It’s a little ironic that the term “remote control” has come to identify a device on which end-users have the most direct contact. In every TV viewing room all across America, the ‘remote’ in remote control certainly does not describe the distance between the channel changer and the tip of the finger of its owner. Amazingly enough, the ability to control from a distance actually originated with radio-controlled motorboats developed by the German navy during World War I. Now imagine how those engineers would react to a modern home theater showing a DVD of Titanic. How’s that for irony?

With 99% of all home entertainment components equipped with remote control, a better term to call the device might be “central command.” It certainly reflects today’s advanced technology that is built into these controls and their broad capability to customize the functions of audio and video systems according to the needs and preferences of the individual customer. Yet, even with all the latest bells and whistles, remotes are often a neglected sales opportunity for dealers and installers, who may have fallen into the habit of thinking that “one size fits all.”

Currently on the market are remote controls combining both infrared (IR) and radio frequency (RF) transmission, whether in small hand-held, pushbutton configurations or touchscreen panels with icons and selection menus that can be tailored to every member of the household. There are also hybrid controls, featuring both LCD screens and familiar tactile buttons offering commercial quality, one-hand operation.

In general, assigning 10% of a home theater system’s total cost toward the user-interface is not out of line. In other words, for every $10,000 invested in the entire system, a $1,000 price tag for controls will likely guarantee the expected ease of use and customer satisfaction.

As a veteran custom installation salesperson for 15 years, I learned three rules of thumb that worked well in most sales situations:

1. Show a customer a picture of six (or 8 or 12!) remote controls – one for each component in their home AV system. Then ask if they’d rather have just one.

2. Explain that by teaming with the installer to program the system to operate in the easiest possible manner for all users, they will have more time to enjoy their entertainment system rather than trying to manage it.

3. Assure them that the control system is flexible, expandable and upgradeable – and be sure in your own mind that it is!

Secrets to Success

T3Consumers are sometimes intimidated by systems that include multiple – say more than four – components. They are concerned with how many button pushes it takes to get the system up and running, to have the proper source playing on the screen and sound coming through the speakers. Often, they just don’t know how easy it can be with an intelligently programmed control interface.

Selection of a home theater user-interface and its customized programming should be given as much attention as the size of the TV screen and placement of the speakers. Since there’s no such thing as a “typical” customer, dealers and installers should be alert to the number of people who will be operating the system, and their individual needs and tastes.

Goal #1 is Simplicity: How do we access our entertainment, making sure it does what we want it to do, with the minimum amount of button-pushing? My own measuring stick is, “Can the babysitter operate the system?”

Goal #2 is Intuitive Use: Does the system offer the level of automation the consumer wants in a way that is tailored to his or her lifestyle? Are the buttons and/or icons located and customized in a logical, easy-to-use, ergonomic fashion for the most common commands?

The cost of initial programming should be built into the cost of the home theater system, so that at completion of installation, controls can be designed to reflect the features that are important to the users. From a laptop or PC, programming can be organized in any number of ways, for example by favorite channels, by genre or by individual user.

The challenge facing us all – manufacturers, dealers, and installers alike – is to justify the value of a “command central” purchase to Bob-the-Sports-Junkie and his wife Jane-the-Movie-Lover, so that each can manipulate their home entertainment choices swiftly, accurately, and comfortably.

With the growth of the “smart” or “connected” home, today’s successful sale of appropriate home theater remote controls can only lead to increased customer interest and acceptance of the coming, more complex products that will offer more advanced wireless technology, more color, and more robust RF platforms.

A final irony: While categorized as an “accessory,” there’s not a consumer out there who doesn’t consider remote control a necessity. If they have trouble using it, you could end up losing future business. Make sure you’re familiar with the variety of product choices in the marketplace and their capabilities. Recommend what makes sense.

Then keep your finger on the pulse of customer loyalty and referral sales.

RTIPete Baker is Director of Sales & Marketing for Remote Technologies Incorporated (RTI), a technology-driven company headquartered in Chanhassen, Minnesota that specializes in developing and marketing innovative home theater control products.