Motorization stands at a crossroads—will it remain a mere specialty within the overall window coverings market, or will it become a component of the technology market that eventually will encompass a substantial portion of the window coverings industry? The $5 billion window coverings market is being served through traditional distribution channels, whereas the technology market belongs to the emerging home automation market with its many networked subsystems.
The integration of motorization and automation technology and all its functions into existing window coverings products will obviously be the fastest route into the volume market for motorization. However, most of the existing window coverings products do not readily accept motorization within their current configurations. Headrails are too small, mechanical systems are not suitable, etc. Also, power sources such as an AC power line, either direct or reduced and converted to DC power supply, require special wiring, which can be a complicating factor.
Temporary power supplies in the form of batteries and solar cells have limited lifetimes and, therefore, less reliability as permanent operating sources. The introduction of this lower-end motorization in the window coverings industry, however, has expanded motorization into the middle segment of the market triangle and has led to an increased awareness of, and a growing demand for, window coverings automation in the professional market.
As a rule, the actual end-users of upper-end systems (i.e., the owners of the luxury residential buildings and the owners or developers of commercial real estate) often are not primarily instrumental in creating the market pull. To a large degree, this market is being influenced by architects, designers and specifiers. This commercial market for motorization is growing rapidly. On-site service and correct installation are of critical importance in making this market successful. This requires knowledgeable and technically qualified commercial contractors.
BRIGHT OUTLOOK FOR GROWTH
Today there are a number of positive factors that point toward substantial future growth of the motorization market in window coverings overall:
• Prices of systems and motors are coming down slowly as volume increases.
• Consumer advertising is increasing general awareness.
• Home entertainment and home theater industries often incorporate screen and window coverings automation.
• Home networking systems are growing rapidly and provide a framework to incorporate window automation as a subsystem.
To take advantage of these developments it is necessary to offer products that
• will meet consumer expectations;
• can be easily incorporated into existing market channels and installation processes; and
• are compatible with the operation requirements of the developing automation markets.
All in all, the outlook for the growth of motorization in the window coverings industry is bright. Building automation systems are rapidly becoming the standard rather than the exception in modern commercial building design. Upper-end hotels are increasingly inclined to automate window coverings in suites, upper-end guest rooms and in most public areas. The upper-end residential market practically demands automation for all functionally movable window coverings such as draperies and shades, and motorization is starting to penetrate the mid-range of the market.
A highly significant factor is the psychological impact of a generation that has grown up in the Information Age, i.e., with electronic communication and automation. The aversion to electronic devices and controls that sometimes manifests itself in older generations soon will have disappeared completely. It is being replaced by a positive attitude and a preference for modern devices that offer convenience and security.
Home information and automation networks drive the increasing demand for automated window coverings. Before long, the home automation market may well be propelling the growth of the automation of window coverings.
IMPORTANT MARKET GROWTH FACTORS
• Rapid development of structured wiring in upper and middle residential markets to establish integrated in-house information networks. (Major communications companies such as Bell Atlantic, SBC Communications and others are investing vast sums of capital in these developments. The presence of structured wiring will easily facilitate the hook-up of window automation systems to in-house networks.)
• Participation of the world leading IT and communication technology firms (Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Panasonic and others) in the development of the markets for home networking.
• Creation of Home RF cross-industry workgroups to develop in-home wireless communications networks between telephones, computers and consumer electronic devices.
• Development of Cebus/CIC protocol and plug-and-play specifications in an effort to standardize and facilitate inter-device communication in networks.
Jon Vrielink is president of BTX Window Automation, Inc., Dallas, TX, (214) 343-1610; (800) 422-8839; www.btxinc.com.