RESIDENTIAL MEDIA SYSTEMS, LTD.
— From the pages of FLL #37 / Fiscal Thinking #03 • Written by Willow Martin
Put a bunch of creative, tech-savvy people in a room together.
Ask them to design a living space with a technological “wow” factor, but add this catch: the technology must be virtually invisible and absolutely intuitive for even the most reluctant end-user. Let’s ask Caleb Fetter, Owner and President of Residential Media Systems, Ltd., how such a feat might be accomplished. And not just once, but on a daily basis as a foundational business model and guiding philosophy of great customer service.
“Our focus is on the design and aesthetic of a system and how that relates to and enhances the architectural design of a space,” Fetter says. “We want to minimize the visual impact technology has on any given space and in some instances use technology to actually enhance the design.”
When you walk into the RMS showroom, there’s a moment of surprise to overcome. It isn’t the music playing softly. That part you anticipated. No, it’s everything else. At step one, you’re gazing at art tastefully lit along the walls where you were expecting to find speakers and the usual A/V gadgetry. These guys do home theaters and stuff, right?
“We’re a technology company for residential and small commercial,” Fetter explains, “so we provide technology solutions for home owners and business owners. That can be all encompassing or that can be one small section that may be specific to a client’s needs.”
Obviously we’re talking far more than hooking up my sound system. What exactly does that involve?
“Wi-Fi and computer networking,” Fetter begins. “That’s the glue for everything nowadays. The audio video portion of it is kind of a given. It’s what we’ve been known for since our company’s inception. Televisions and theaters, music systems, and then it starts branching out from there into what we call building control systems. That means lighting systems, shading systems, HVAC, even into plumbing and irrigation systems. We don’t provide the actual irrigation system. What we would provide is a system to control the irrigation system. Say you want to set it up on a schedule with a timer, and you want to manually interface with that from anywhere in the world via your smart phone. We have the technology in place to do that. We are not plumbers, electricians, architects, or builders, but we interface with all of those aspects.”
In order to fully appreciate what you’re about to experience with RMS, you first have to expand your ideas about what a custom installation company does and how you personally choose to interact with technology in your daily life.
“Our lifestyle solution mentality,” Fetter says, “as opposed to just tech for tech’s sake, sets us apart. Any company that’s factory authorized and trained can physically make the devices work. Very few companies, even nationally that I’m aware of, take our personalized approach to it.”
If you think about it, the progression from connecting entertainment systems to creating all-encompassing systems to support lifestyle comfort was probably a natural evolution. As technology has become a more integral and comfortable part of our lives, more technologies are being designed to “speak” with each other, to work together under one set of controls.
“We’re kind of the anti-tech tech company,” Fetter jokes. “It sounds totally crazy but every client that’s come to us has said, ‘We’re not techie. I know I need some TVs. I’ve heard of this internet thing. I want to FaceTime with my kids. I want to Netflix. I’ve got 15 light switches in my kitchen and it’s cumbersome to use.’ Then, through an interview process and a design process, we custom mold solutions that are super simple and super reliable, but still feature-rich. Our biggest point of difference from other companies in our field is our ability to create a solution per user and blend it into their lifestyle.”
Raise your hand if you have never had any frustration with a piece of technology.
Not seeing any raised hands here. That’s because up to this point we’ve been living through the early growth of this technology age and that means patience is required. We’ve learned to look past tangles of cords hanging from power strips. Shelving and furniture whose sole purposes are to house our entertainment gadgets are a standard feature in our living space. Oh, and new show of hands for anyone who either groans or says, “Huh?” at the mention of pairing Bluetooth devices. Yep. A company like RMS can’t come along soon enough.
“Design cohesiveness and preserving the beauty of a space is paramount in the way we put everything together,” Fetter says.
It stands to reason that the next step, as we move forward with technology in our lives, is that we shift our approach to technology from “tech for tech’s sake” to “how can this technology improve the quality of my life?” Gone already are the days when you had to write pages of code to get a smiley face to print on a piece of paper, or you had to take college level classes to understand how to use a computer program. We don’t have to spend a lot of time identifying which cord goes to what kind of cell phone anymore and it’s no longer a new concept that when you plug one gadget into another they generally know what to do on the first try. Well, then, let’s ask ourselves what tomorrow should look like.
“You’re on your way to the airport,” Fetter describes, “and you think you may have left the lights on. You pull out your phone, where you have full control from anywhere that connects to the internet in the world, and you can do everything that you could do if you were physically in the space, such as turning off the lights and shutting down the house.”
Admit it. Show of hands if you like this idea? You have at one time or another fantasized about having a television camouflaged as a painting over your fireplace or a screen that would rise from the kitchen counter so you could follow along with a good recipe. Invisible speakers piping the perfect music into your dinner party at just the right volume. A button to unlock your doors and turn on the lights when you drive up. Exterior lighting that times itself not with a clock, but with the setting and rising of the sun. Window shades that detect sunlight and adjust accordingly. These are all conveniences available with today’s technology.
“Environmental controls are huge,” Fetter says. “For example, designers and architects work very hard to give us huge windows that face south because they make the building feel bigger and open and airy, but on a sunny day it kind of stinks. Window shading is a dynamic thing. Our system can drop them down when the sun’s coming in and raise them up when it’s not. Completely automatically with no intervention, 365 days a year. You can always manually operate it, too, so if they go down on a day that you don’t want them down, you can always override them.”
“This is an example of an everyday window shade,” he adds, pointing out one of the window shades in the showroom descending from where it had been completely hidden from view. “It’s sheer material, so you can still see through it; you can still preserve the view. It’s still open and airy feeling in here but on a sunny day it takes the edge off and we’re not running the air conditioning additionally to cool it because of the sun. We’re not getting UV damage on our floors or our furniture. It’s just a nicer space to be in. We have many systems with window shades where the client doesn’t ever have to touch a button. The space is just always perfectly shaded. That’s a good example of dynamic environmental controls.”
The Smart Home concept isn’t new. In fact it’s a trend that has endured a little criticism because depending on how it’s approached, a Smart Home runs the risk of getting so caught up in the technology that makes it “smart” that it loses focus on the people who have to live in it. That’s where it becomes imperative that the company who creates these technology solutions for you has a philosophy that aligns with your own. In the case of Residential Media Systems, Ltd., Fetter explains that there are three key elements that must be accomplished with every design:
“Our solutions are not merely a collection of components, but rather they function as one cohesive system. These systems feature a selection of devices that can ‘check up’ on the others, ensuring rock-solid system reliability. The system just has to work. It has to perform predictably and dependably every time our client wants to use it.”
“An elaborate, feature-laden system is worthless if the client can’t use it. We have implemented a ‘five second rule’ which means every user should be able to use any aspect of a system within a matter of seconds, every time.”
“We work alongside the architects, builders and designers to fully ensure technology never detracts from the beauty of a given space. We want the experience of that space to be the focus of attention, not the technology (or gadgets) within it.”
Why are these key elements important to the team at RMS? “We had that ah-ha moment,” Fetter says. “Everybody on staff has the same vision. It is all about the end user experience.”
This all sounds well and good, but it seems like you need to be a millionaire to afford any of this. “Not so,” says Fetter. “It could be something simple like just mounting a TV above a fireplace. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or all encompassing. At the end of the day it still has to be beautiful. It obviously has to be installed with a high level of craftsmanship, customer care, professionalism, meticulous attention to detail, and, most importantly, be supported after the fact.”
For anyone who has ever needed tech support, you can all lower your hands now. You’ll be glad to hear that ongoing support is part of doing business with RMS.
“Service is about half of our business,” Fetter explains. “Our system now have the ability to do a health and status check on itself and through the power of the internet can report back to us within minutes if things malfunction. Often times we actually are aware of and have fixed something, or are on the path to resolution before a client even knows there’s a problem. Things don’t break Tuesday at noon, or maybe something malfunctioned, but you didn’t use it until Friday at six when the dinner party arrived and you said, ‘Well, shoot. I wish I would have had some music.’ We would have caught it Tuesday in the afternoon and already fixed it.”
Residential Media Systems, Ltd. was founded by Matt Early in 2001. In truth, it was a name change from his existing custom electronics company, marking the beginning of the concept of what they specialize in today. Caleb Fetter started with RMS in 2006 and in 2013 purchased the company.
“We have 119 years of experience amongst our eight employees,” Fetter explains. “Our technicians and employees are extremely knowledgeable, not just in what we do, but in many of the subsects of people we interface with. So, whether it comes to framers or architects or builders, it is the electricians and lighting that controls protocols, including how they are wired, the plumbing, the cabinetry, and the masonry work. Our guys are incredibly diverse in their talents, which allows us to seamlessly integrate that technology while retaining that beautiful and properly built structure.”
The decision to move their operation to downtown Lancaster had a lot to do with the thriving business community that exists in the downtown area.
“We all live in Lancaster County,” Fetter says, “and there’s a huge buzz in Lancaster. A renaissance, bringing businesses in. It’s really exciting to see the comradery of downtown Lancaster businesses. We wanted to be a part of it.”
From March to October, RMS opens their doors for First Fridays, showcasing local artists on their walls. Don’t wait for First Friday, though. It’s worth making them a must-visit destination. And while you’re standing in the showroom learning about the unseen technology that’s all around you, each piece adding to the comfort of your experience, allow yourself to wonder what your life would look like if technology started working for you rather than demanding your attention and time.
“A lot of companies that are integrators like ourselves are quick to lead with the gadget,” Fetter says. “‘Here’s a really cool touch panel screen. It’ll control all of your stuff,’ they might say. And that’s true. They can also be ugly. They’re an appliance hanging on the wall. We take an approach to minimize the impact that technology has on a space as opposed to just putting more in. In our industry we hear of customers who spend an immense amount of money and at the end of the day, have a system they don’t know how to use. ‘I think I can get lights to go off,’ they say, and the shades are descending, sound’s coming out of the speakers, and their sprinklers are on. Then they have to pay somebody to come in and teach them how to use it. That’s completely wrong. It’s the wrong way to do it. You need to lead with the client first. And many times, simple is better.”
The passion that the RMS team has for what they do is immediately apparent. And wouldn’t you be passionate, too, knowing that you’re transforming the way that people live for the better?
Residential Media Systems, LTD.
117 East Chestnut Street, Lancaster PA