“Before we started Totaline 20 years ago, we were just an OEM warranty house and our distributors were pretty much all warranty depots,” said Augie DiNardo, director of sales for Totaline. “And then Dave came up with the Totaline concept.”
David Buttermore, who is often considered the “father” of Totaline, was struck by lightning during a camping trip. It was this incident that inspired a career change and the birth of a new idea as Buttermore joined Carrier’s parts division and “found his calling.”
While working in parts sales, Buttermore observed two specific practices that were in need of change.
According to him, Carrier wasn’t leveraging its equipment distribution business for parts sales. “Customers would buy their compressors from one store and their parts at competitors’ stores.”
He also observed that there were no self-service sales stores offering generic HVACR parts. “Customers would walk up to a counter in a store, tell the person behind the counter what they needed, and the person would run back to the warehouse to find the part,” he said. “I knew there had to be a better way.”
With this determination, Buttermore set out to develop a new concept. “Dave realized that this idea was more than just adding products, it was all about developing a concept, putting the right people in place, and forming relationships,” said DiNardo. “And that’s exactly what he did with Totaline.”
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENTAs the concept developed, Buttermore had the idea, but he didn’t have a name. Although the Replacement Components Division - what would come to be called Totaline - was officially part of Carrier Corp., he wanted to make sure the new name would reflect the breadth of line the concept would offer that went beyond just Carrier parts. In a brainstorming meeting with the earliest members of the team, the group unanimously agreed that Totaline would be the name.
With a new brand and a group of professionals ready to break ground in the parts business, the team set out to create a business strategy.
“There was no existing strategy in the industry for Totaline to emulate, so the first six months that I was there we worked night and day on a business plan and when we were done, we had a three-quarter-inch thick manual,” said Phil Hider, who was manager of marketing services and responsible for managing the brand in all phases globally.
The Totaline plan covered everything from products and marketing to training sessions for counter sales staff. It also called for a business development group.
The company essentially provided a “turn-key program” to get into the market, according to Hider.
Throughout the early development of Totaline, the team communicated directly and regularly with distributors.
“Everything we did with Totaline, before we implemented it, we would present to a distributor review board,” said Bob Ravas, merchandising/business development manager. “It was made up of distributor parts managers who were in charge of the business in the field and they would give input and advise us.”
Along with distributors, Ravas said the board included the Totaline business development group, the Totaline marketing group, and other corporate representatives.
EARLY SUCCESSTotaline began to see success as early as the late 1980s, when it held its first global parts meeting. As well as focusing on the Totaline parts offerings and training, each meeting introduced new, unique products, including TotalTest, TotalSave, TotalClean, and NoSubBase thermostats.
“I think those kinds of products helped us get our name out,” said Gene Rickert, zone sales manager for the West Coast. “That’s when we first started seeing that people noticed we had products that were competitively priced and provided the contractors what they needed.”
Harry Bufkin, retired corporate vice president of Thermo Industries and sales manager of its Totaline sales division, opened his first parts store in the late 1980s. After experiencing a phenomenal sales year, Bufkin came to wholeheartedly support Totaline and went to great lengths to get the word out.
Not only did distributors, like Bufkin, start to see success with Totaline, they strongly supported the idea and began competing aggressively to be named the Totaline distributor of the year.
“We called it the Excalibur Award,” Rickert said. “I think at that point it was the most prestigious award at Carrier. At one of our Excalibur ceremonies, our vice president dressed as a knight and came into the ceremony riding a horse.”
To compete, distributors turned in reports, financials, and marketing and sales plans.
“It made them analyze their business,” said Bill Bruce, zone sales manager for the Southeast. “The award was a 600-pound rock with the sword of Excalibur in it.”
RETHINKING PARTS SALESDespite seeing success from the very beginning, Totaline still had challenges to overcome when it was first introduced to the marketplace. The self-service concept was a new one and according to Rickert, convincing distributors that Totaline was around to stay and that it could offer products at competitive prices and satisfy customers’ needs, was a challenge.
“For my particular situation in the West Coast, distributors did not believe that we would be able to pull it off,” he said.
Ravas ran into some difficulties as well.
“It was the mindset of how to do business that had to change,” he pointed out. “In other words, we were trying to promote self-service, and at the time, not everybody was into that. They had the little room and all the parts were in the warehouse, there were no parts on display.”
It was also difficult, Ravas admitted, convincing investors to put money into the stores and the new concept Totaline represented. “It was just such a completely new idea.”
CONTINUED EXPANSIONToday, Totaline is a global network of more than 800 stores offering thousands of HVACR parts - as well as aftermarket products for Totaline and all major HVACR equipment brands.
“Here it is 20 years later, and a lot of folks didn’t think we would be here today,” said DiNardo. “We’ve stayed the course of Totaline for two decades. We’ve not varied from it.”
Approximately 450 Totaline stores are currently located in North America, with stores continuing to open. The rest are overseas, and according to Totaline, the people who helped establish the endeavor continue to contribute to its success today.
For more information, visit www.totaline.com.