@Lutron has been serving smart home needs for longer than the term “smart home” has been around. In this interview, we catch up with Melissa Andresko, who brings us up to speed on the latest from the company.
This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two and a half years. We’re really proud of Timeline. We’re going to reimagine Windows. Microsoft is announcing the breakthrough game console called Xbox. We’ve created a platform attuned to consumers’ changing behaviors and an evolving sense of play. We set out to make the best watch in the world. And today we’re introducing Nexus 7. This is it, Xbox One. And we are calling it “iPhone.”
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I thank you guys so much for being here. If you want to get involved in is @youtechreport about all our social media. Thank you so much for being here on another to another edition of YourTechReport, I am Marc Aflalo, flying solo today, which is exciting because we’ve got lots of really cool interviews lined up to replace the lack of Mitchell Whitfield because he’s recovering from knee replacement surgery.
So we’re going to dive into an awesome show we’ve got lined up for you. Today, we’re going to be speaking to a very cool company based in Canada called B2BQuotes. Also, Samsung unveiled a whole slew of new laptops, we’ll be talking directly to them, and we kick things off this week with a very, very cool company. Whether you know the name from your home light switches, perhaps your motorized blinds, for those like me, their smart home, Lutron’s been around for a very long time, making our homes and businesses just work.
Here to dive into the company and its amazing lineup of great new products is Melissa Andresko, Lutron’s chief corporate brand ambassador. Melissa, welcome back to YourTechReport, Thank you so much for coming back on.
Thanks Marc, great to be here.
Before we dive into things, and I know we’ve spoken before, can you give our lovely audience a little brief history into your experience with the company, because the company itself has been around since the 50s at this point, but I’m sure you’ve not been there that long.
No, I have not. So Lutron actually was founded in 1961. I joined the company actually in 1998, so I just had my 23-year anniversary with the company, actually just last week. So it’s been amazing what I’ve seen in 23 years in terms of innovation and in terms of what our customers are looking for for their homes, for their offices, and just seeing the pace at which innovation is coming out of our front door and just the industry as a whole it has just been fascinating to watch.
Yeah, I can imagine seeing just the evolution of things, even just things going from traditional lights, switches, connected light, that process must have been pretty interesting to go through.
Yeah. And also just to see voice taking over as such a game changer and such a platform in the home. I remember when I first started, home theater was just coming into vogue, and look where we are now, 20 plus years later. So it’s really been great, and it’s been great to be so active in the industries as well and talk with our peers and folks just to really get a pulse. It’s just been such an exciting time to be part of the consumer electronic space.
Is there a corporate mission at the company that you could share with us that defines what you guys are doing and your target?
It’s interesting, Lutron makes products for literally every application, whether it’s a 500 square foot apartment or a 20,000 square foot mansion, whether it’s a single retail store, a campus at a university, and everything in between. So it’s really hard to narrow down who our target is because it really could be anybody that needs control of their lights or their shades. Products can be found at retail for as little as $20 and can control a single light, non-connected, or you can go all the way up to a building or a campus where every single light, every single shade on the entire campus is controlled and can all be managed through an app. So it’s really, there’s really something for everyone in every sense of the word.
You know what, when I came to equipping my home, I went with Lutron because when I did my research and I had to make a choice, I wanted to choose something that I knew would just work. It would work from the start and would not give me problems down the road, and I’ve seen so many people go down that wrong road and end up where I am, which is, with the Caséta system, pretty much every light switch in my house is a Lutron one.
I’m working on getting the shades in, I’ve added some of the motion control, dabbled in the automation, so many different things, and of course evolved into adding voices, voice control, as well. I get the impression that when designing a product at the company level, simplicity is probably a very important factor, is it not?
Simplicity is key. What is that user experience going to be like? Is it going to be intuitive, which button to press, because a lot of our products are not just the single button anymore. When you get up to our systems, like you talked about a Caséta system, our Pico remote controls, our HomeWorks system keypad, those all have multiple buttons. So it’s really important that it’s, number one, intuitive for the user to be able to operate it as expected and easily, but also thinking about guests in the home too, not everybody has a smart house.
And people, if you maybe have overnight guests who are coming and all of a sudden they’re faced with these controls on the wall, so it’s really about taking it even beyond that homeowner and making sure that if it’s a five-year-old child or your 85-year-old grandmother, we want to make sure that that’s an easy, intuitive experience for everybody. So that’s really as important, especially as technology continues to advance, with all the different things that you can be doing now, it could get really, it’d be really easy to forget that part of it, the people part, but for us, it’s critical, and it’s the thing that we really focus on the most, just taking care of our customers.
Can we dispel a myth together? People always ask me, “Do I need a smart home in order to use this product or that product?” And I’d try to explain that to people name it, but I think I have a feeling that this is a question you get fairly often and you could probably answer it a little bit more eloquently.
So, to your point, do I need a smart home? So the way I answer that, smart home means many things to many people. Lutron makes a motion sensor that is great for places like the laundry room, hence you’re carrying a laundry basket, you walk in, the light automatically turns on, and after it, it doesn’t sense anymore activity, it turns the light off. To some people, that is a smart home. It’s a non-connected device, but it’s made their life easier, and it’s, quite honestly, magical.
So we talk about smart home, not as the gee whiz factor, but it’s really more about solving problems. And I speak at a lot of conferences and I talk on a lot of panels, and that’s one thing that I always really try to get through to people about, is as recently as four or five years ago, anything that could be connected to the internet was being connected to the internet. You’d go to the consumer electronics show, and the whole Internet of Things trend was everywhere. Connected toothbrushes and toilets, anything that could be watts.
It doesn’t mean that it should be connected though, and that’s a really important point to note, that when you look at what smart home products are doing today, it’s all about solving problems, making life easier. For example, with Lutron, having an app on your phone that, through geo-fencing, knows when you are within a two mile radius of your home and starts turning lights on so that you have this welcoming well lit entrance. And that to me is solving a problem.
And when people ask me, “Do I need a smart home?” I say, “Well, do you like walking into a dark house?” Or, “Do you like waking up everybody in the family when you have to turn the lights on in the middle of the night to find your way to the bathroom?” Those answers become pretty obvious pretty quickly, and people start to see the true benefits that are just beyond that whole tech factor.
There’s a word that you used there, and the word was convenience. And I love that word because when you describe the benefits of a lot of the products that you create, a lot of other connected products, it really is about convenience, but it’s also, I think at some point, about accessibility. And the reason I bring up accessibility is because I host a couple of different shows and I work with a couple of different networks, and one network happens to focus on people with visual impairments.
And when you talk about being able to use your voice to control lights and create automations and various things that we’ll dive into in a second, for someone who’s not thinking about it, for someone with visual impairment or any kind of disability, it’s life changing. It’s more than just convenience. It’s life changing because you no longer have to hunt for that switch, fumble and do things differently than somebody else, which is really empowering to some people as well.
It really is. And we’ve actually heard stories, and some of my team members here at Lutron have experienced this with their own family, but elderly parents, elderly grandparents who might be wheelchair-bound, or need it fairly often to get around, who said, “I couldn’t reach my mini blinds to twist the rod to open and close my blinds. Now, all of a sudden, I have this Pico remote mounted to my wheelchair, and I have the ability to bring sunlight into my home and to close the blinds at night with the press of a button,” which for some people, is something you and I probably take for granted, but for some people it’s something that they maybe haven’t been able to do for a really long time. So getting back to that problem solving, that to me is something that’s really powerful, and to your point, life changing.
Can we dive into some of the cool products? And when I say, guys, cool products, I’m talking about, this is not, you’re breaking the bank here. When I talk about the Caséta wireless smart fan speed control system, for example, you’re looking at $60, when you look at the motion sensor, you’re looking at about a $50, the repeater, the Aurora Smart Bulb Dimmer, these are all products that I’m sure were designed to solve a problem. So can we go down the list a little bit just to dive into some of those newer products?
Let’s start with, for example, the Smart Fan Speed Control System.
Yeah. So the Smart Fan Control was introduced a few months ago as part of our Caséta Wireless Smart Home System. And for your listeners who are maybe starting to dabble in smart home or thinking about, again, these conveniences, Caséta is that great starter system for people who want to maybe start small and expand. It’s not intended to be every single light in every corner of your home. It’s really intended-
It can be.
It can be, sure. It can do up to a hundred devices. It certainly can be, but some people might just put it in key areas like family rooms, kitchens, outdoor lights, but it’s a great starter system and it’s available. It starts for under $100. And that smart fan control was introduced as part of that system, and now allows me to control fans through the Lutron app using my voice.
So again, it’s just more about the convenience. How many times have you been too hot or too cold laying in your bed and you have to get up to turn off the ceiling fan if the control is over by the door? We’re simplifying that now. And to your point, it’s been a great addition to the Caséta line and, and giving people even more options.
Smart Motion Sensor. You talked about it being used when you walk in a room to just turn a light on. That’s, I think, one of the basic uses, but when it comes to using this in automation, people can really take advantage of this and in unique ways.
Yeah. And we actually have two different versions, the version that has a motion sensor that I talked about earlier was on just the non-connected side, just our standard-[inaudible 00:12:31]
Yeah. The one that you’re talking about is also new for the Caséta system. And to your point, yes, you can get really creative with how you use it. You don’t have to mount that one onto the wall, it can be a standalone device, so you can mount it up in a corner. So we really thought about the easy installation of these types of things and, to your point, it’s just another great time saver, convenient, “Oh, I forgot to turn lights off, kids left the lights on again.” Motion sensors, I think, are one of those things that are not considered often enough, and then once you have one, and you see, “Oh, did I forget to turn the light off? Oh, I don’t need to worry about it, the motion sensor got it.”
Yeah, I remember when they were first, when Ecobee launched the thermostat and had some motion control in there, and I realized that they were taking advantage of it to just detect occupancy in a room so they can control air flow. I’m like, “Wait a second, that’s amazing.” It’s a use that I didn’t really think of before.
Yeah. And the technology has gotten really great too, in terms of detecting fine motion. And that’s one of the big selling points and benefits of the new motion sensor for Caséta, is that it can detect very, very fine motion, which is great. And always people have the question about pets, you can set it at a different height so that pets aren’t going to trip it. But yeah, again, just another great new innovation.
And of course, there’s things like the repeater which help expand the range, and so many other products that I’m sure people will discover, but I wanted to dive in, before we wrap things up, into the smart shade system. Because this is something that I I’ve spent some time researching and I’m going to be equipping my home, because I have an issue where the sun tends to be on the front of my house for the majority of the afternoon, which generates a lot of heat.
And I’m walking around my house and I’m physically pulling down blinds or someone’s opening them and I don’t realize it. And it actually causes a problem in the upstairs portion of my home. So adding smart shades is something that I know that, thanks to automations, I think I can set the time of day I can have shades lower. Tell us about the, obviously, this arena of home smart shades, but also there’s a new announcement recently about the smart wood lines that I want to hear about as well.
That’s super, super new. So let’s start with Serena. To your point, Marc, a lot of people are in the same position as you, sun is in a position that your house is getting heated throughout the day from the light coming in, it’s causing screen glare, it’s damaging floors, it’s damaging fabrics, artwork, et cetera. So we introduced the Serena Smart Shade a couple of years ago, and essentially, it is a battery powered window shade that can be installed anywhere.
Now, you can also get a hardwired version of it, battery powered obviously makes it easy to plug and play, if you will, DIY installation as really as easy as installing mini blinds. I’ve installed many myself, the first one might take you 20 minutes, and after that, it gets a lot easier. But again, these run just on standard batteries. So imagine being able to press a button, have your shades raise and lower, have them as part of your Caséta systems so that when you press an away button on your Caséta system, your shades are lowering, or if your alarm is tripped, shades can rise up. You can set it so that if your fire system detects smoke, it can open all your blinds and shades.
So, so many tremendous applications, and great too for windows that are hard to reach. There’s so many common applications, there’s always an awkward window above a bathtub that nobody ever seems to know how to control. We hear that one a lot, so perfect application for that. So helping with privacy, but the amount of fabrics that Lutron offers for its smart shading system is really, it’s pretty endless. So you have some that can be total blackout, you can have some with an opacity that allows privacy, so people can’t look in, but you can still see out and enjoy your view. So it’s a really great investment, great starting price point. And again, it’s one of those things that once you have one, you’re going to find yourself putting them on multiple windows throughout the home.
Before I let you go, Melissa, I wanted to just ask you about, you look forward a couple of years and announcing new products in the age of COVID-19, do you find it as a challenge, or is it something that you think you guys will still be able to release new products and announce them in a way that people will still be able to enjoy them the same way they always have?
Yeah, Lutron innovation has not, and will not, slow down. We are committed to our customers, we are committed to innovation. To your point, you talked about the smart wood blinds, just a few days ago, we launched a new smart wood blind system. So again, that’s Serena shade that I just talked about, imagine now, instead of a honeycomb shade or a roller shade, you can now have wood blinds. And what I love about these blinds, the slats actually tilt to adjust to the sun throughout the day. And again, a tremendous innovation, it’s this natural light optimization feature. So you don’t have to think about it.
So again, just thinking ahead with the busy homeowner in mind, but again, that was released during what I’ll call the COVID pandemic, just a few days ago, and we’re not slowing down. The pipeline is full, and we’ve got a lot of great things in the pipeline, and lots of… Always looking at best in class companies and how can we align with the right people in the industry to really enhance that consumer experience, whether it’s with voice, with smart audio camera systems thermostats, so I don’t…
While COVID has been obviously a terrible thing to hit our country and really impact the entire world, I’m really happy to say that we are still innovating, and with people spending more and more time in their homes now, it’s really important, more than ever, that we’re there for our customers and are delivering the products that are going to be really what they need.
We’re happy to help spread the message and happy to try out everything you got in the lineup coming up and then hope to have you on definitely again down the road and talk about all the new stuff that you guys have coming out.
Great, Marc. Thank you so much. It was fun, thanks for having me on.
It’s always great to have you on, thank you so much for being here. That is Melissa from Lutron. By the way, right now for Father’s Day, if you want to check out, you can get 25% off the Aurora Smart Bulb Dimmer. If you head over to Lutron.com, you can pick that up just in time for Father’s Day. Again, the Aurora Smart Bulb Dimmer, the Aurora Smart Bulb Dimmer, 25% off for Father’s Day until Sunday, only at Lutron.com.
Coming up, we still have Samsung On-The-Go, and we are going to be speaking to a very cool company based in Montreal called B2BQuotes. That one is coming up next.
There’s more, YourTechReport, after this.