Marketing Indoor Comfort: Provide Customer Comfort And Success Should Follow

September 12, 2005
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The way contractor Dewey Jenkins, president of Morris-Jenkins Co., Charlotte, N.C., sees things, value is all there is to sell.
Editor's note: It is estimated that 90 percent to 94 percent of all outdoor units sold over the next few years will fall in the 13 SEER category. With that in mind, it appears the biggest challenge for contractors will be to effectively sell value, as 13-SEER products will become the standard in the market. The News approached successful contractors who know all about selling value. Each has built a successful business, in part, by selling comfort. To them, it's not about higher efficiency or pricing. It's about meeting the customer's needs. Read. Take notes. Learn from some of the best.

Go ahead. Bring on 13 SEER. Dan Troyer is just one of the many contractors who welcome the new national minimum efficiency standard for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps.

"We have always sold up," explained the owner of Danco, East Peoria, Ill. "And there is absolutely no way that a 19 SEER has a payback when compared to a 10 SEER, so it is sold on comfort features. This will not change. It has just raised the floor, limiting the number of options, and maybe pricing some of the lower income people out of the market."

And, should that be the case, Troyer is not worried one bit. In fact, he is encouraged. "For the people that only sell bottom end, this will give them a smaller piece of the pie," said the Coleman dealer. "Competition will be great for the bottom end. I predict they will cut prices to get the jobs, making it even tougher for the people selling only 13-SEER units to make a profit."

Fellow contractor Dewey Jenkins will not shed a tear if Troyer's prediction comes true. "With 13 SEER as the base level, value is all there is to sell," explained the president of Morris-Jenkins Co., Charlotte, N.C. "If there is no value added, we are left in a bidding war."

Jenkins, of course, is not about to enter that arena. And the Comfortmaker dealer believes other contractors should not stoop that low, either. Selling value is, in his estimation, the correct approach.

"Value is in the consumer's mind," explained Jenkins. "It would be more accurate to term it ‘perceived value.' The benefits your customer perceives must be larger than the price. It isn't enough to provide the benefits. The benefits must be explained so the customer recognizes them."

In other words, if you have not begun to sell comfort to your customers, now is the time to begin. Take it from two contractors who have done a pretty good job in that department. Jenkins' firm, for instance, did not accumulate $12.5 million in revenue last year, mostly in the residential service and replacement market, by selling on efficiency only or price alone.

"We are a service business," he explained. "We provide maintenance and repair services, and we provide installation services. When great service is provided, the selling comes easy."

Ken Justo put it another way. "We are in the comfort business, not the A/C and heating business," said the vice president of sales and marketing for ASI Hastings Inc., El Cajon, Calif. "We cannot succeed without properly serving our clients."

Admittedly, there are many components that make up customer comfort. In Justo's estimation, though, the key is understanding what are the customer's needs - and then applying products to meet those needs.

"Just making people hot and cold is not enough anymore," he explained. "Some of the most common things that we must consider are capacity, efficiency, filtration, sound levels, customer usage and habits, equipment location, and humidification."

Randy Gibbs (left) looks over specs with two employees. The president of Brody-Pennell Heating & Air Conditioning, Los Angeles, insists that his employees sell comfort, not boxes. “Customers want solutions to the lack of comfort and air quality in their homes and workplace. Those contractors that offer solutions command a higher contract price,” he said.

Service Sells

When asked if selling was more important than service - or vice versa - the majority of the contractors contacted by The News pointed to service as being more important in the bigger picture.

"Service is far more important," said Phil Smith, vice president of Albany Air Conditioning and Heating Co., Albany, Ga. "If you don't provide the service to back up the systems that you have sold, then you will have unhappy customers. Unhappy customers will not only tell others about your poor service, they will be looking for another company that will meet their expectations. It is easier to please an existing customer than get new customers."

Mac Arthur Coffin, president of Frank Millard & Co., Burlington, Iowa, was just as emphatic. "Good customer service and a good product equal a happy customer and a repeat customer," he said. "We are in business for the long term and not a quick buck."

Quality service is No. 1 at Webb Heating & Cooling, too. Owner James Webb demands it at his Fairmont, W. Va.-based company. "We stock parts in our service vehicles for all types of units," explained the Heil dealer. "Ninety-nine percent of all repair work is done on the first trip to the customer's home.

"I always ensure that all calls are answered within 24 hours and all appointments are kept unless there is an emergency. Communication is a very important part of customer satisfaction, whether the call is concerning sales, service, or scheduling a replacement installation.

"If installation of a new system will lower their monthly fuel costs, then I attempt to sell them a more-efficient unit. Our reputation is built on not only customer satisfaction, but on trust. That is what makes selling new units easy."

At Garber Heating & Air Conditioning in Morton, Ill., the company's selling methods and philosophy are derived directly from its service philosophy.

"Customer service is the absolute focus of our business because without our customers, we would be out of business," said company president Brent Braker.

"There is no doubt about that philosophy in our company, as all our installers and service technicians know that the only way to do a job or service for the customer is the right way. No cheap shortcuts. Do it right because it is the right thing to do for the customer."

Randy Gibbs, president of Brody-Pennell Heating & Air Conditioning, Los Angeles, was just as direct.

"We sell comfort, not boxes," he said. "Customers want solutions to the lack of comfort and air quality in their homes and workplaces. Those contractors that offer solutions command a higher contract price."

It's one reason why Brody-Pennell earned $4.8 million in 2004.

"First, we listen to the customer and ask leading questions from our needs assessment survey," said Gibbs. "We then prepare our proposal to solve those needs. Our service technicians educate our customers regarding efficiency or on our ability to correct any problems in their homes."

James Griffin Jr., president of Weather Engineers Inc., Jacksonville, Fla., believes that service and service contracts "are the lifeblood of our business."

"We build relationships - on trust - that makes selling easy," said the Bryant dealer.

Sell Up Now

These successful contractors have been preparing for 13 SEER, but it's not like they have to learn how to sell up.

"We have not been doing anything special, other than informing customers of the upcoming changes to allow them to make an educated buying decision," said Philip Favret, vice president of The Favret Company, Columbus, Ohio. "The majority of our sales are already in the higher-efficiency area."

"We have not changed a thing," remarked Kevin West, owner of West Installation Co., Springfield, Ohio. "We rarely sell anything below 13 SEER currently."

It's the same at Brody-Pennell.

"We have sold high efficiency for years," said Gibbs. "Therefore, little or no preparation is required on our part. We continually educate our customers in the advantages of high-efficiency equipment, be it in energy savings, environmentally friendly refrigerants, more comfort with multispeed equipment, and rebates."

Wayne Beck, president of Aladdin Air Conditioning and Heating Inc., Newbury Park, Calif., does have one concern.

"We already sell mostly high-efficiency systems. The problem for us is the garage-based competitors of ours will be forced to do so also, and they operate at lesser margins than we do," he said.

Still, in the end, Beck - like most successful contractors - knows providing value will win out.

"In selling, it's a matter of showing the customer what is available to them and explaining the features and benefits," said the Carrier dealer. "When shown and told, they usually choose better units on their own."

Smith said it is a matter of making every effort to give the customer "far more than they expect from us."

"We are considerate of their home, their time, and their needs," said the Carrier dealer. "We want our customers to be so pleased with our company that they will gladly send us referrals. It is our belief that customers have a choice, and we must be the better choice. They have high expectations, and we must exceed those expectations."

Publication date: 09/12/2005

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