Not All Surf and NASCAR for Contractors
The participants included Blaine Aldrich of Comfort Service Inc., Paul Martines of Quality Air Heating & Air Conditioning, and Tom McGuire Jr. of Flair Air Conditioning & Heating. The contractors agreed that most of their business comes from service work and very little in new construction, unless they are working on special custom homes for their special customers.
The first thing on their minds was how the current economy has driven normal installing contractors into the service business and how that has affected the job pricing structure. “Some of these people have the new construction mentality and don’t know how to price a job,” said McGuire. “These guys are just turning dollars - staying alive from week to week.”
Martines agreed. “I’ve lost a few jobs because the pricing was way out of whack,” he said. “On a recent $35,000 bid, some guy came in $8,000 less than me. What am I going to do? This is busy work for some of them right now, but you know it isn’t going to last.”
Aldrich said that some of these contractors should have prepared themselves for an inevitable slowdown, but they didn’t. “These guys were living the high life and not investing in their future,” he said. “They had to have the cars and the boats. And they were too busy working in their business instead of on their business.”
Martines said there is an upside to the slow economy. “It should clean up the gene pool or smaller shops,” he said.
Luckily for these Daytona Beach contractors, the Florida weather usually takes precedence over the economy. “Temperatures are very important here,” said Aldrich. “If it is over 85 degrees during the day and 75 degrees at night, we will be busy despite the economy.”
McGuire agreed, adding, “In Florida, people don’t want to wait for a repair or replacement. If they need a new unit, you better have it that day or they will go somewhere else.”
He said the slowdown in new construction has also had a ripple effect on the inspection process. “Florida building codes are getting stricter, and since there is no new construction for the inspectors to work on, they are going over everything else we do with a fine tooth comb,” McGuire said.
But Aldrich said the same old problem exists now as before. “We are still losing jobs to people who don’t pull permits for their work,” he said. “Pulling permits is a time-consuming thing. Add in the fact that some inspectors don’t show up when they are supposed to and the customers get even more pissed off. They have to take time off of work to be there for the inspection.”
Customers are finding it more difficult to navigate the 13 SEER energy-efficiency requirements and Florida codes require that indoor coils have to match the condensing units or the entire system has to be replaced. “So what do you tell a customer who needs a whole new system rather than just a new condensing unit?” asked Aldrich.
McGuire brought up the issue of extended warranties and how they are “killing the service business.” “It used to be just the 5-10 year warranties,” he said. “But now manufacturers are coming out with 12-year warranties.”
Like other parts of the United States, these local contractors are finding that customers are becoming more educated on new technologies, especially those that affect the green movement. McGuire pointed out that Florida is leading the way in changing from R-22 refrigerant to the newer, environmentally friendly R-410A.
But unlike other parts of the United States, there is no shortage of available HVAC workers. Each of the contractors at the roundtable session said they get many resumes each day but they aren’t hiring right now because there is no new work coming in. They are able to stay busy by servicing their existing customer base.
Aldrich said he continues to remain busy because he gives customers what they need, and not what he thinks they need. “We look at every application and see what equipment will fit,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what brand equipment we sell. We sell our own private label brand, yet I am sure most people know we don’t make it in our own shop. My company is the brand name.”
Sidebar: Keeping Techs Up-to-DateDELAND, Fla. - Blaine Aldrich does what a lot of good HVAC contractors do - he makes sure his service technicians are equipped with the latest information to keep up with changing equipment technology. He is not one to let moss grow under his feet. The owner of Comfort Service Inc., DeLand, Fla., knows the importance of education and training, and he passes along what he learns to his techs through regular in-service meetings on weekday mornings.
Knowing that high efficiency above and beyond the 13 SEER minimum standards would continue to grow in demand as customers seek ways to save on energy costs, Aldrich spent time recently learning about the iQ 23 SEER HVAC system from Nordyne. This high-efficiency system piqued his interest and he wanted to share the information he had with his service techs.
On a recent early March meeting, he introduced the product to his techs and managers. “I want to show the guys about 23 SEER,” he said. “I want them to test the water while it is warm before they have to jump in when it’s hot.” The informational package included a DVD on the Maytag iQ Drive System that was made available through Nordyne Elite Training (NET). The system is no stranger to a number of different awards, including being the Gold Award Winner in The NEWS’ 2007 Dealer Design Awards and the AHR Expo Product of the Year at the 2008 AHR Expo in New York City.
This system utilizes inverter rotary technology to achieve its high-efficiency rating. The inverter board is the “brain” of the system, while the rotary compressor is its “heart.” By communicating together, they efficiently condition the air. In the literature Aldrich passed around, Nordyne stated, “iQ Drive inverter technology has almost infinite modulation for a perfectly even variance. And it runs as low as 15 hertz, so it uses less power.”
During the morning meeting, Aldrich used the opportunity to talk about the new circuit board in the iQ Drive, which simplifies the tech’s job. “All you really need to know is how to get power to it and send power back out,” he said.
While Aldrich pointed out features of the system, he continually reminded his techs they should stop using the word thermostat and start calling them controllers. He was referring to the iQ Drive controller, adding that it does much more than just control the temperature - it controls humidity levels, too.
The controller screen has a typical blue/green backlight which turns to all red when there is a problem in the system. If that happens, a readout tells the homeowner what the problem is and includes the contact information for the installing/servicing contractor. Aldrich said it is important for his techs to “educate the customers on how the system works.”
He added, “This is the future of HVAC, when you can save homeowners 50-70 percent on their electric bills.”
For more information on how to enter your products in The NEWS’ 2008 Dealer Design Awards, visit www.achrnews.com and click on Dealer Design Awards.
Publication date: 03/24/2008