ACHRNEWS

American Standard's charge to dealers: 'High-value comfort'

July 17, 2000
(1) If reliability of both product and installation remains high, then (2) callbacks remain low, which means (3) profit stays in the job, and (4) the consumer ends up with the “cheapest brand,” which (5) actually is a “premium-position brand.”

This is the game plan American Standard takes to market, through its 72 distributors, to dealers “who sell a high-value comfort proposition,” says Paul Trotter, brand manager. A dealer’s goal should be “a customer for life,” as Trotter sees it.

It’s American Standard’s mission to provide dealers with the ability to achieve lifetime customers in today’s environment.

“If they’re doing things right, it really doesn’t matter who comes into our business — consolidators, utilities. . . .”

Everyone preaches quality, notes Trotter. However, actually measuring customer satisfaction “is a real wake-up call to dealers. Scores may be different from what they expect.”

Dealers who participate in American Standard’s “Customer Care Program” get such feedback immediately through a toll-free customer-response phone number. If the customer isn’t completely satisfied with the just-completed work, American Standard “advises the dealer — now,” Trotter explains.

“And immediate action follows to remove that irritant.”

Immediate solutions may stem from authority granted to participating dealers to make “out-of-warranty concessions at that moment of truth,” and know that the company will back their decision, says Trotter.

“We give them the tools, the knowledge, and the authority to solve problems.”

According to Trotter, when this philosophy is introduced in dealer orientation meetings, “You can hear a pin drop.”

American Standard also will develop the dealer’s website and link it to the company’s own “dealer locator” Web site. Customer Care dealers also are offered a special Yellow Pages listing, truck I.D., and tuition-free technician training.

They want comfort

The company proved to itself and its dealers that people really are interested in home comfort.

The company gave its dealers a video, “At Home With Comfort: A Guide To Making Your Home As Comfortable As It Should Be,” to use with their prospects. They can view it while the dealer does his initial survey.

The video “keys up” questions for the dealer which aid his sales presentation. It discusses dust, pet hair, cooking odors, inadequate airflow, solar gain, humidity, and other concerns. It describes types of furnaces, multistage heating-cooling, efficiency, and savings — overall what a good comfort system is and must do. Factory-assembly shots explain testing procedures.

The company also offered the video directly to consumers through a TV ad spot as part of a promo package for the month of May. It included a cover letter referencing four dealers in their area, and offered a free extended warranty with their system purchase in that time period.

The result? “About 500 calls per day,” says Trotter. “The total was in excess of 20,000 over the promo period.”

Comfort-R™

Variable speed is a “primary product direction” for American Standard, both Trotter and Dale Green, sales-marketing vp, emphasize.

Comfort-R is the company’s trademark for its variable-speed systems. There are 82 variable-speed products plus controls.

“We teach the dealer to start there,” Trotter notes. “Variable speed is a crucial element of comfort system selling.”

According to Trotter, once dealers install these products, “They’re hooked.” American Standard offers a program for dealers to install its variable-speed units in their own homes “to hook ‘em,” he says.

Two-stage furnaces, dual compressors, two-stage compressors, and integrally controlled motors in a number of air-moving products serve as the product line foundation.

Other nuances

The company touts its vertical orientation. “We’re not merely assemblers,” notes Green.

“For example, we manufacture our own compressors.” (The company’s “Duration” compressors include both recips and scrolls.)

Another simple, yet significant, operational-sales feature involves coils. “The three-piece door design of the ‘Comfort Coil’ [also trademarked] enables technicians to clean them without the usual hassle,” notes Trotter.

The company also manufactures its own Perfect Fit™ electronic air cleaners. A rather unique feature for such products, he quips, “is that they fit and match the system.”

Training, distribution

Knowledge flows from training — another American Standard must, he continues.

Besides product, application, and service trainers, the company’s “faculty” includes industry veterans Ron Collier (on business management) and Steve Howard (on selling value).

Trained dealers know how to make profit, and “know when” they’re making it, the company emphasizes. They also know total comfort.

American Standard’s distributors, recruited over the past 10 years, now comprise “a full complement. Dealers have access to our products nationally.”

Meanwhile, movement toward ensuring one-stop dealer shopping, enhanced by flexible hours, has been part of the conversion to an American Standard distributorship.

According to Green, distributors bring two to four dealer groups per week to Tyler “for recruiting, training, education . . . . The total through our factory the past 10 years is about 15,000 visitors.”

Brand longevity

American Standard has been around since 1881, originally as the Pierce Steam Heating Co., then as the American Radiator Co. in 1892, and as American Standard in 1929.

American Standard divested its a/c products in the late 1960s. It bought The Trane Company in 1984, Trane having previously bought GE’s a/c business.

“In November 1988, the American Standard brand came back to life,” says Trotter; “not as a ‘fighting brand’ but as a ‘premium brand.’ It’s a consumer-recognized name. Our job was to reassociate that name with air conditioning. We’re making great progress.”

Says Trotter, “We present our dealer prospects a differentiated product that he can sell for more money.” (As further differentiation, he adds, the Allegiance14 and Allegiance16 cooling systems were named best buy by Consumers Digest in 1998.)

“Dealers’ warranty reserves can be reduced, thereby increasing their operating capital. And selling extended warranties improves their income, allows parts mark-up, covers street labor rates on service calls, and retains customers.

“Finally, the Customer Care Program measures satisfaction.”

In other words, says Trotter, “Profit stays in the job.”