Brand Focus on Leviton with Greg Rhoades
Isidor Leviton, a manufacturer of brass mantle tips for gas lighting in New York, founded Leviton Manufacturing Co., Inc., in 1906, effectively expanding his entrepreneurial base from a push cart to a fledging manufacturing company responsible for the design of the screw-in lampholder with a pull chain – an inventive touch to the electric lamp that still exists today.
Now with 20 global sales offices, 13 worldwide manufacturing facilities, 27,000 SKUs, and nearly 2.5 million products manufactured, Leviton can justly hold on to its status as “the largest privately held North American provider of wiring devices, lighting controls, and network infrastructure,” as noted by Greg Rhoades, the company’s marketing director, who spoke to HiddenWires about how Leviton intends to continue building on its 110-year history of innovation.
When did you join the company?
I began with HAI in 2006 to create online marketing initiatives and assist with consumer relations. It was fun working for what felt like a startup, though they were well established in the custom installer industry with extreme brand-name recognition. HAI, a home automation manufacturer founded in 1985, was acquired by Leviton in 2012. Our division in New Orleans, Louisiana, has become the center of excellence for smart devices and produces apps, clouds, and web-based software for the future of Leviton solutions. Our engineers, product managers, customer support, and sales teams are helping to redefine the next generation of Leviton devices.
What is your role in the company? What are your role objectives?
I’m the director of marketing for Leviton smart devices, primarily focusing on the residence, but crossing over into small commercial commonly like restaurants, boardrooms, offices and retail stores. I oversee both the training and marketing aspects, allowing me to dive deep into the weeds when speaking with integrators while also being able to connect with end-users directly and providing the content they require. Whether technical function or resulting benefit, it’s imperative to understand the solution fully so that we can properly advise our clients in a rapidly moving global marketplace with growing options from every manufacturer, ourselves included.
Additionally, I help with the Leviton Experience Centers in San Francisco, California and New Orleans, Louisiana, providing an immersive experience for integrators, distributors, builders, retailers, and other Leviton customers. At the end of the day, I want the Leviton customer to understand “the entire elephant”, if you will, ensuring they recognize every cutting-edge solution we have to offer for a home or business and encouraging them to utilize new technology and tools to further their own business. While Leviton is a US-based company, we fit applications in nearly every country and I take that responsibility seriously, to expand our offerings globally. I make as many trips as possible internationally to meet with customers, see the competition, and help direct new strategies for growth in those regions.
What drew you to the custom integration sector?
I truly respect the hard-working people doing custom integration, balancing the challenge of securing jobs, turning profits, and keeping your installers educated. I was a kid right out of university 10 years ago with a marketing and management double-major looking to utilise both assets. I had created a small promotional company making t-shirts, created websites commercially using HTML coding, and was getting into photography plus learning more about social media. This job in my own backyard (dubbed the “Silicon Swamp”) allowed me to expand on these skillsets immediately – taking product photos, creating demo and training videos, and designing brochures, websites, and other merchandise for a growing company in a market that I knew would soon explode. Working under founder Jay McLellan, considered one of the “godfather’s of home automation” has been an awesome learning experience, and having Leviton take us under their wing has been a thrilling ride as we expand. It’s really fun to be responsible for communicating our message on a technical level to installers, and then breaking it down for the end-user’s understanding.
Leviton is stalwart in the US market when it comes to home automation and security. Are you looking to expand your brand into EMEA? What challenges does that present to Leviton?
HAI and Leviton have long been in EMEA, but of course, like all manufacturers we continue our efforts to expand. That embraces a multi-prong approach including global sales offices and personnel, crafting product solutions appropriate for each market, and attending trade shows and meetings with customers. For instance, we’re looking forward to our return to ISE this upcoming February, with a booth in the Smart Pavilion and several events planned. We will continue improvements in all that we do, focusing on needs driven by our customers.
Leviton recently announced its Samsung SmartThings + Leviton Home Automation bundle in the US. Are there any plans to make this a global offering? What has been dealer reaction to this bundle?
This exciting strategic partnership stems from a co-marketing relationship between the two manufacturing companies. Often at retail and etail, homeowners were buying hubs and a device or two from Leviton to control lights and loads, so we began marketing together and even offering virtual bundles. Within the distribution channel and from our custom installers, Leviton was receiving requests to produce a capable but low-cost automation hub that allowed for common Z-Wave and ZigBee attachments to leverage the Leviton devices that integrators have been installing for several years. (Leviton was a pioneer in Z-Wave, offering devices for well over 10 years now.) We soft-launched this bundle to our best dealers at CEDIA 2016 and the custom installer sees this option as his “don’t lose the sale” opportunity. Pitch the high-end gear, but keep this in your back pocket. They’re also approaching home builders, rental companies, and investment firms with an affordable offering that brings in top name-brands and they’re closing business on multiple units instead of a single home.
As for expansion, we’re interested in this hub because it helps sell volume lighting control devices for Leviton. The most natural immediate expansion would be to Canada and Latin America, where we offer dozens of applicable attachment devices today. I will candidly say that the USA response has exceeded our expectations already in the weeks since launch. Both electrical contractors wanting entry into home automation, and our cream of the crop custom installers looking for a mass market offering, are finding immediate value.
Besides your new Home Automation Bundle, what other products currently define the Leviton brand? How do they signal evolution in the custom integration sector?
Leviton is utilising new technologies to develop innovative, value-added products and solutions. Whether it’s intelligent patch panels from our Network Solutions division that alert IT managers when a port is affected, electric vehicle chargers from our Commercial & Industrial business unit, energy monitoring and billing from our own expanded business unit, or Bluetooth controlled lighting from the Residential business unit, Leviton is offering state-of-the-art products for nearly every market. Apps are available to make the installer’s job easier and the homeowner’s lifestyle better. Specifically, within the Leviton automation brand, we continue to forge relationships with top manufacturers, including JBL Audio. We just released five new speaker options and are looking forward to growing this relationship in 2017 for the benefit of our installers. Additionally, our DIN Rail lighting control family continues to grow, with new enclosures this year and more products coming in 2017. As well, BitWise AV, another acquisition, continues to meet needs in boardrooms and even yachts, controlling lighting, AV, and more at a great price point and a customizable solution.
The challenge of the future for custom installers will be to provide a value-add service to unify products for a cohesive solution.
What future custom integration development do you think will impact Leviton's product development? How so?
We’re seeing tech companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, and others enter a space that’s quickly consolidating via mergers and partnerships already. The year of IOT has become the year of voice control. We’re only going to continue to see the convergence of mass market, low-cost smart products, as well as the “do it for me” crowd that still desires the knowledge and skills of a custom installer. Additionally, the high-end homes and small commercial properties will remain ripe opportunities for Leviton custom installers with products for lighting, energy, entertainment, and security control. It’s no longer a push sale. The end-users understand why they would benefit from app-based control of their property. The challenge of the future for custom installers will be to provide a value-add service to unify products for a cohesive solution. So long as installers can continue to do this, as they’ve done for decades, the industry will continue to rise and grow with new talent and technology.