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The Sears-Trane alliance: Where does this leave you?

July 11, 2000
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Back in 1992, while pondering The News’ current and future editorial direction, I wrote a list of things I considered to be hvac industry truths:

  • CFCs are bad.

  • HCFCs are better.

  • HFCs are better still.

  • Venting is bad.

  • Profits are good.

  • Manufacturers always want more market share.

  • Service techs earn too little.

  • IAQ can be profitable.

  • Training will save the industry from itself.

  • Training is ignored.

  • A good tech is smart to hire.

They’re over-generalized, but you get the idea. In 1992, of course the focus was on refrigerants and venting. Today, perhaps, the more important points are a little further down the list. Which brings me to a delicate matter:

Whatever happened to loyalty? Did it ever exist?

I have to admit, if I were a Trane dealer this week, I’d be feeling a bit put out over the news that my supplier is going to sell Trane brand heating-cooling units through Sears.

The Trane distributor isn’t going to lose much sleep; he’s still the middleman. But the manufacturer just gave me a huge, new competitor, and that competitor will probably be getting units at a better cost, which means his price can be lower.

Aye, there’s the rub. It’s the “Lowball Price Game” blues.

Not price again

Seems we just can’t shake that low-price mentality. Likewise, Sears again is perceived as a big, bad competitive threat. How realistic is this?

When Sears first became involved in heating-cooling system installation and service in the 1960s, contractors told The News that this major competitive force had the potential to drive them out of business. For successful, profitable contractors, this simply did not play out.

Perhaps some contracting operations that were not well-managed, and that did not have reasonable profit margins, suffered (or went under) due to the entrance of a major player. But perhaps they would have gone under anyway.

It’s a fact of nature: The strong survive and the weak succumb. If your contracting company is doing the right things — maintaining personal contact with customers, providing prompt, accurate service, following up to make sure customers are satisfied, and generally listening to their needs — then your company is strong, and will survive most any competitive wind that blows your way.

Could there be an upside? Definitely. It’s called Sears’ advertising clout. The argument is that Sears has a lot more to spend, and runs ads more frequently, than most hvac contractors. Trane dealers may benefit by having their brand touted in Sears ads.

It's not just price

But hvac contractors are not just price-minded. Many residential-light commercial Trane dealers have strong loyalties to the brand and the company.

One anonymous contributor to the website area51hvac wrote thus: “If you deal Trane, consider yourself sold. Get used to hearing about Kenmores and klutzy installers. Get ready to fix the Trane name when all hell breaks loose. Just when you thought things were going good, and quality product was in the house . . . Sears comes into town and downgrades your world. Pity. Trane had such potential.”

Is the problem with Sears’ installers? We know that a reputable contracting company with top-notch installers can make a lesser system run to the homeowner’s satisfaction.

By the same token, if the problem is with Sears’ installers, then they probably won’t be able to make a top-notch brand work up to its potential, and customers will not be satisfied.

Then there are those Sears customers, typically categorized as price shoppers. Many successful hvac contractors would rather stay away from these types of consumers anyway. The best contractors sell on value, not price.

Trane, like most everyone in hvac-land, is going after market share. With so many changes taking place, we can hardly blame this manufacturer for positioning itself with a major player like Sears.

Now, Trane dealers will have to decide how to position themselves. Do what suits you and your market. Just make sure that decision is based on business sense and reality, not emotions.

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