Opinions


Geez, what are we going to offer our customers?

July 1, 2000
I’m sure I’m not imagining this.

 My bundle of mail at home each day keeps growing and growing and growing. It reminds me of the giant man-eating Venus flytrap in the musical, “Little Shop of Horrors.” The plant starts out small and eventually becomes abnormally large.

Soon my pile of mail will overcome me, too. I’ll be lost in a wash of second mortgage offers, $100,000-limit credit cards, new pizzeria coupons, listing offers from realtors who recently have sold a home in my neighborhood, and the obligatory missing person postcard. Of course, these are things that are vitally important to my daily existence.

The latest offering of something I really need came from Consumers Energy, a local gas utility.

The utility is selling a bank in the shape of its familiar “bucket truck.” The 18-in.-long replica has all the bells and whistles of the original, resplendent with a boom that hinges and telescopes to three feet. The truck is identified with the green and blue Consumers Energy logo.

The truck-banks cost $30.64, with $5 from each sale going to the PeopleCare charity, which helps Michigan families cover short-term emergency needs such as medical bills, food, clothing, rent, etc.

I sifted through more mail and found my Sears bill and a stuffer touting its special home services, including central air systems. The giant retailer makes it very appealing to finance a new comfort system and pay for it along with your kid’s back-to-school clothing and the new washer and dryer.

Do we see a pattern here? You bet.

Two of the biggest competitors to independent hvac contractors are using their names and buying power to make life simpler and rewarding to their customers — your customers.

I’m not suggesting that contractors run out and start a mail order promotion featuring replica service vans, or set up a showroom featuring paint and hardware for customers to browse when they come in to look at your heating systems.

Or am I?

The power of suggestion goes a long way when it is placed right in front of a consumer. Not many people think about toy banks or shopping for central air systems where they buy work boots. But plant the seed in their heads and they will begin to think about making a purchase.

Will they read every offer sent through the mail? Not likely. Will they read the eye-catching offers? More likely.

Even if marketing budgets are small or non-existent, there are ways to get people to sit up and notice a special offer from a local hvac contractor. For example, do you know someone who paints? Couldn’t you suggest a decorated compressor cover when selling a central air system? The cover can match the trim on a customer’s home, or it can have plants painted on to match the shrubbery.

What would it cost you? Probably nothing. It could be covered by the painter and your mark-up would mean a little extra profit and a unique selling feature for future presentations.

And what about a brightly colored model service van? Kids of the “Hot Wheels” generation (which includes just about everyone) love model cars and trucks. Check out the cost with your local promotional advertising company. Find out how to mark up the model in order to make a charitable donation from the proceeds of each sale.

It is easy to criticize a utility for using its well-recognized name to market new services to ratepayers. It is a little tougher to criticize Sears for marketing its name, which is built on more than a century of retail selling. In either case, we all could learn a lesson in marketing and goodwill from their examples.

It just takes a little creativity and a small, but probably wise investment.

In the past, I’ve offered suggestions on marketing and have been given some good ideas from contractors. At The News, we are always looking for better ways to help contractors market and sell their products and services. You are the backbone of our trade and it is vitally important to our existence to improve your resourcefulness.

If you have suggestions, please contact me so I can pass along your ideas: 248-244-6417; 248-362-0317 (fax); halljl@ bnp.com (e-mail).

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