Selling Customers Up To High-End Furnaces

November 21, 2002
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What makes customers decide whether or not to shell out the extra money for a high-end furnace? Some contractors would probably give their right arms to have the answer to that question. But because each customer is different, their reasons for buying (or not buying) a more expensive furnace can also be different.

Some customers may respond to the fact that their utility bills will be lower with a higher efficiency furnace. Others may be thrilled by the fact that their homes will be more comfortable, or that their new furnace will be a lot quieter than the old one. Still others may be looking for attractive financing, so they don’t have to pay the whole amount at one time.

Contractors probably won’t know which benefit will appeal to which customer. That’s why it’s important to spell out all the benefits of higher end furnaces during the sales call. Leave out any of the points and you could lose the sale.

COVER THE BASES

Given that a high-end furnace can cost as much as 50% more than a standard furnace, it’s no wonder that most homeowners want to take a hard look at the differences between the equipment.

One of the features a high-end furnace offers is higher efficiency (90%-plus), and there are some big differences between high- and standard-efficiency furnaces.

Keith Blair, manager of Engineering and R&D, Olsen Division of ECR International, Utica, NY, notes that one difference is that high-efficiency furnaces allow for direct venting (using outdoor air for combustion) and lower flue gas temperatures, thereby keeping more heat in the home.

“High efficiency allows for venting of flue gas products through the sidewall of a home using plastic venting,” he said. “Standard appliances require a chimney and come with significant off-cycle losses, in addition to putting more heat up the chimney. Both are durable appliances, though, using electronic controls to provide consistent and reliable performance.”

Another high-end feature is a variable-speed motor. Martin Roller, senior technical advisor/ trainer, Thermo Pride, North Judson, IN, notes that high-efficiency furnaces with the ECM variable-speed motor are 20%-plus more electrically efficient than those using conventional induction motors. “This results in energy and therefore cost savings to the customer,” he said.

“In addition, the fan speeds are automatically adjusted to compensate for changes in duct static [pressure] and that keeps the CFM airflow constant. This is particularly advantageous for installations with less-than-perfect ductwork and for zoning systems.”

Steve Attri, product manager for Heating, Lennox Industries Inc., Dallas, TX, notes that the key differences between standard and high-end furnaces have to do with added benefits in comfort (temperature and humidity control), efficiency, and sound reduction.

“Surveys have shown that customers who buy higher end heating and cooling products tend to be more satisfied,” Attri said. “The dealer benefits by having a satisfied customer, and there is then a greater chance of repeat business — as well as a greater chance they’ll tell their friends. In addition, dealers typically make more money on sales of high-end equipment.”

POINT OUT THE BENEFITS

All those differences translate into direct benefits for the customer who chooses to purchase a high-end furnace. Those benefits include:

  • Lower utility cost through higher furnace efficiency;

  • Quieter operation due to two-stage and/or variable-speed operation;

  • Reduced or eliminated stand-by losses;

  • Greater temperature control through two-stage operation; and

  • Greater humidity control provided by a variable-speed motor.

    It is critical for the contractor to talk to customers and clearly understand their needs. Attri suggested asking questions such as:

  • “What do you like about your current system? What don’t you like?”

  • “Are there hot and cold spots in your home?”

  • “Does anyone in the family have allergies?”

  • “Is your monthly heating bill higher than your neighbor’s?”

    “The contractor should provide the homeowner with choices — and start with the best,” said Attri. “This way, the customer understands what benefits are available in the top of the line. Chances are, more high-end sales will result in this way, rather than starting with the basic product. Often times, a customer will not choose a high-end product simply because it was not offered to them.”

    If customers offer up a price objection, Blair suggested focusing on savings that will be achieved with a higher efficiency furnace. “The cost of operating a high-efficiency product is less than a standard product, therefore a payback analysis can be used to show when the furnace will save the increased dollars required to purchase it.”

    CONTRACTOR’S METHOD

    Kelly Martin, residential sales manager for Middleton Air Conditioning, Inc., Bryant, AR, is one of those contractors who actively works to sell his customers higher efficiency furnaces. One way he does it is to work closely with builders, who then allow him to meet with homeowners to discuss the heating and cooling equipment that will be installed.

    “I couldn’t do it without the builders. They are a vital link between homeowners and us,” said Martin.

    In the meeting, Martin presents a proposal that includes information on the base models and higher priced equipment. “We list options on the proposal. They ask why certain equipment costs more and we discuss the bells and whistles,” he said.

    “Ultimately, they will be the ones paying the utility bills. Consumers are becoming more educated about heating and cooling equipment. They’ve done their homework and they understand the basis of what we’re offering.”

    Consumers definitely deserve to learn about the various furnace options available. It pays to take a little time to spell out the differences between high-end and standard furnaces, and educate consumers as to why a high-end furnace might better suit their needs.

    Publication date: 11/25/2002

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