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CE Retailers Connecting With Builders Channel

CE chains searching for a fresh fount of revenue amid the anemic retail environment are taking a cue from their major appliance brethren and linking with the builders channel.

Given the pace of new home construction and the growing demand for connectivity in high-end habitats, CE dealers are finding themselves uniquely poised to plug into developers’ need to pre-wire intelligent homes.

Among merchants getting in on the ground floor of new, wired subdivisions is Best Buy, which last fall launched its Networked Home Solutions service and is currently working with six builders in the Minneapolis and Dallas markets. About 3,600 homes have been contracted to include Networked Home Solutions packages, the company said.

Best Buy’s most recent builder market moves include a joint showcase with Microsoft in the Twin Cities area designed to demonstrate the benefits of a fully-networked home environment. As part of the local builders association’s Parade of Homes Spring Preview, held earlier this year, one model house in each of 11 new developments is wired with a whole home network package from Best Buy and is outfitted with a host of Microsoft technologies.

Products include Windows-powered Viewsonic airpanel Smart Displays; Windows XP Media Center Edition PCs that integrate live TV, digital video, PVR, DVD, and digital music; the Xbox-Box gaming platform; and Microsoft broadband networking wireless base stations.

“This is a great opportunity for people to experience what a connected home network is and how it can enhance a homeowner’s lifestyle,” said Best Buy’s Sean Skelley, VP/strategic planning and business development.

Similarly, Sears has been no slouch in the builders market, as its sprawling exhibit space at the annual International Builders Show attests. Besides plugging its private-label Kenmore appliances, the mass merchant has moved into the structured wiring installation business via Sears Connected Home, a partnership with home networking hardware and software developer Home Director. Two years after its test launch in Florida, Sears has now rolled the referral service to homebuilders nationwide.

Connected Home provides builders with design, installation and support services for integrated networking solutions via a growing network of independent installers. Sears, for its part, provides its authorized integrators with marketing support, referrals, preferred pricing on Home Director products plus its venerable brand name, while gaining an entrée for its CE and majap retail offerings.

“Between Sears’ expertise in equipment and Home Director’s products and services, Sears Connected Home will make it possible for builders to meet customer needs in the easiest, most cost-effective way,” said Paul Carter, a VP/general manager within Sears’ contractor services group.

Also plying the builder trade is CompUSA, which is offering consulting services and discounts on computer products to residents of Playa Vista, a new planned community near Los Angeles. The specialty chain is part of a partnership that’s supporting an advanced Internet infrastructure within the 3,200-home village, which boasts pre-installed Ethernet cabling, wireless networks and optional upgrades to Linksys routers, modems, switches or wireless products.

And Cambridge Soundworks, the direct-sell audio manufacturer that operates 23 stores throughout New England and the San Francisco Bay area is leveraging its audio expertise by partnering with One Connection, a New England-based residential network and smart home specialist that incorporates Cambridge products into its distributed audio and home theater systems.