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“The heating and cooling industry has changed since I first started,” admitted Paul Wilson, president of Wilson Air Conditioning, Longview, Texas. Wilson has been in the industry for nearly 25 years.
“There was a long time in which dealers competed for a homeowner by offering the lowest possible bid. Customers, however, are more knowledgeable today and concerned with energy savings. They are willing to purchase more expensive, high-efficiency products if they are available.”
In other words, the smarter contractors are listening to these informed homeowners, who, for the most part, are demanding more.
“With the minimum going to 13 SEER, we were concerned higher SEER sales would de-crease. However, we have seen an increase in 15-plus SEER sales since 13 SEER minimum went into effect,” said Dave Hutchins, president of Bay Area Air Conditioning, Crystal Rivers, Fla.
“In the replacement market, dealing directly with the homeowner, we are selling 15 SEER up around 70 percent of the time.”
Kendall County Air, Boerne, Texas, is having similar success. In the eyes of president Steve Driskill, the keys to selling energy-efficient products and systems are touting their features and benefits.
“It’s amazing what some of these systems can do, provided they are installed properly and set to the correct settings,” said Driskill, one of the top 10 Ruud Reliable contractors in North America for several years running. “When we educate the customers properly, they will usually make the correct decisions.”
THE INTERNET FACTORThe general consensus among successful contractors is that the general public has become more educated about heating and cooling equipment and systems - thanks, in part, to the Internet. For the most part, that’s all good news for the smart contractor.
Terri Goodwin, co-owner and office manager for Rob’s Air Conditioning, located in New Orleans, is of the belief that the general public is slowly, but surely, catching on to understanding SEER ratings and the fact that higher SEER equipment will deliver greater efficiency and energy savings.
“We are located in an area that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina,” said Goodwin. “As homeowners are rebuilding and replacing their heating and cooling systems, they are taking this time to upgrade to a more efficient system that also offers better indoor air quality. Our customers are concerned with providing a healthy home and better environment for their families.”
The Louisiana contractor has been having success selling Westinghouse’s 23 SEER air conditioners with iQ Drive.
“It is not difficult to sell the units to homeowners who are looking for high efficiency and energy savings,” said Goodwin. “Homeowners want the very best that their money will buy.”
Todd Louvar, owner of Temperature Solutions, Houston, agreed that educating the customer on the benefits of having higher-efficiency equipment “has proven to be the best way to increase our success.” The Frigidaire dealer said he encourages his customers to research the product on his company’s Website, which has links to Frigidaire and other manufacturers’ sites.
“The majority of homeowners who purchase high-efficiency units, especially the iQ Drive units, came into the process very educated about the product. They use the Internet to research the equipment,” said Louvar. “The Frigidaire Website is very user-friendly and allows customers to view the equipment and read about the benefits.”
He added, “I typically deal in the higher-end heating and cooling products. Our customers are looking for the energy savings and air quality provided by 14 SEER units, two-stage units, or the 23 SEER units with iQ Drive.”
To help the sale process, Wilson Air Conditioning installed one of the 23 SEER units in its showroom so customers could experience the quiet operation of the compressor and the extra features of the iQ Drive controller thermostat.
“To draw customers, we’ve hung a banner on the outside of our building that reads, ‘See the highest-efficiency unit in the world,’ ” said Wilson. “When customers ask what is the most efficient unit they can purchase, I tell them it is the Frigidaire 23 SEER air conditioner.”
The end result?
“We have seen greater sales in high-efficiency units like the Frigidaire 23 SEER air conditioner with iQ Drive,” he answered.
PRESENT HIGHEST EFFICIENCY AND LISTEN TO CUSTOMERS
“I explain that 8 SEER and then 10 SEER were the standard minimums. And soon 13 SEER will not be the minimum,” he said. “Most people don’t want to have outdated equipment. They also prefer higher than 13 SEER because of the better warranties.”
Johnson said he is not afraid to present the higher-priced systems as the best option for his clients. “If you really believe that it is in the client’s best interest and he doesn’t think you are just wanting a bigger sale, he will appreciate being offered the higher-end unit and will want to invest with you,” he said.
Louvar could not knock such a sales presentation.
“Always begin the sales presentation with the highest-efficiency equipment available and then work down until you reach the customer’s target bracket,” suggested the Houston contractor.
“The mindset of both dealers and homeowners has been to focus on price. The key to successfully selling high-end heating and cooling products is to change your thinking and the customer’s thinking.”
Don’t forget to listen to the customer, either, suggested Driskill.
“With the advances in the technology today, just like computers, I believe we are not doing our customers a real service by just taking an order of the least costly systems of the day,” he said.
“While efficiency is important, and I believe the minimum [SEER rating] will be raised again, the real method to our madness is taking the time to understand what the real issues are in the house. Asking questions and then really listening to what it is that the homeowner wants and what he needs, that’s important. We then provide written information that explains the difference between the two, if there is one.
“We all want to pay as little as possible, me included,” he added, “but sometimes price is not what the real issue is. Are there hot and cold spots in the house? Do you have to turn up the TV every time to cover up the noise when the a/c comes on? Who in the house suffers from allergies?
“These are some of the questions that get the homeowner thinking about what the real issues are, instead of just focusing on what is the cheapest. The truth is most of the lower-efficiency, cheapest systems will not take care of all of these issues.”
At Kendall County Air, the company runs a Manual J load calculation on every job it does.
“And sometimes we can lower the tonnage in the house and solve some of the problems the homeowner has lived with for the last 15 years,” said Driskill. “We also look at the duct system and any possible problems there that need to be addressed.”
POINT OUT BENEFITS AND THEY WILL BUYAs part of his company’s advertising strategy, Hutchins said he provides the features and benefits of his top-of-the-line equipment in order to initially get customers’ attention.
“We found several years ago that we weren’t selling nearly the two-stage units as other contractors in different Florida markets,” he explained. “When we changed our ads to focus on the benefits, our sales immediately increased. We actually sold more than other Carrier dealers in Florida that year.”
Asking about a homeowner’s current electric bill usually gets the conversation started, he said. “Our advertising focuses on savings, quoting ‘up to 40 percent savings on your heating and cooling’ with a new system,” said Hutchins. “We guarantee it or we pay the difference. We use printed charts to show the savings for the new system versus what they currently own.”
Brian Frederick, co-owner of Joseph Frederick and Sons, Bloomington, Del., believes manufacturers have helped in the sales process. The Carrier dealer is having success selling the Infinity System and is “really pushing” the hybrid concept with the rising cost of fuels.
“The major manufacturers have done a decent job in getting the message out nationally to consumers,” he said. “Whatever a good, nation-ally recognized manufacturer can say to educate the consumer in their marketing area makes it easier for the dealer to answer and prove that we believe in the product. That finalizes the sale.”
He noted his company does not sell SEER, but instead “what a complete system changeout can do for their pockets.” He discusses technological advances in the equipment and how this improves home comfort.
“The smarter the consumer, the easier the higher efficiencies sell for us,” said Frederick.
As would be expected, the smarter contractors are also selling accessories to plug in with the higher-efficient systems. Louvar, for instance, said he is selling more programmable, digital, touch-screen thermostats; ultraviolet (UV) lights; and air cleaners. Driskill said his biggest accessory sales are in air filtration products and programmable thermostats.
“Homeowners, even though they might be better educated today, are really looking to us for advice on what to install,” summarized Driskill. “Most of my customers ask me, ‘What do you have in your home?’ And they always want to have the same or better quality than I do.
“If we know our product and focus on installing the good stuff, it is easy to be the hero to the home- owner. They will, and do, pay more to work with someone who is more interested in solving their problems than being the cheapest in order to get a quick sale.
“I am told on a regular basis that I was not the cheapest, but that they believed that I would do what I said I would do and that I would save them money in the long run. I just love to hear how much happier folks are about their new system months, and even years, later when I run into them around town.”
He added, “By the way, the folks that buy our most expensive system also become the best source of referrals and references.”
Publication Date: 09/10/2007