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Lowe’s Iris Eyes Its Next Look

Mick Koster was recently appointed VP/general manager of Lowe’s Iris smart home division to upgrade the current Iris system with new products, services and technologies and a new user experience.

Koster was a key contributor to Iris throughout its development, conceptualizing and leading the creation of the original business unit. His experience includes product management and merchandising and operations and support.He plans to expand the current Iris system by adding more devices, developing more valueadded services, and “aligning Iris with other Lowe’s assets to create a truly integrated home management system.”

Lowe’s launched its proprietary do-it-yourself system in July 2012. It was the first mass-market retailer to launch a house-brand home-automation system that leveraged the ubiquity of the smartphone and tablet as control devices. Staples followed with its own system in September 2013.

Koster outlined his plans and philosophy to TWICE:

Iris Opens

TWICE: What was the inspiration for Iris’s launch when other smartphone-controlled home-automation systems were available at the time?

We wanted to create an efficient, single user interface where consumers can control everything in and around their home with a brand (Lowe’s) they already know and trust. With the Internet of Things continuously evolving, we realized in order for Iris to be successful, we needed to find a user-friendly way for the devices to “talk” with each other. The true value in our solution is that devices within the home seamlessly interact with one another.

We also knew smart homes needed to be affordable. Many systems required multi-year contracts with monthly fees upward of $30 to $50 per month; several still do. Our philosophy is that the basic functions of a device should be free, with the option to add features based on preference.

TWICE: Has Iris met sales expectations?

We are pleased with the rate at which consumers are positively responding to and adopting Iris.

TWICE: What aspects of the Iris product selection, display, and merchandising program work as planned or exceeded expectations?

We have worked hard to create a successful consumer-oriented business model that offers an ecosystem of connected devices – both Iris-branded and from a variety of well-known brands – that really sets us apart. It’s the combination of visual merchandising, a variety of products and brands, and the simplified practical solutions that resonate with the consumer.

Iris stays one step ahead by offering a simple user experience, value-priced products, easy DIY system setup, free service from the day of installation, customizable (Iris Magic) rules to connect devices and more. … We have the infrastructure in place to provide the level of support that customers’ demand, which is a differentiator for us in the marketplace.

Lowe’s has also teamed with InstallerNet to offer installation services for Iris. InstallerNet coordinates the installation of consumer and commercial electronics through independently owned mobile and home electronics installers.

Ecosystem Expansion

TWICE: One of your key goals is to expand the current product selection. What is planned?

We currently offer more than 50 devices that work with Iris, and that number is steadily growing. We pride ourselves on being one of the first to execute an open platform that allows integration with other smart-home systems and products, and we are constantly working to broaden our offering for any type of lifestyle. Currently, Iris offers products in a wide range of categories including thermostats, outlets, door locks, garage doors, fire and smoke alarms, and even air vents, among many others. We continue to work with our vendors and manufacturers, including appliance partners, to bring the newest smart products to market.

Our portfolio today is a solid mix of practical product solutions in key areas of consumer concern, such as security, fire safety and alerts, water mitigation and conservation, lighting and automation, energy management, and care services design to help you monitor loved ones.

TWICE: Do any major appliances yet integrate with Iris?

As the nation’s top appliance retailer, we’re working closely with our appliance manufacturers as they bring smart appliances to market. Iris supports ZigBee-, ZWave- and Wi-Fi-enabled devices and currently works with products from vendor partners, including Verizon, Honeywell, Orbit Irrigation, PetSafe, Kwikset, First Alert, Waxman and Whirlpool [electric water heater].

TWICE: Lowe’s wants to develop “more value-added services that solve real problems for users.” What services do you offer now, and what can we expect in the future?

Currently, Iris is able to solve real problems by delivering a solution and products that reduce water usage, lower energy bills and generally make the home more secure. We’d like to dive a little deeper into these frequent problems in and around the home to create and offer more products of varying types.

TWICE: Another goal is “aligning Iris with other Lowe’s assets to create a truly integrated home management system.” Can you explain?

More than 15 million shoppers are in Lowe’s stores every week working on a wide-range of DIY and remodel projects. Lowe’s has a unique position, in partnership with our vendors, to bring more connectivity to common home products. … Integrated home management means that one app, one single user interface, will control all devices in the home and help them more effectively manage common maintenance and repair activities. …

We also have a huge opportunity to integrate Lowe’s services, installation, and repair-service offerings to make it easier for consumers to love where they live and add Iris connectivity to their homes. By focusing on customers’ stories about design, kitchens, bathrooms, appliance setup and repair, and more, we can then educate them about how connected devices can complement other home improvement products they’re already purchasing.

Challenges, Future

TWICE: What is the biggest challenge facing DIY home automation?

Consumer awareness. We’re working to change the preconceived notion that smart-home solutions are pricey and complex. We are focusing on make consumers aware that our system truly is affordable, flexible, easy-to-use and relevant for everyone. …

Another challenge is the lack of open platforms like Iris. Manufacturers are working to develop and promote their own limited, point-to-point solutions, and other providers are offering a very limited assortment of products specifically designed to only work collectively – the proverbial walled-garden approach. There is an inherent need for everyone to focus on the consumer and develop open platforms for consumers to get beyond the fear of making an investment in upgrading their home with connected devices.

TWICE: How will consumer interest in home automation change in the next five to 10 years?

Interest in and adoption of smart-home technology is definitely growing, especially as homeowners become more educated on the benefits that home automation provides. We have come a very long way already. Five years ago, the same home-automation capability would cost thousands of dollars, be hardwired into your home, and require professional installation… and the solutions continue to solve more and more practical home issues. So to ask about the next five to 10 years is to ask about expansion, innovation, and simplification across the total connected home industry.