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Welcome to the Home of Tomorrow

Future-thinking franchises benefit as homes become smarter.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The Jetson family had it made--food was prepared at the push of a button, houses cleaned themselves, even crafty projects like knitting were done by a machine. Anything you needed, all you had to do was push a button or voice a simple command and, voila, it was done.

So maybe we haven't quite reached the reality presented by the space-aged cartoon family, but home automation is becoming more and more of a reality. While eggs aren't coming down shoots scrambled and ready to be eaten, companies are figuring out ways to link home appliances to the Web so families can have their lights on, security systems deactivated and favorite movie playing in time for their arrival home.

In a survey by the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, 86 percent of respondents said they would seek the help of a qualified and certified technician to install a home networking system in their homes. And franchises are already lining up to take advantage of this new consumer demand. LifeStyle Technologies has been servicing the home technology segment since 2000. The company installs wiring for home security, high-speed Internet access, computer networks and home theater into new and existing homes.

"All these services and technology had become available for the home and was at a price most homeowners could afford," explains Peter Schott, LifeStyle's vice president of marketing. "When we first started, many of the contractors weren't installing these kinds of services into the home, but now, depending on the type of home, it's almost becoming standard to have a computer network built in, as well as a security system and entertainment system."

LifeStyle's clients are builders and owners of higher-end homes in high-growth markets like the South and West. "Usually it's the builder's market that's demanding these kinds of services now," Schott says. "We've explored doing it on lower level homes and haven't had as much success."

While higher income families have been the first to integrate networks and home theater systems, the demand for these products is growing in other segments. "Trickle down high quality is becoming more and more prevalent. The middle-income household is one in which Mercedes and Lexus cars are being purchased. These used to be the realm of high-end households, but there seems to be a mindset that [middle-income households] want to have the best," says Kurt Scherf, vice president of research for Parks Associates, a Dallas-based market research firm. "If that holds true, we'll see households with lower annual incomes seeking this kind of high-end equipment for the home."

For franchises, this means a growing market of consumers needing home networks, broadband connectivity, entertainment equipment and security systems installed, upgraded and maintained. Companies are beginning to offer these services, but few are doing so on a national level.

"One of the best things that could happen in this market would be to pull those little guys selling different parts to the home, and having one company do that," says Paul Johnson, a LifeStyle franchisee serving the Dallas/Fort Worth market. LifeStyle, according to Johnson, has packaged these different home technology services together and given franchisees the opportunity to belong to a national company. "Getting national recognition, national branding and national promotion helps when you're starting a business."

As companies like LifeStyle build a national presence, changing dynamics in American homes will ensure demand for their services. One such trend is the increasing number of families with home offices, whether for full-time telecommuters or weekend warriors. "There's no question that more and more of us are working at home and we want to know how can we make that more efficient," Scherf says. Families with home offices, and multiple computers, will need networks connecting different computers to broadband Internet connections and printers.

In addition to working at home, more people are spending their free time at home, making home theaters a necessary luxury. "People do want more so-called quality family time--that's why you see some really optimistic forecast for the growth of home theater," Scherf says. Franchises selling and installing big-screen televisions, DVD players and audio systems will reap the rewards of this new cocooning craze.

While people sitting their family around the big screen to enjoy a DVD, or having their children research their homework in one room while they check their work e-mail in another may still seem light years from the Jetson's easy-peasy automated lifestyle, the systems being installed and maintained by companies like LifeStyle Technologies are the backbone for the smart homes of tomorrow. "The next step is full-blown home automation," says Schott. "As the sophistication level increases, the number of products we offer will increase."