A brave new world
Gary Stevens, Managing Director of The Wandsworth Group, explains the opportunities that new technologies and wireless functionality are bringing to the wiring accessories sector and how this will offer a wider choice for specifiers and a sales opportunity for wholesalers.
Traditionally the wiring accessories market is a tale of two shelves: one carrying high end flat plate products in a range of quality metal finishes; the other stacked high with low cost, white plastic commodities. Both shelves would be home to switches and sockets and not a lot else, quietly maintaining the status quo for decades.
But times are changing and just as telephones no longer need to be plugged into a wall socket and computers no longer need to be operated by a keyboard, wiring accessories are no longer simply premium or plastic. In fact, they don’t even necessarily need to involve any hard wiring at all and they certainly provide a lot more opportunities for sales and specification than bread and butter sockets and switches.
While the comparison between consumer technology and wiring accessories may seem like an editorial liberty, in fact it sits at the heart of the opportunity that the next generation of wiring accessories are set to provide for both manufacturers and wholesalers. The need to charge, operate and display all those must-have gadgets like smart phones, iPods and tablet PCs widens the scope of wiring accessories required in contemporary installations, giving manufacturers the opportunity to widen their range. What’s more, because new technologies like Bluetooth and touchscreens have been pioneered by the AV, sat nav and smartphone industries, they are now both available and financially viable for wiring accessory manufacturers to adapt and exploit.
What this means for the wiring accessories market is that they can step out of the luxury/commodity dichotomy and offer a wider variety of options to the end user, giving the wholesaler more scope to up-sell, cross sell and add value to customer relationships by introducing broader choice to specifiers. We may be a few years from seeing touchscreen light switching units in the average home, but the reality is that we may be as little as eighteen months away from seeing touchscreen wiring accessories on the wholesalers shelves. Already touchscreen control units, such as the Jung Facility Pilot unit, are proving their worth for intelligent, integrated installations but the use of touchscreens doesn’t have to be restricted to protocols like KNX, it’s perfectly viable with a conventional electrical installation too.
While the market awaits the next technological trends to expand the definition of wiring accessories, the fact is that the revolution is already taking place. It’s a revolution based on both innovative technology and a clear focus on ergonomics and aesthetics among both specifiers and end users. Wandsworth is ideally placed to capitalise on this as we are both the oldest wiring manufacturer in the UK and now also the sole UK distributor for Jung’s wiring accessories range and innovative KNX range.
Jung’s ‘A Creation’ range demonstrates perfectly how traditional technology can be updated to offer design choice, giving a contemporary twist to conventional installations. Designed to provide a wide variety of colour and finish combinations, the ‘A Creation’ range offers one, two, three, four or five gang frames in a choice of colours and finishes designed to co-ordinate with Jung’s A 500 square-shaped inserts and rockers. It’s an approach that addresses both interior design trends and the need to accommodate a greater number of outlets in a single installation to answer the demands of our increased dependence on gadgets and entertainment systems.
This focus on design is also carried through to the new breed of wiring accessories that have been developed to offer wall-mounted docking stations. The new the ‘i-fi’ docking and speaker unit range that we have developed for use with iPods and iPhones, for example, has been designed as a flexible and discreet audio solution available in a wide range of prestige and contemporary finishes and combinations. While it is currently the hotel market that has the most voracious appetite for this type of wiring accessory, smart gadgets are now so insidious across all demographics that there is likely to come a time when the wall-mounted docking station is as commonplace in every home and office as a TV aerial point.
Indeed, TVs themselves are another area of wiring accessory opportunity. Gone are the days when TVs were a large box used only for watching TV! Today’s flat screened, wall mounted TVs are as likely to be used for gaming, watching movies, viewing images or surfing the internet. As a result, along with electrical and aerial sockets, wiring accessory manufacturers need to develop USB charging units, HDMI connections and audio outlets to provide plug and play AV integration. Whilst traditionally Euromod outlets have been available for plate mounting, aesthetically we lose the majority of the quality finished metal plate to a mass of white or black plastic modules. Wandsworth has now developed a range of grid mounting modules that are totally interchangeable with their conventional switches and thus preserve the integrity of the plate and finish.
Of course, the contradiction in all of this is that many of the opportunities for wiring accessories will involve installations that are not wired at all, but make use of advanced electronic protocols such as KNX or combine conventional and new technologies to provide a best fit solution for the individual application.
In a sense, it’s this ability to combine approaches or use technologies that have traditionally been seen as exclusive and cost-prohibitive in a mainstream setting that makes this such an exciting period in the wiring accessory sector’s development. For example, the recently launched 2-Wire Bus Push Button Modules from Jung have been developed for the hospitality sector to allow hotels to offer their guests centralised switching/dimming of lights, curtains/blind controls and do not disturb indicators in a single wall-mounted unit, without the cost or disruption of installing a full control system.
These modules are connected to the relay station via a Jung 2-wire bus providing control of up to eight switching, dimming and blind control functions and can be ‘cloned’ to allow multiple units with the same assigned controls within the room. They’re part of a varied KNX range developed specifically for the hotel sector by Jung and, while KNX is not likely to become sufficiently mainstream to feature in most domestic properties in the short term, the 2-Wire bus push button modules demonstrate how advanced technology is becoming more accessible across a wider range of installations.
Similarly, wireless technology is still at the cutting edge end of commercial installations but this too is set to become more mainstream across both commercial and domestic installations, widening the scope for wiring accessories. Once again, new and conventional approaches are not mutually exclusive, for example, our experience in the heritage market where we’re often called upon to manufacture bespoke plates to fit existing back boxes highlights the opportunities in this sector to combine conventional wiring accessory units with wireless functionality. What’s more, consumer acceptance of wireless technology thanks to internet capabilities in their homes means that there is a ready-made audience for wireless wiring accessories.
We can’t sound the death knell for the ubiquitous plastic sockets and switches just yet, though few would mourn their loss. However, these are exciting times for wiring accessories manufacturers as technological advances allow us to push the boundaries of functionality, integration and design. They’re also exciting times for distributors as the potential marketplace expands. The challenge for wholesalers will be to keep abreast of the pace of change so that they maximise the sales opportunity and to reach out to systems integrators in addition to their traditional customers – the electrical contractor.