We talk to electrician-turned entrepreneur, Rich Heppell, to find out more about how he is helping other professionals to discover the ‘Art of Smart’.
It was Henry Ford who famously said: “You can’t build a reputation on what you are GOING to do”. How very fitting those words have proven over time. We’ve all been in that scenario where, after a few pints have been downed and a bit of bravado begins to flow, we’ve come up with (what at the time) would appear to be THE idea for that big business opportunity, making millions and changing the world all at the same time.
Once the head has cleared the following morning and the realisation of the work and personal investment that comes with such an undertaking has kicked in, it’s usually back to the day job and those dreams of one day being ‘the big cheese’.
There are, however, those rarest of individuals who actually do see such ideas through to a reality; possessing the drive, desire, and business acumen to achieve exactly what they’ve said they’ll do.
Take Rich Heppell, owner and founder of York-based home automation specialists, Art of Smart (AOS), as an example. Just five years ago, he made a decision that would ultimately prove to be one of the ‘smartest’ he’d made in his fledgling career:
“At the time I’d been employed in the electrical industry for just over a decade, working mainly as a spark, but I was desperate to move into the smart home industry. This type of work has always interested me and obviously the growing awareness in home automation and smart controls means that it is a continually evolving sector.
“I launched my own business, Art of Smart, in October 2017, and decided that the best course of action was to pick a platform that I could get to know like the back of my hand. Based on recommendations and my own personal experience, I opted for the Control4 platform, which has proved to be a very wise decision.”
The Control4 system has a strong global reputation which can control (and is in no way limited to) technology such as lighting, multi-zone audio, HVAC systems, security platforms, smart locks and so much more – working via the likes of Zigbee, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi. Just as importantly, its use has a real layer of exclusivity attached to it, with only authorised Control4 dealers able to distribute and install the products.
Rich says: “Once I’d got to grips with what the system could achieve initially, I started taking some jobs and building a reputation for myself. My first apprentice, Andy, then joined us nine months later and that’s the point where everything really took off.”
That is, in fact, a bit of an understatement, as the internal team of 12 now working at Art of Smart proves. Such is the partnership that Rich and Art of Smart have built with Control4, AOS won the Control4 Circle of Excellence Award in 2019 and was recognised as Control4’s highest volume partner in 2020. AOS is also now a Control4 Diamond dealer and has recently won the partner of the year 2022 award.
Art of Smart’s customer base and scope continues to grow, with Rich and his team working on high-end, complex, projects for a client list that includes star-studded footballers and celebrities, such as Professor Green who has ended up being a close friend. As the business owner, Rich remains very hands-on, personally surveying projects and overseeing the general running of all operations and client relationships to ensure projects run as smoothly as possible.
He explains: “I’ve never been a person who is particularly suited to an office-based role, so I like to actively work on-site when we’re undertaking client projects. This also means I can keep my finger on the pulse and oversee all aspects of what the business does, so that the quality of each job stays to the absolute maximum.”
If there was one element holding the Art of Smart team back from global domination, it’s the fact that there are only so many hours in the day, and as a result, only so much expertise that can be furnished on clients on a daily basis.
The creation of a national network of over 200 partner companies – something which Rich has dedicated much of his personal time towards – was always going to be a natural extension of the business, further strengthening the reach of the AOS brand, and in turn the number of projects that it can undertake.
He explains: “We offer our partners support with design, pricing, procurement, installation, and aftercare of smart home systems. We’ll utilise them for labour and aftercare on our projects to contain installation costs for our clients.
“When we make decisions to expand the business, I’m always very cautious about building things too quickly, as well as appreciating the need to make things scalable.
“Introducing an installer network isn’t just about taking on the first business that came to us, or even the one that has the keenest attitude. Our partners are by our side to assist on projects, benefiting our clients by keeping labour costs down and quality standards high. To ensure our reputation doesn’t suffer, our partners must buy into the AOS ethos and take part in the training that we offer.”
Quality control through the AOS Academy
What does Rich do to ensure that the AOS installer network maintains the standards that he requires? He trains them personally, of course.
During the global pandemic, Rich put his time to good use by turning a long-term vision into a reality with the opening of Art of Smart’s own in-house training academy – the AOS Academy. From here, he is able to furnish aspiring smart home installers with his extensive knowledge in both Control4 and Lutron systems, and help them to understand the business and marketing techniques that can make their firm a success.
“One of the reasons for opening the Academy,” says Rich, “is so that anyone we’re training will come away with the knowledge and skills to ensure standards are harmonious across projects, allowing us to bring value to our existing and future clients – no matter where they are in the country.
“The demand for smart homes has grown exponentially over the last few years, so we’ve been really keen to cultivate a network of specialists all over the UK who can help us to create the kind of high-quality, bespoke smart homes that Art of Smart is renowned for. Each one of these specialists learnt from us, at the Art of Smart Academy.”
Following the success of the AOS Academy, the brand reacted to some of the issues created by restrictions on in-person training (caused by various lockdowns throughout the pandemic), by opening an online training academy. This provides fortnightly videos for more than 300 industry professionals worldwide, while Rich and his team have hours of fun, engaging and educational content up on YouTube. When you look at the overall output, it’s incredible to think that Rich produces enough industry relevant content to employ three full time media creators on the team, in addition to the ‘day job’.
So, what advice does Rich have for aspiring smart home specialists? “Get involved with as much training as possible with various systems and find out which you like the most and could see yourself offering full time. I’d also recommend undertaking some proper network training and get to grips with TCP/IP, as it will give you a better chance of being successful in this industry,” he answers.
“Our focus is to create a home that enhances a customer’s lifestyle. We tie all the home systems together in a simple to use interface so they can simply focus on enjoying precious moments in their home. Interestingly, lighting and security seem to be the most popular projects we’re taking on currently.”
He adds: “We’ve built the business on reputation and by only employing people that share the same vision and want to do the best possible job. We hire for passion and have built a brilliant team who all love what they do.
“Every project we undertake has its own set of requirements and we’re proud to have produced bespoke solutions for our clients time and time again.”
Follow Art of Smart on Instagram: (@artofsmartmedia)
Get more details about Art of Smart and the AOS Academy here
CASE STUDY: AN APPOINTMENT WITH THE PROFESSOR
One of our most notable clients (that we can talk about) is musician, Professor Green,” says Rich. “He came to our attention after posting on social media about a falling out with his previous installer – lots of systems weren’t working, and his pre-existing company ignored all lines of communication.
“After an initial chat on Instagram, we made a visit a couple of days later to investigate the issues. Fortunately, we had the expertise to fix the majority of his niggles and issues that were affecting his daily life and gathered enough information to put a proposal together for a complete overhaul and upgrade of the system.”
A complete overhaul
He continues: “The original rack and lighting panels were best described as a ‘potential fire hazard’ and our team spent a week on-site ripping it all out back to bare wires, before re-terminating testing and labelling all cabling. We then installed a newly rebuilt rack which was full of new components and re-terminated the lighting control panel. We also installed new CCTV, intercom, WiFi, heating and an upgraded video distribution unit.”
Rich adds: “I was really proud of the work that our team put in all week, staying late most evenings and completing late on the Friday evening so the client was left with a working system in a warm, secure, well-lit house, with working TVs and a music system party ready to go.
“As is the case with all takeovers and upgrades, multiple snag visits and remote assistance after the initial overhaul was included and this was all dealt with swiftly via AOS Aftercare. Once we’d completed the initial works, we’ve since returned on many occasions to expand the system and carry out future upgrades.
“The client is a big advocate of Art of Smart and can often be seen praising the team and mentioning us in random posts and stories. We’ve also become good friends throughout the process and will often catch up over a beverage or two. We even booked a spa day for his birthday.”