product lines since 2020, ensuring our dealers have access to a wide range of products to meet their project needs. Each of these brands works with our members to offer competitive pricing, rebates and rewards that help dealers add to their bottom line.

STEWART: The WAVE Premier Program is a robust loyalty program that offers our dealers up to 7% back on qualifying purchases weekly! In fact, the Premier Program has won awards from CE Pro.  

In addition, our tech support efforts remain at the forefront of the industry. We frequently hear that our technicians set up the same systems in our offices and test benches that dealers are installing in the field. This practice simplifies troubleshooting and programming, as our team is working with the same products in real-time.

CE Pro: What are ways that you support dealers to boost their sales or proficiencies? 

FISCHER: We empower dealers to utilize our internal resources for business growth. This includes easy-to-post social media ads aligned with manufacturer promotions, complimentary assistance in redesigning logos, business cards, and more to maintain professionalism with their customers, thereby eliminating the need for a dealer to employ a dedicated marketing team. 

Moreover, we provide free technical design and advice, drawing from over 200 years of combined experience. Additionally, we offer the broadest range of recurring monthly revenue (RMR) opportunities in the CEDIA space, allowing our dealers to generate ongoing profits from one-time sales.

HOLZER: Not a week goes by when a PowerHouse member is not hosting a training. From getting dealers comfortable with new categories like lighting and shading to mastering those areas they’re already familiar with like audio system design — PowerHouse members are there to offer support.

CE Pro: Are you projecting business to be up, down, or flat this year, and why? 

FISCHER: While we anticipate a slight downturn in traditional home control products, we’re optimistic about new revenue avenues for our retailers. Our focus on RMR programs, smaller commercial projects, and lighting solutions is poised to offset any challenges in the control market. We see these areas as promising opportunities for growth and diversification.

HOLZER: We are projecting our business to be stable or slightly up this year. This projection is based on the resilience we have observed in product demand across the board. The growth in light commercial projects is expected to offset any slowdown in residential projects, providing a stable business outlook.

STEWART: We have seen consistent hockey stick growth for the past few years and expect to see continued success through the commercial side of our business offerings.

CE Pro: What are your biggest challenges?  

FISCHER: As a family owned and operated distributor, we encounter challenges akin to those faced by our dealers daily. We often find ourselves in a David vs. Goliath scenario, trying to compete against large public companies that can sustain significant losses annually. 

However, we attribute our competitive edge to our all-inclusive programs, relatability to local retailers, agility in decision-making, and the strength of personal relationships. These factors enable us to effectively compete with the corporate giants in the market.

CROSSLAND: We still see issues with stock, but we think it has come down to not correctly estimating the demand for certain products. Blackwire works hard on identifying demand as much as possible and to that end we expanded our warehouse space as well as replaced our entire racking systems to hold more product. 

We also updated our ERP system in January, which allows us to expand as much as possible and bring a whole new way of tracking and estimating demand for products. 

HOLZER: Our biggest challenges include adapting to supply chain dynamics and keeping up with rapid technological advancements. Although supply chain issues have stabilized, managing relationships and timelines effectively remains crucial. Additionally, ensuring our dealers are well-trained and equipped to handle the latest product innovations and integrations is an ongoing challenge.

STEWART: Attention spans are limited for everyone. Dealers do not have the time to attend shows, read websites, and stay up to date on their own. WAVE is the distributor partner that dealers need. We ensure our messages and training programs are supported by in-branch communications, email connections, and our website.

Education seems to be a real sticking point. There are just so many new products, services, apps, that it becomes difficult to keep up with it all. So for 2024, we have introduced WAVE U, which aggregates all our podcasts, technical papers, and product videos into one simple place and helps our dealers keep up to date with all things WAVE.

CE Pro: What are you most optimistic about the industry right now?  

FISCHER: Despite the challenges posed by the current housing market, the demand for technology remains robust. Although the rate of new home purchases may have slowed compared to four years ago, there’s a persistent demand for technology to transform traditional homes of today into the smart homes of the future. This ongoing demand is a positive sign for everyone in our industry.

HOLZER: I am most optimistic about the continued growth in smart home adoption and the expansion of light commercial projects. Our members have already seen growth this year in both existing and new categories (such as shades, lighting and acoustics). and I am optimistic they will continue to do so. 

The increasing number of households adopting smart home devices presents substantial opportunities for our dealers. The rebound in commercial projects, particularly in small offices and retail spaces, is also promising. Lastly, the innovation in integrated systems that enhance energy efficiency and comfort aligns perfectly with evolving consumer preferences, making me confident about the future of our industry.

STEWART: End-user interest in consumer electronics, commercial audio/video products, and technology is higher than ever for WAVE dealers. First, we have the right people who not only understand the products but have been deeply involved in the industry for decades. Add to that innovative, industry-leading products and strategically located branches, we make it simple for dealers to dramatically grow their businesses.

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