Meet Art of Smart, Control4 partner of the year 2022
Managing Director Rich Heppell has built the Art of Smart business on reputation and employing people that share the same vision, aiming to set the standard for their industry with a focus on quality, user experience and always going the extra mile.
Rich, you established Art of Smart in 2017, after 11 years working in the electrical industry and have expanded to a team of 10 with a nationwide network of over 200 companies, that’s no mean feat! What motivated you to specialise in smart home installation?
I was motivated to move into the smart home sector after being fascinated with the capabilities of what the Control4 system could do. I started by implementing some tech into the house I had just bought and the rest is history! Even while working as an electrician I always knew smart homes would be the future of the industry, and after not being able to convince my employer at the time this would be the case I felt I had no choice than to start Art of Smart.
Why focus on mastering a single system opting for Control 4?
The main reason for this decision was to become a master of one system rather than have a general understanding of multiple different ones. When working on a job for a client I never want to feel like I'm not able to offer a service or a solution to their issue. By having a detailed understanding of Control4 and any gremlins that may arise, we are able to provide a stress free service for both our install teams and our customers.
You work on a mix of modern and heritage projects, tell us more about the major differences / challenges you face and how you manage customer expectations when it comes to planning a smart home install?
When working on listed buildings it brings an entirely new set of challenges for us as installers, not just aesthetically but also in terms of regulations. When working with customers who live in these beautiful homes, we find out any building restrictions immediately before we even begin the design phase. We can then make sure the customer and relevant authorities are happy with our plans before we even fit the first cable. We have a wealth of experience working on these types of properties and despite the restrictions, we are always able to make sure the experience is as stunning as if it is a new build property. From cottages with living thatched roofs to country manors that are national heritage sites, if the client can dream it, we can install it.
Talk us through one of your most challenging projects to date.
I would probably say a project we completed on a listed building in the south of the UK. This home had a ‘living thatched roof’ which means that local wildlife should be allowed to live in it... and they most definitely did live in it! Due to these reasons we had to plan ahead and fabricate metal trunking for all the cables in the house to ensure they wouldn't be chewed on by any little critters living up there. We also had restrictions on light pollution when fitting external lighting around the property. Our good friend Chris Hudson from Hudson Lighting is an advocate for using ‘dark sky principles’ when lighting homes which in short, involves containing the lighting you use and ensuring it only illuminates what is needed rather than the entire environment. Despite the challenges on this job, it turned out to be a stunning smart home while keeping all the regulations in place. This home also included Face4 keypad plates and socket outlets and accessories throughout from Focus SB matching perfectly.
Rich, qualifications build customer trust, you’re personally qualified in both Control4 and Lutron and have achieved your Pakedge PCNA certification (the first course designed specifically for computer networks and Wi-Fi in the AV industry). With smart homes, hotels and offices becoming reliant on networks and Wi-Fi, how essential is this skill to your business and why?
Qualifications are massively important when working with some of the high end clients we do installs with, experience working with these systems is also as important. Keeping networks secure is paramount to our operations and any sort of breach is unacceptable no matter how big or small.
By having these qualifications it shows clients we can be trusted to keep data secure and operate in an approved way that is supported industry wide. I'd ALWAYS advise customers to make sure anyone working on your home network or security systems has these qualifications and can provide evidence to back this up. Better still, we back this up with our specialist cyber security insurance that covers our customers up to £10m.
How have you seen the smart home landscape change since you started in terms of retrofit and high end customisation?
The landscape has changed massively in such a short space of time and new solutions are coming to the market constantly. Retrofits are becoming more common these days too and companies evolving to make these installs as easy as possible for clients and installers is paramount. We are seeing an increase in clients coming to us with very specific issues or problems that they believe tech can fix and 99% of the time it can. It's very rare two jobs are ever the same so creating bespoke solutions has become so important. If the client has a problem that annoys them, we are confident we can create a solution.
Your design team specialises in 3D digital renders personalised to every client’s project, allowing clients to see quotes and designs digitally inside their actual homes and sites! Is this the norm in your industry?
To be completely honest it isn't, but it really should be! Our renders can bring a project to life before the house has even been built. It allows our clients and interior designers we work with to get a clear vision of what a space will look like in a 3D environment and ensure we are on exactly the same page to make informed decisions. Our installers even use these renders on site alongside other documentation to make sure a space matches up exactly to the digital vision we produce.
When you’re working on a listing building how important is it to combine tech and traditional electrical accessories seamlessly?
When working on listed buildings it isn't only important, it can be a legal requirement! The great thing about working with Focus SB is we are able to recreate fittings that may be from the 1940s and simply aren't produced anymore. In addition to this, most electrical accessories that have been in a home for 70 years aren't going to look like one that's fresh off the press. The work the wizards at Focus SB do to match the patina is second to none. They are able to produce fittings for modern tech such as USB chargers or data ports that simply didn't exist when the home was built. The money they help clients save is extremely understated, the only alternative without Focus SB would be changing every socket in the house at an extremely high cost to the client.
How has expansion into your new venture Face4 in partnership with Focus SB’s keypad faceplate manufacturing and metal finishing expertise impacted your offering for luxury property interiors internationally?
The reception Face4 has received is beyond anything we ever expected, we knew there was a demand for high end keypad faceplates, but we didn't quite know the extent of how badly it was needed. It allows us to perfectly match sockets, panels and keypads in the home rather than having a mix of different fittings and finishes. We now distribute Face4 all over the world and are seeing orders increase month on month. Focus SB understands how important a high quality finished product is, the only corners they cut are the ones on our faceplates!
Talk us through why it was important for you to visit our factory in person and get down to the nuts and bolts - quite literally - of what’s possible in the world of electrical accessories manufacturing?
We love looking around the places the products we use are made and coming down to see the factory and the amazing staff who produce them was a great experience. The years of expertise the Focus SB team brings is just something that cannot be bought, and seeing the staff train the next generation is inspiring. It reassures us that they will be around for a long time and they are the only choice to manufacture our products.
You’ve left a lasting impression on the Focus SB team (particularly our Assembly Manager Val Chandler!) proving ‘face to face’ is important in this day and age of social media at which you are a polished professional with a super team behind you! Has this approach benefited the business as we see trends in luxury property owners growing amongst Gen Z / Millennial UHNWIs (according to a recent report by The Luxury Property Forum)?
100%! Getting boots on the ground is so important post COVID and we find getting face to face time with both our suppliers and clients is essential to having good working relationships. The podcasts we made were a great way to meet our suppliers and really get to know them as people. Even in our own office we make sure Monday is an all hands on deck day, and this works great for us.
Our client base is very varied but we are finding year on year our clients are getting younger. This may not be the case across the entire industry, but due to the social content we put out we are seeing this shift in demographic.
Sometimes we even have clients whose children recommend AOS to their parents which is insane!
How do you ‘switch off’ pardon the pun!? We hear you’re working towards your helicopter pilot licence!?
Switching off when the company is your entire life isn't easy, I chose to work towards my helicopter licence because in all honesty... the first lesson terrified me! Getting out of my comfort zone was not something I had done enough over the past five years so I decided to take the leap and start working towards it. Before AOS really got going I was massively into SCUBA diving and was even a... ‘MOD 2 Normoxic Trimix Helium closed circuit rebreather diver’! What a mouthful!
I've always enjoyed doing things that scare me and that rely on checklists to keep me alive as strange as that sounds. This is why we have so many checklists in our business workflows to keep us all accountable and ensure things are always done right (even if it isn't life and death…). The inspiration for helicopters actually came from seeing a video of a helicopter crash believe it or not. As soon as I felt terrified of them I knew I had to give it a go and booked a trial flight later that day!
What’s next for Art of Smart Group?
In the coming years we want to keep driving the standards of our industry up and working on even more stunning homes. Despite our in-house training being stopped due to how busy the business is, we are now shouting about our online training more than ever and the reviews we get from around the world inspire us to keep going with this. Over the next business year we are going to be attending some trade shows to get some important face to face time with people whose visions we can help bring to life. We are still finalising which ones we will be attending so keep an eye on all our social channels to see when and where we will be going next. Check out our online training academy at www.aos-academy.co.uk