As the first year under the 13 SEER mandate works its way through the summer months, many contractors have established new goals for their businesses. Selling has become even more competitive. Since everyone is selling 13 SEER-plus units, dealers have to differentiate themselves with other possible selling strategies - such as IAQ accessories and quiet operation.
A review of the Lennox Industries dealer organization found that the dealers are busy finding ways to differentiate themselves in the new 13 SEER world.
"We wanted our homebuilders to know this significant change was coming," said Welsch. "My hope was they would start offering 13 SEER units to their homebuyers fairly quickly. I didn't want homeowners buying a house right before the end of the year to wonder why they hadn't been offered a more efficient 13 SEER unit."
Follow-up letters were sent once a month reminding the homebuilders of the change, and Welsch set a cutoff date in October 2005. After this date, all homebuilders had to buy 13 SEER for their customers.
"Making this change with our homebuilder customers was a bit more difficult because HVAC is not as glamorous as granite countertops or high-end flooring and fixtures," said Welsch. "I think we did an excellent job communicating the change to our customers so they could adjust their pricing and communicate the high-efficiency, energy-saving benefits to the homebuyers."
Welsch differentiated the dealership by emphasizing its longevity - it's been in business 110 years and has been a Lennox dealership for the majority of that time. Welsch also offers a wide variety of variable-speed equipment for reduced sound. If a homeowner needs IAQ products, Welsch is able to offer a number of options.
"One of my main goals for this year is to find out how our Website can better serve us and communicate our value," said Welsch. "Even though we're a century old, we have to be a modern business."
"We didn't want homeowners to wonder why their neighbors got a higher or lower SEER unit."
Even in such extreme Northern markets, the transition from 10 to 13 SEER started early for some. One Lennox dealer offered 10 SEER units for new construction through the summer of 2005 and then required homes built in the newer phases in October-November 2005 be built with 13 SEER units.
Homebuilders have been accepting of the higher efficiency units in Canada. Customers are sometimes offered a three-tiered HVAC package - the highest tier being the best furnace, air conditioner, and IAQ product on the market. The new 13 SEER unit is just one more offering that provides homeowners with energy-savings dollars.
Convincing owners that they need to refit the ductwork isn't always easy. Having NATE-certified technicians in the field who are proficient in the Manual J and Manual D program calculations has helped one contractor in the area.
"They just plug in the right information, and the CAD program outputs a blueprint to show the client which type of ductwork the new unit needs in order to have effective airflow and prevent mold," said the Florida Lennox dealer.
"We've always been experts in indoor air quality. When the whole market is mandated to sell 13 SEER equipment and can tout energy-saving equipment, our IAQ solutions and selling will push us ahead of the competition."
Lennox dealers have readily adopted the new XC21 air conditioner. The new high-efficiency product was the first of its class to hit the market in advance of the 13 SEER minimum energy efficiency standards that became law on Jan. 23, 2006.
According to responses from Lennox dealers in the Dallas area, homeowners are drawn to the XC21 due to its two-speed compressor operation to reduce energy usage and because of its quiet operation. A Lennox spokesperson said that the new air conditioning product was the highest efficiency available at the time of introduction, and coupled with the lowest sound in the industry, the combination has met with rave reviews from customers.
Not only are consumers looking for efficiency and quiet operation, they are becoming more aware of serious home comfort issues such as humidity, allergies, and extreme hot and cold pockets.
In the Northern region where selling high-end air conditioners is not as common, one of the first XC21 units was sold to a Lennox dealer in Minnesota for a home on Lake Minnetonka. The home also had a G61 furnace, SignatureStatâ„¢ thermostat, and PMAC filter.
The hot season doesn't last long, but temperatures sometimes get into the 90s in central Minnesota. Customers there aren't driven by the efficiency of the XC21 as much as they are the quiet two-speed operation.
When paired with the SignatureStat thermostat, a two-stage air conditioner controls humidity levels independent of the temperature. In Minnesota, though the cooling season doesn't last long, humidity control is a problem. Having an air conditioning unit that can easily handle spikes in summer temperatures and run on low speed to control humidity is important even in Minnesota, the Land of 1,000 Lakes.
If dealers communicate the 13 SEER change properly to their homebuilder customers and other markets, this can be viewed very positively for the consumer.
One enterprising Lennox dealership supplies every technician with a 35-page flipchart to help answer homeowners' many frequently asked questions about air conditioning system operation, including SEER rating. IAQ is also a frequent topic for a company newsletter and is included in television commercials and oversized postcard mailers.
One Lennox dealer in the humid Southeastern United States takes into consideration not only the unit but the duct leakage, duct sizing, returns, and supplies. "We offer a guarantee of energy savings with our thorough installation of high-efficiency equipment. Homeowners aren't just buying a high-efficiency cooling box, they're buying a 13 SEER system installed."
As the first summer under the 13 SEER minimum requirement winds down, many Lennox dealers will have discovered new ways to differentiate their businesses. Whether promoting the quiet operation of a high-efficiency air conditioner or selling enhanced IAQ systems, many may find the changes of 2006 to be ones that they will remember for a long time to come.
Publication date: 06/26/2006